Recorded: June 14-25, 1967 Released: July 7, 1967 Headline: Ringo sets the template for playing mixed meter pop! Feature 1: Ringo’s consistency through multiple takes and overdubs. Feature 2: The steady quarter-note pattern through mixed meters of the verse. Feature 3: Snare drum roll added for Art Rock color.
This song, recorded as part of the first satellite television broadcast, was composed in a combination of live and studio sessions. There were 57 takes before the live broadcast and an overdub session afterwards. The original session was strange in that only Ringo played an instrument he was comfortable with. Here is a list of the performers and their instruments on the rhythm track of “All You Need is Love”:
McCartney: string bass played with a bow
Harrison: violin plucked
How well did Paul bow a double bass and what was the purpose of George plucking a violin? Here is John Lennon's description of the basic track from the Anthology:
We just put a track down. Because I knew the chords I played it on whatever it was, harpsichord. 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.
After laying down this basic rhythm track, the group began to build on take 10. Through a process perfected on Sgt. Pepper, the basic track, recorded on a four-track machine, was mixed (slang term is “bounced”) to Track 1 of another four-track machine. This left three open tracks to add more parts (piano, banjo, and vocals). This was then mixed back to the original four-track machine, leaving three more open tracks for the live recording. Still with me? Here is an illustration:
Sunday June 25 was the recording date of the Our World television show and the Beatles spent the morning, according to Lewisohn, “perfecting the song and rehearsing for the BBC cameras set up in studio one.” By this point, the recording had used 47 takes. Takes 48-50 were rehearsal takes, then 51-57, then Everett states that the group added “backing vocals to the end of the instrumental track” until finally take 58 was the live broadcast. Everett describes the format of the live session as each performer wore headphones and played along with the basic track:
Live Take (57)
1. Bounce 2
2. Rickenbacker bass, lead Casino guitar solo, drums
3. lead vocal (Lennon), orchestra, chorus, tambourine
The final take, numbered 58, added Ringo’s snare drum roll and some additions to Lennon's vocal part on Track 4.
Final Take (58)
1. Bounce 2
2. Rickenbacker bass, lead Casino guitar solo, drums
3. lead vocal (Lennon), orchestra, chorus, tambourine
4. Ringo’s roll in intro; Lennon vocal scatting at end
The completed song was remixed for mono on Monday June 26 and released as a single on Friday July 7.
Ringo at the Center of the Wheel
Now let’s summarize Ringo’s role on “All You Need is Love.” The basic drum track was recorded on the first session, his drumming was also recorded on the live broadcast and the snare drum roll was recorded on the final overdub session.
Throughout the process Ringo performed his usual task of consistently laying down his drumset accompaniment “rock solid” while the other parts were constructed and recorded. Let’s recall George Martin’s quote:
It is true that on only a handful occasions during all of the several hundred session tapes and thousand of recording hours can Ringo be heard to have made a mistake or wavered in his beat. His work was remarkably consistent—and excellent—from l962 right through to 1970.
If you are wondering why I went to all the trouble of defining the recording process of this song, think back to the early recordings of The Beatles. The group performed together on two tracks with vocals and instruments mixed at the same time. Ringo now has to lay down a solid drum part and wait for the rest of the parts to be bounced and added. Finally, he is recalled to add a percussion part (more on this later). No wonder he learned how to play chess during this recording process! Once again, however, he is up to the challenge.
The drumset role in The Beatles’ recording process has changed once again. Ringo is now the cog in the wheel of the entire production; everyone else can play an unfamiliar instrument that will be a small part of the completed recording but they don’t move on unless a good drum part is rendered.
This part can be a long time in development, as Hunter Davies describes in the production of “Getting Better”:
Ringo sat at his drums and played what he thought would be a good drum backing, with Paul singing the song into his ear. Because of the noise, Paul had to shout in Ringo’s ear as he explained something. After about two hours of trying out little bits and pieces, they had the elements of a backing.
I am reminded of a George Martin quote concerning “Good Morning Good Morning,” which required a similar contribution from Starr:
Think, too, of poor Ringo. His drumming had to be super-accurate, with all the walloping accents spot on. Lucky he was so good, really.
Ringo Starr has moved from “world’s luckiest drummer” to “lucky to be so good.”
"All You Need is Love" is, according to George Martin, “an extremely simple song, written around a six-note span, its message correspondingly direct.” But analyze the layout of the beats and you are looking at a complicated form that is referred to as mixed meters. Lennon, always, searching for a new direction, is intent on wasting no musical or poetic space. He simply clips some of the empty time after the first, second and fourth line of the verse while leaving the third line intact. This leaves us with a verse pattern of seven beats, seven beats, eight beats and seven beats.
The amazing part of this song is that the complexity is hidden beneath the simple message of “Love, love, love.” I have introduced this song to my History of Rock classes for many years and find that only the musicians are aware of the mixed meters. All I can surmise is that the poetry and music are blended so well that the message reaches the general audience in a fused poetic and musical mode. This is a distilled explanation of the genius of John Lennon's compositions.
Example 1: "All You Need is Love" interlude and verse one.
Jazz and European Classical composers that employ this technique would add up the beats and describe the time signature of the verses of “All You Need is Love” as 29/4! You can try to count the verse as 29 total beats (good luck!) or break the lines into separate units of 7+7+8+7. And this is the pop song that is supposed to represent the hippy culture to the world?
