John Lennon was never afraid to cast some serious shadows over his work with The Beatles. During and after leaving the group, Lennon never turned down an opportunity to have his voice heard and, in his mind, he was the only voice that mattered on The Beatles.
It was a tough place for critics to be in but, considering most of those music critics were beguiled by the Fab Four for much of their time in the spotlight; it was often left to Lennon to be the band’s fiercest adversary. He didn’t disappoint either, usually saving the most savage and scything lashings of his silver tongue for his own work, routinely calling his songs with the band “throwaways” or “rubbish”. There was one track though that he claimed to “really hate.”
There can’t be many songs written by the Fab Four that many people hate. One imagines even the most ardent Rolling Stones fan in the middle of their faux feud would have struggled to actually hate a Beatles record. But it seems Lennon was certainly full of that emotion when listening to some of his previous work with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
Often labelling their previous work, before meeting Bob Dylan and then making Rubber Soul, as trivial, the singer was particularly scathing about one song, ‘It’s Only Love’. Featuring on the band’s Help! album, as a central point on the second side, the song was originally titled ‘That’s A Nice Hat’. Speaking in 1980 with David Sheff of Playboy, Lennon cringed at the triteness of the lyrics.
“‘It’s Only Love’ is mine,” he recalled, “I always thought it was a lousy song. The lyrics were abysmal. I always hated that song.” It’s a pretty damning indictment of the piece but not one it’s difficult to agree with. Looking through the song’s lyrics, it’s hard not to suggest the band are phoning it in a little.
“Sometimes we didn’t fight it if the lyric,” said McCartney, who co-wrote the song, musing on the somewhat cheesy lyrics. He continued, “[If it] came out rather bland on some of those filler songs like ‘It’s Only Love’. If a lyric was really bad we’d edit it, but we weren’t that fussy about it, because it’s only a rock ‘n’ roll song. I mean, this is not literature.” It’s the sentiment of the band at this stage in their career too. Not quite jumping to the top of the artistic plane, the band were the pop idols of the day and, largely, nothing more.
It meant, on most Fab Four albums there were one or two filler tracks, songs created to bolster and album or a soundtrack release and, therefore, not crafted with the same intent or guile. There is also a good argument for suggesting that the pop train had begun to slow down and McCartney’s music hall style had begun to infiltrate Lennon’s thinking at this stage of their career. It wouldn’t be long before he was jolted from his slumber and put on the more personally expressive path.
Though the band’s artistic integrity lay just a few clicks over the horizon, songs like ‘It’s Only Love’ prove that, in 1965, they hadn’t fully completed the transformation from pop stars to musical icons.
And, it seems, John Lennon thought it too.