The bizarre initial lineup on The Beatles song ‘All You Need Is Love’

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It was to be the biggest global televised event in history: the Our World broadcast. As the first live multi-satellite television production, Our World was a two-hour event that was to feature the participation of 14 different countries in unison. It would be the perfect platform for a simple global message, and once The Beatles were signed on as Britain’s representatives, it was up to the band to decide what that message was going to be.

The time between the band agreeing to participate in the broadcast and the actual broadcast itself was just over a month. According to most accounts, the band rejected Paul McCartney’s contributions, ‘Your Mother Should Know’ and ‘Hello, Goodbye’, before John Lennon finally decided to begin writing. “I don’t know if they had prepared any ideas, but they left it very late to write the song,” engineer Geoff Emerick recalled in Mark Lewisohn’s book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. “John said, ‘Oh God, is it that close? I suppose we’d better write something.’”

Lennon eventually came up with the idea for ‘All You Need Is Love’. The clock was ticking, so the band entered Olympic Sound Studio on June 14th, just 11 days before the broadcast, to begin putting down the basic track. Even though time was of the essence, the band were remarkably lackadaisical with the process. For the initial backing track, only Ringo Starr was at his standard instrument. Lennon sat at a harpsichord while McCartney attempted to bow a double bass. Harrison was completely out of his element, trying to figure out notes on a violin.

“We just put a track down. Because I knew the chords, I played it on whatever it was, harpsichord,” Lennon told Playboy in 1980. “George played a violin because we felt like doing it like that, and Paul played a double bass. And they can’t play them, so we got some nice little noises coming out.”

“It sounded like an orchestra, but it’s just them two playing the violin and that,” Lennon added. “So then we thought, ‘Ah, well, we’ll have some more orchestra around this little freaky orchestra that we’ve got.’ But there was no perception of how it sounded at the end until they did it that day, until the rehearsal. It still sounded a bit strange then.”

In order to flesh out the haphazard backing track, the band returned to EMI Studios on June 19th with more drums, vocals, and a piano part from George Martin added to the mix. Lennon attempted to put down a banjo line in place of guitar, but it remains almost fully buried in the mix. Lennon’s harpsichord remains prominent in the final mix, but McCartney and Harrison’s initial contributions were largely overshadowed by the overdub of a professional orchestra in the two days immediately prior to the Our World broadcast.

During the live performance, Lennon and McCartney added live vocals to the pre-recorded backing track. McCartney’s bass was also live, as was Harrison’s guitar solo and some of Starr’s drumming. The producers of the broadcast were initially disappointed that the band chose to pre-record elements of the performance, but the results turned out to be a mix of both pre-recorded and live elements.

Lennon was unhappy with his lead vocal, opting to re-record his verse lines later that same night. A drum roll from Starr was the final overdub carried out before ‘All You Need Is Love’ was deemed complete. It was a long way from the initial harpsichord/violin/double bass/drums set-up that produced the basic backing track.

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