The complete story behind the band's remarkable performance on the first-ever live satellite broadcast
On June 1st, 1967, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, boosting the sales of vintage military uniforms and further cementing their status as the biggest rock group in the world. Two weeks later, they started work on their next omnipresent musical event: participating in the Our World TV show on June 25th, employing Earth's newly constructed satellite technology to deliver a live global broadcast from locales as far-flung as "Takamatsu and Tunis."
The Beatles agreed to perform a new song as the representatives of the United Kingdom. "It was the first worldwide satellite broadcast ever," Ringo Starr said years later. "It's a standard thing that people do now, but then, when we did it, it was a first. That was exciting – we were doing a lot of firsts."
Engineer Geoff Emerick remembered, "I don't know if they had prepared any ideas, but they left it very late to write the song. John said, 'Oh God, is it that close? I suppose we'd better write something.'" Paul McCartney proposed his composition "Hello, Goodbye," which got released as a single five months later, but the group opted instead for John Lennon's "All You Need Is Love." They started recording the song on June 14th, with Lennon on harpsichord, McCartney on double bass with a bow, George Harrison on violin (for the first time in his life!) and Starr on drums.
The Beatles did 33 takes on June 14th, picked take 10 as the best, and in the following days, overdubbed vocals, piano (played by producer George Martin) and banjo (Lennon), plus guitar and some orchestral passages. Only on June 24th, the day before the broadcast, did they decide that they would release "All You Need Is Love" as a single – meaning that the world would be watching them cut their next record.
The tone of Our World was serious and stately, with announcers making pronouncements such as "art bears witness, as always, in the heart of man." Segments – all live – included an interview with media theorist Marshall McLuhan, an appearance by Pablo Picasso, a rehearsal for Franco Zeffirelli's film of Romeo and Juliet and footage of Spanish fishermen and Japanese construction workers. The two-and-a-half-hour broadcast was estimated to reach 400 million viewers around the world, in 24 different countries. The Soviet bloc countries dropped out of the program a week before its broadcast, in protest of the Six-Day War, in which Israel was victorious over Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.
Preceding the Beatles was a segment from Lincoln Center in New York City: conductor Leonard Bernstein, smoking a cigarette and rehearsing a Rachmaninoff concerto with pianist Van Cliburn. At 8:54 P.M. London time, Our World cut to the Abbey Road studios – about 40 seconds earlier than expected. Producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, stressed about the high-pressure live mix they were about to execute, were downing a couple of shots of Scotch when they got the word that they were about to go on the air. They scrambled to hide the bottle and glasses under the mixing board.
A BBC cameraman made his way past some helium balloons and swooped in on the Beatles, running through "All You Need Is Love" while sitting on stools, with a small audience sitting on the floor listening. An announcer said, "This is Steve Race in the Beatles' recording studio in London, where the latest Beatle record is at this moment being built up. Not just a single performance, but a whole montage of performances. With some friends in to help the atmosphere, this is quite an occasion." The Our World producers had balked at the Beatles wanting to play to backing tracks, saying that the whole point of the show was to document live events, but Martin had insisted on it, saying, "We can't just go in front of 350 million people without some work."
The Beatles played for about a minute, simulating a rehearsal or a rough take, and then the broadcast cut to the control room. Martin interrupted the Fab Four (and how many people on the planet would dare to interrupt a Beatles performance?), saying on the intercom, "I think that will do for the vocal backing very nicely. We'll get the musicians in."
"Great, great," Lennon replied.
While the tape rewound, thirteen orchestral musicians found their seats and McCartney shook his shoulders to loosen up. Race filled time, saying, "There's several days' work on that tape. For perhaps the hundredth time, the engineer runs it back to the start, to yet another stage in the making of an almost-certain hit record. The supervisor is George Martin, the musical brain behind all the Beatles' records. There's the orchestra coming into the studio now, and you'll notice that the musicians are not rock & roll youngsters. The Beatles get on best with symphony men." Note how as late as 1967, the institutional voice of the BBC was trying to make the Beatles more palatable by claiming their affinity with classical musicians.
"Here we go," Martin told the band. "Here comes the tape."
0:00 A quick glimpse of Martin in the control room, looking stylish in a white jacket. "The man upstairs pointed his finger and that was that," Harrison remembered later. "We did it – one take."
0:01 The song began with the orchestra playing "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem. This nod to the global nature of Our World was the best use of non-French use of the song since Casablanca. It also guaranteed that until the end of time, any Olympic medal ceremony where a French athlete wins gold will sound like a Beatles revival.
0:09 The camera panned over to the Beatles, who were surrounded by balloons and flowers. "Love, love, love," they sang. "Love, love, love." The Our World producers' only request of the Beatles' song selection was to "keep it simple so that viewers across the globe will understand." Mission accomplished: The first time Lennon played the song for the other Beatles, at a crawling tempo, Harrison muttered to McCartney, "Well, it's certainly repetitive."
