The Beatles were the biggest band in the world by 1967, but they had also become much more than that. With millions of record sales and a still-growing fanbase now intellectualising their work, the personalities of each member were not only moving with the times but, arguably, leading them. The Beatles had become four faces that represented a cultural shift into more liberal times and, when the Fab Four did something of note, the whole world stood up to take notice.
During their magnificent career, the band pioneered a new musical landscape and regularly encountered many ‘world first’ moments. One significantly groundbreaking occurrence would be when the group took on the daring Shea Stadium gig in 1965 or, two years later, when they took part in the ambitious Our World project. The event, which arrived as the first live, international, satellite television production, would air globally on 25 June 1967 as a concert that would attract between 400 and 600 million viewers from across the world. It was a moment in the development of the modern world as we know it, and it provided The Beatles with a significant platform.
Our World involved 19 nations in total, all of whom were all given a segment to showcase one of their great creative brains, with the likes of Pablo Picasso and opera-singer Maria Callas also featuring in the innovative broadcast, there was a somewhat placid pace to the actual event that belied the cultural and scientific significance of the feat.
The project took over ten months of planning to bring together after the bold idea was devised by BBC producer Aubrey Singer. It was transferred to the European Broadcasting Union, but the master control room for the broadcast was still at the BBC in London. There were some last-minute difficulties, however, after the Eastern Bloc countries, headed by the Soviet Union, pulled out just four days before the broadcast in protest of the Western nations’ response to the Six-Day War.
Due to the hostile political environment of the day, with the show taking place at the height of the Vietnam War, the ground rules stated that no politicians or heads of state would be allowed to participate in the broadcast. It was an attempt to cleanse the political palette.
In light of this political landscape, The Beatles were asked to write a song with a message of positivity and unity, a brief that they duly delivered on as they closed the broadcast with as they debuted the perfectly poignant ‘All You Need Is Love’.
For this iconic performance, The Beatles invited many of their famous friends to help create an atmosphere of togetherness in the face of the troubling climate. Among the musicians who joined them for the chorus of the powerful song were members of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Moon and Graham Nash.
John Lennon wrote the song as a continuation of the message that he was trying to express in his 1965 effort ‘The Word’ but more fluently. Lennon later discussed his fascination about how slogans affect the imaginations of the masses, for both good or more often for bad, and they are still rampant in political discourse today with obvious comparisons to ‘Make America Great Again’ or ‘Get Brexit Done’, for example.
Lennon once stated: “I like slogans. I like advertising. I love the telly.” In a 1971 interview about his song ‘Power To The People’, he was asked if that song was propaganda. He said, “Sure. So was ‘All You Need Is Love.’ I’m a revolutionary artist. My art is dedicated to change.”
“‘All You Need Is Love’ was John’s song,” said Paul McCartney for Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now. “I threw in a few ideas, as did the other members of the group, but it was largely ad-libs like singing ‘She Loves You’ or ‘Greensleeves’ or silly things at the end and we made those up on the spot.”
Adding: “The chorus, ‘All you need is love’, is simple, but the verse is quite complex; in fact, I never really understood it, the message is rather complex. It was a good song that we had handy that had an anthemic chorus.”
In truth, the performance and the song was a striking reflection of the mood of The Beatles and the generation swept up in the summer of love. “We were big enough to command an audience of that size, and it was for love,” recalled Ringo Starr for The Beatles Anthology.” It was for love and bloody peace. It was a fabulous time. I even get excited now when I realise that’s what it was for: peace and love, people putting flowers in guns.”
Watch the powerful footage of the most treasured names of British music coming together in a show of unity and to perform ‘All You Need Is Love’, below.