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Notes on the "All You Need Is Love"

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This article is from Alan W. Pollack's groundbreaking series "Notes on the Beatles". Links in the orginal article is written in this colour: index to the series, while links I have added appears as standard links. Go here for more information on my site about the song

Notes on the "All You Need Is Love "

KEY G Major

METER 4/4 (alternate verse measures and others are 3/4)

FORM Intro -> Verse ->
  Verse -> Verse -> Refrain ->
   Verse (guitar solo) -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain -> Refrain -> Outro (fadeout)

General Points of Interest

Style and Form

In terms of release dates, this song followed remarkably close on the heels of Sgt. Pepper. Its genesis and original debut are matters of recording and broadcast history, the details of which I urge you to seek elsewhere to the extent that they are relatively tangential to our own perspective on the music, per se. I could easily argue, by the same token, that the song cannot be considered in isolation of the broadcast's production values and effect; but maybe I'm just being perverse, a wiseguy, or both :-)

I do strongly recommend that you exert yourself to hear a good quality, complete version of the actual 6/25/67 broadcast, and as much of the video clips of it that have shown up in various documentaries over the years. Media-wise, this track is designed with sort of the reverse experiential strategy used in "A Day in the Life". There, the blind mystery of the audio-only medium adds an important element of surprise. Here, without the video clues, I dare say that some of the complexity and point of the procedings is lost. The string players with their clunky earphones, the group also wearing earphones while sitting on high stools, and the crowd of all our friends sitting on the floor in their colorful "costumes" are somehow part of the message that is lost on vinyl; Professor McLuhan should have been impressed.

The form contains the unusual twist of opening with three consecutive verses. I prefer to parse this at the high level with the first verse being more a part of the intro than of the body of the song; note how this first verse does NOT present the tune of the song, but rather establishes the "love, love, love" chorus part which serves as vocal wallpaper for the rest of the verses which follow. And, yes, I know; for the later verses the pattern is changed to a melissma on a single utterance of The Word.

The music is cast in a variation of the campy, anthem-ic march style used before on the likes of "Yellow Submarine," though in this case, the number of diverse montage elements used is more complex than before, and the limping meter used in the verses prevents the "march" from sounding too obvious.

The words, too, contain more interest than initially meets the eye. You not only have the clever retrograde of the title phrase ("love is all you need"), but also some rather off handedly delivered philosophical observations on the ironic tension between the attempts you make to self-direct life's course and the way you learn from experience to accept the influence of so-called destiny. Yes, the lyrics are more to the point than my characterization of them.

Melody and Harmony

The tune is dominated by a handful of simple motifs: a downward scale fragment reminiscent of "Three Blind Mice" that juicy appoggiatura on the word "easy" in the verse, a fanfare-like hammering on a single note for the title phrase in the refrain, followed by an upward chromatic scale fragment that fancifully imitates the downward fragment offered by the brass band obligatto.

The most unifying motif is one in the bassline that rises at the end of each phrase (dotted quarter notes D - E - G), and by no accident, I'm positive, this very phrase matches identically the "intentionally misquoted" fragment of the "Marseillaise" used in the intro. From the 1812 Overture to Casablanca, the French nationalistic anthem is a ready-made cliche that is correctly quoted enough of the time that I say what the Beatles did here can be no accident. Even Robert Schumann gets it right in his lied about the Two Grenadiers.

The harmony of the song shares with "A Day in the Life" that wistful wilting away from G Major to e minor.


The backing track is thickly made up of layers upon layers: the Beatles' own rhythm track and guitar solo; the "Yellow Submarine"- like brass marching band; an electric pinao and harpsichord; and that string section scored in a style that is like a strange cross between Montovani/101-Strings-like schmaltz and the pseudo/surreality of "Strawberry Fields Forever."

The vocal arrangement is comparatively straightforward, with the so-called wallpaper from the backing vocals in the verses, John's lead vocal, additional backing vocal assisancet from the others in the refrain, and those inevitable booster callouts from Paul.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough


The intro is three measures long and opens up the procedings with that non-sequitor of an instrumental misquote of the "Marseillaise," dressed up to sound vaguely Baroque in style because of the trills in the last measure:

 |G D |G  |C  a      D|
  I V  I  IV ii          V


The overall harmonic motion of this verse vacillates back and forth between I and V. I've taken the trouble to "analyze" the intervening chords, but Heinrich Schenker and his disciples would shame me with their preference we focus here on the melodic motion of the two outer voices in parallel 10ths.

        4               3            4               3
chords  |G      D       |e           |G      D       |vi          |
bassline|G      F#      |E       D  E|G      F#      |E       D  E|
G:       I      V6/3     vi     (V)   I      V6/3     vi     (V)

        4               4               4            3
        |a      e       |D       e      |D           |G       D   |
 |A      G |F#      E      |D       C   |B   C D D  E|
         ii     vi6/3    V       vi      V      4/2   I6/3    V

The phrasing of this verse is four square even if the measure lengths are not. The pattern is AAA'B (4 * 2) or if you wish, I can call it AAB ((2 * 2) + 4). The interpolation of the 3/4 meter follows a pattern, though not a slavishly predictable one.


In contrast to the verse, our refrain here is *almost* (but not quite) completely four square; being eight measures in length (4 + 4) with only the final measure limping in 3.

        4               4               4               4
 |G     a |D  |G a |D  |
  I     ii7/11    V               I      ii7/11   V

        4               4               4               3
 |G B |e  |C D |I  |
  I      V-of-vi  vi          IV     V

The chord in the second half of measures 1 and 3 is contains one of *the* characterizing harmonies of the track. Regardless of how I've analyzed it, the fingerprint-like signs to note there is the Major second between A and G in the backing vocals combined with D in the tune.


The repeat of the final refrain combined with the extended outro lends quite a bit of formalistic weight to the ending of this track; the combination of sections filling out ~1:40 of a track whose total length is just ~3:52. The delay of any noticeable amount of fadeout until just the last 30 seconds or so only adds to this weight.

The outro finally shifts entirely to 4/4 to provide a subtly different wallpaper pattern for the fadeout, though that rhythmically dotted D-E-G bassline motif persists all the way to the sweet end.

"Montage" is, indeed, the correct term for the stream-of-consciousness pastiche of musical tidbits used in this outro, though somehow it doesn't seem to do the music justice; such is terminology.

The Bach trumpet duet is from the opening of the Two Part Invention in F Major (*NOT* from the 2nd Brandenburg as Lewisohn reports), transposed to key of our song and played in its tempo. Not so for Greensleeves which appears in that tonally cubistic style one associates with Charles Ives. In the Mood is played in the correct key but not quite in tempo or at least not in meter.

Paul's ostinato breaks down for a precious moment ~30 seconds from the end; just before John's blurts out his "Yeserday" non-sequitor.

Some Final Thoughts

To my ears, their quote from "She Loves You" goes beyond the merely clever literary association of the lyrics to become the more profound musical equivalent of the the wax models on the cover of Sgt. Pepper.


Alan (

"Ready when you are, uncle George"       081196#118

Copyright (c) 1996 by Alan W. Pollack

All Rights Reserved

This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.

These articles were originally posted in the News Group The content from this newsgroup is archived at, and Alan W. Pollacks "Notes On" series can be found at

. I used to link to the versions published in Soundscapes before I decided to include them on my own site.

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Arranged by The Beatles

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