For Valentine’s Day this year I thought that I’d revisit one of the happiest memories of my childhood: listening to ‘All You Need is Love’ by the Beatles. In fact, I was only 18 months old when it was originally broadcast on 25 June 1967 during the Summer of Love, so I must have heard it later in my childhood, with the sense that I was looking back on a period of impossible idealism and hope.
The song is arguably the most famous expression of the idealism of young people at that time. They wanted to change the world through peace and love. It was written by John Lennon especially for ‘Our World’, the world’s first televised satellite link-up between 25 countries.
The Beatles, representing Great Britain, were asked to compose a song that was simple enough for an international audience to understand, and had a positive message. What they came up with was a reminder to the world that love is stronger than hate.
John, Paul and George decided to take the risk of playing live during the broadcast, and it was this version of the song that was put out as a single. George Martin, the producer, had the idea to start the song with ‘La Marseillaise’, the French national anthem. This opening evokes the French Revolution’s ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The Beatles wanted to add peace and love to these. In fact, love is all you need!
The lyrics begin with the word ‘love’ repeated over and over, as if the group is hypnotized by love. Or it’s a mantra – the Beatles began their flirtation with Transcendental Meditation the same year. Then comes the reassuring, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done. / Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.” You can do it. You can achieve whatever you want to achieve. In fact, it’s easy – all you need is love!
So were the Beatles accurate? Is love all you need? It seems rather a lot to ask of a pop song. However, it’s a pop song that caught the ear and the imagination of a generation, so the question stands. I suspect that they were more than 50% accurate!
Love is something that we need. We need it because our spirit feeds on it. We need it because without it we become weak and faint. Without love we lose our sense of self-value. Without it our courage (cœur = heart) fails. Without love we can no longer look out confidently at the world. Instead we turn inward and begin to feed upon our own personalities and little by little we destroy ourselves.
We need the strength and joy that comes from knowing that we are loved. With it we are creative. With it we march tirelessly. With it, and with it alone, we are able to contribute to life.
I say ‘more than 50% accurate’, so what’s missing? What’s missing is awareness, which leads to wisdom. Without awareness, love can easily fall into obsession and fanaticism: falling in love, addiction, even its opposite, hatred. Love and awareness go hand in hand. To love someone you need to be really aware of them. To be really aware of someone, you need to love them.
Nevertheless, with playful exuberance the Beatles expressed an important truth and reached a global audience with it.