0:16 McCartney, playing bass and hitting the upper reaches of his vocal range, looked happy to the point of giddiness. The patterns on his shirt were created by the singer himself: "I stayed up all the night before the show, drawing on the shirt that I wore. I had some chemicals called Trichem – you could draw on a shirt with them, and then you could launder the shirt and the pattern stayed on. I used them a lot; many's the shirt or door I've painted with them. It was good fun. That shirt got nicked after the show. Still, easy come, easy go."
0:27 "There's nothing you can do that can't be done," Lennon sang. The footage shifts from black-and-white to color. The Our World broadcast was monochrome; the color was added digitally in 1995 for the TV broadcast of The Beatles Anthology, using photographs taken on that day as reference. Otherwise, the video footage in this clip is as it was broadcast on June 25th, 1967 (the Beatles did some audio overdubs later that night, with Starr recording a snare drumroll for the song's introduction and Lennon punching up his lead vocal).
1:02 "All you need is love," Lennon declared, reaching the chorus and boiling down the spirit of the Summer of Love to its purest essence. McCartney said later, "The chorus 'All you need is love' is simple, but the verse is quite complex. In fact, I never really understood it."
1:17 A laid-back Starr played the drums, although for some reason the cameraman didn't want to shoot above his mustache. Starr's outfit was a combination of silk, suede and fake fur. "It was so bloody heavy," he said after. "I had all this beading on, and it weighed a ton."
1:29 McCartney and Lennon bobbed their heads during the guitar solo; throughout the song, McCartney was either chewing gum or vigorously working his jaw. One week before the broadcast, McCartney had admitted his LSD use to the British press, causing a short-lived media sensation: "BEATLE PAUL'S AMAZING CONFESSION," read one headline. "It seemed strange to me," Harrison said, "because we'd been trying to get him to take LSD for about 18 months – and then one day he's on the television talking about it."
1:50 Harrison looked hunky and brooding, perhaps considering whether love was actually all he needed, or whether he also wanted a new guitar and a curry.
2:38 Mick Jagger, sitting on the floor. Jagger was a semi-regular guest of honor at Beatles sessions: He also turned up for the mixing of Revolver and the recording of the orchestral section of "A Day in the Life." Eric Clapton was also in the crowd – "in full psychedelic regalia and permed hair," Harrison said. Other notables in attendance were Marianne Faithfull, Keith Richards, Keith Moon and Graham Nash, not to mention Mike McCartney (Paul's brother), Patti Boyd Harrison (George's wife) and Jane Asher (McCartney's girlfriend). Moon sat next to Starr's kit, showing allegiance to his fellow drummer.
2:53 The orchestral arrangement in the outro included snatches of Bach's Brandenburg concertos, "Greensleeves" (at half tempo) and Glenn Miller's "In the Mood." Martin had thrown them in, believing that the songs were all old enough to be in the public domain – and although they were, it turned out that the arrangement of Miller's version was not. "The introduction is an arrangement, and it was the introduction that I took," Martin said. "EMI came to me and said, 'You put this in the arrangement, so now you've got to indemnify us against any action that might be taken.' I said, 'You must be joking. I got fifteen pounds for doing that arrangement.'" EMI didn't make Martin pay and duly compensated the publisher of "In the Mood."
2:58 The trumpeter on the left is David Mason, playing the same piccolo trumpet he used for the solo on "Penny Lane." "I've spent a lifetime playing with top orchestras," he said decades later, "yet I'm most famous for playing on 'Penny Lane'!"
3:08 In addition to the placards translating the word "love" into multiple languages, a sign was held up reading "Come Back Milly." This message was directed at McCartney's aunt, who had gone down to Australia to visit her son and grandchildren. (Aunt Milly, the sister of McCartney's father, was married to Albert Kendall – a.k.a. Uncle Albert of "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" fame.) The McCartney family was worried that Milly might not return but knew that the global broadcast provided a unique opportunity to send her a message. It worked: Milly saw the sign and came back to England.
3:15 As confetti flew in the air and men with sandwich boards marched through the crowd, the conductor of the orchestra became visible: Mike Vickers, better known as the flutist/saxophonist in Manfred Mann.
3:23 One more musical quote as the song faded out: "She loves you, yeah yeah yeah." Including the chorus of "She Loves You" was a Lennon improvisation in rehearsal that stuck; he had also experimented with throwing in bits of "Yesterday" and "She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes."
3:33 Harrison, who had been looking dour the whole song, finally cracked a smile.
After their guests left, the Beatles stayed at Abbey Road to do some overdubs. The next day, they remixed the single and sent the tapes off so the single could get a rush release. In July, "All You Need Is Love" hit Number One all over the world, providing the sing-song anthem for the Summer of Love, with a sentiment that was simple but profound.
Eighteen years later, Elvis Costello performed "All You Need Is Love" at Live Aid, a song choice that subtly drew a line between two global telecasts, from Our World to the Live Aid broadcast. "I want you to help me sing this old Northern English folk song," he told the crowd – and that's exactly what the song had become, a tune that had gone around the world and belonged to everybody.