John Lennon’s peace advocacy wasn’t a major focus for him until after 1967. It took a few factors to really kick off, such as his participation in the satire film How I Won the War, the increasing escalation of Vietnam, and meeting Yoko Ono. Combined with a greater awareness of his influence as one of the biggest celebrities in the world, Lennon began to use his platform to focus on injustice and solidarity.
But prior to his direct involvement with advocating for peace, Lennon and The Beatles had their own dedication towards the concept with their focus on a specific subject matter: love. From ‘All You Need Is Love’ and ‘Love You To’ to ‘P.S. I Love You’ and ‘She Loves You’, the concept of love became central to the band’s message and image throughout their entire career.
According to Lennon, though, the seriousness of love as a philosophical concept didn’t connect with him until well into the band’s career. “It sort of dawned on me that love was the answer, when I was younger, on the Rubber Soul album,” Lennon explained in the Anthology series. “My first expression of it was a song called ‘The Word’. The word is ‘love’, in the good and the bad books that I have read, whatever, wherever, the word is ‘love’. It seems like the underlying theme to the universe.”
‘The Word’ was a major progression in taking the concept of love beyond its initial romantic meaning to a greater level of importance within the band’s work. It also came to represent the bridge between the band’s initial pop leanings and their more psychedelic music that was to come in the future. According to Paul McCartney, one of the major eye-openers for the band was their increasing use of marijuana at this time.
“We smoked a bit of pot, then we wrote out a multicoloured lyric sheet, the first time we’d ever done that,” McCartney remembers in the book Many Years From Now. “We normally didn’t smoke when we were working. It got in the way of songwriting because it would just cloud your mind up – ‘Oh, shit, what are we doing?’ It’s better to be straight. But we did this multicoloured thing.”
The lyric sheet would have another tangible connection to Lennon’s eventual adoption of peace – it was the first time that Lennon and Ono had any connection. Ono was collecting manuscripts for the John Cage book Notations and asked McCartney for a lyric sheet. McCartney demurred, but suggested that Lennon might. Although they didn’t physically meet, Lennon sent Ono the multicoloured lyric sheet for ‘The Word’.
In the book All We Are Saying, Lennon felt that the simplicity of his and McCartney’s writing helped elevate the song. “‘The Word’ was written together, but it’s mainly mine. You read the words, it’s all about – gettin’ smart. It’s the marijuana period. It’s love, it’s the love-and-peace thing. The word is ‘love’, right?”.