Now enter Ringo into the drum part of this song. How can he make the drumming simple to understand and unobtrusive to the message of the song while negotiating this math problem? The drums cannot be the feature, with a fill at the end of each line or a complex bass drum/snare drum pattern. In fact, we can't even use backbeats on the groups of seven without having to adjust them each time around. Ringo’s solution: play each beat on the snare drum equally and let the music and the poetry resolve itself. No fills at all in this song – just Ringo covering each beat and a tambourine and tabla overdubbed later to add subdivision. Beautiful. Here is a simple illustration of the concept:
If you listen to the stereo version of this song (from Magical Mystery Tour) you will hear a snare drum part playing lightly on the left side (in the opening “love, love, love”) that is later joined by a snare part in the right/center. Notice how the left side snare drum speeds up for a moment then returns. Also, the tambourine is significant in defining the beat throughout the song.
Example 2. “All You Need Is Love” verse 2.
Ringo’s drum part illustrates the drummer’s role in the craft of pop songwriting. The lyrics of a typical pop song are poured into the mold of the verse and replaced by another set of lyrics in the following verses. Think of this as “cut and paste” and you have one reason that pop music is successful: repetition of basic musical materials that illustrate a narrative. The drummer has to avoid interfering with the story. Notice that as each verse occurs, Ringo applies the same architecture. This even applies to the “solo” section that starts with electric guitar and moves to strings. Some might refer to this as boring or uncreative but he seems to have determined that there is enough going on already. Add to this the fact that he “nails” the part and you have a drummer who is absolutely essential to the success of the recording.
Ringo reverts to a backbeat on this section because the Chorus moves to an even number of beats in each measure. This is a classic example of shading each section and returning to the same shade each time the sections returns. Notice again that there are no fills. This could be because the accuracy of timekeeping diminishes when the drummer fills, especially when monitoring a previous recorded part in your headphones. Better to leave it out instead of faltering in front of millions of viewers.
The backbeat allows the chorus to swing and take on anthemic proportions. Now you have the entire world singing and clapping along with your part—keep it simple and stay out of the way. Ringo Starr’s drumming style all the way.
Example 3. “All You Need is Love” chorus 1
In the solo section, the tambourine becomes more active along with the string parts. The drumming does not interfere with any of this and presents a model of good accompaniment that also relates to good conversation: when someone is speaking, fill the spaces. When there is very little conversation, stretch out your ideas. Ringo’s part is supportive in a section where the vocal parts exit and other instruments are featured.
Example 4. “All You Need is Love” solo section.
One of the great effects a drummer can play is the release of the snare drum on each beat (often referred to as a “driving beat)) into a backbeat. Ringo performs that effect here as he releases to the chorus in 4/4 anthemic time.
Example 5. “All You Need is Love” chorus 2
Verse three continues the snare drum on each beat as the mixed meters return. Ringo returns to a heavier backbeat in the two chorus sections that follow and continues the effect through to the fade out. Check out the accented snare note at “it’s easy” as well as the missing snare accent at the “all you need is love, love…”
Example 6. “All You Need is Love” verse three to double chorus and out.
Art Rock and Orchestration
The Beatles are now routinely adding orchestration to their music and George Martin’s European Classical music background is surfacing as the essential bridge to the pallet of sounds available. His ability to interpret the composer’s vision and then score it for professional musicians to perform in the studio is one key to understanding the function of the drum part in the Art Rock period of the Beatles. “Yesterday,” “Eleanor Rigby” and the Sgt. Pepper album were tracks that led to Art Rock: extended sections of music in which the drums do not provide the rhythmic drive. Instead, percussion colors are added. Providing the rhythmic drive was Ringo’s primary function in the earlier phases of the group’s recordings. This becomes evident when you compare his role in “She Loves You” to “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
Art Rock extended the possibilities of popular music in the late 1960s. Paul McCartney points directly to Brian Wilson as the primary source of inspiration for this change in the Beatles’ sound, although there were hints of change happening in London:
The biggest influence, as I’ve said many times, was the
Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds album, and it was basically the
harmonies that I nicked from there.
Pet Sounds incorporated the main recording team in Los Angeles: The Wrecking Crew. Brian Wilson was composing and recording while his group, The Beach Boys, were touring. His influences also included Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound recordings, which also featured the Wrecking Crew, in particular Hal Blaine on drums (a big influence on Ringo’s style.) One important aspect of Pet Sounds was the addition of percussion colors. Listen to the beginning of “God Only Knows” and you can hear why The Beatles (and “All You Need is Love”) were so affected:
Example 7: Intro of “God Only Knows”
There were also some significant technological changes that extended beyond the acoustic realm. The recording of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” introduced direct injection (DI). This allowed a part to be recorded directly into the mixing board and manipulated electronically along the path. Macca took full advantage of this.
Tape loops and electronic sound fragments were applied in random order on Beatles’ tracks. The sound of the recordings improved because four track recorders allowed for better fidelity and ease of bouncing tracks to clear room for new parts. Ambiophonics, the manipulation the acoustic placement of 100 speakers in Studio One of EMI Studios, created acoustic effects that could be manipulated electronically. And, of course, one should probably factor in the chemistry of LSD in the creative process!
Although some major groups retained drumming as the rhythmic source (The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Grateful Dead, The Velvet Underground, The Who and Cream), bands such as Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, Soft Machine, and even The Rolling Stones (Her Satanic Majesties) began to experiment with orchestral textures.
Ringo’s has a crucial role in this new recording process because the drums start the project—unless there are no drums on the track, as in “She’s Leaving Home.” Once he laid down the drum track, the overdubbing began and the waiting starts. Ringo and George may then be called on to add colors to the music.
Unlike his basic timekeeping function, the snare drum roll that accompanies the French national anthem introduction (“La Marseillaise”) is not required to provide timing to the song but instead fills up the space from the second beat of the first measure to the third beat of the third measure—a total of eleven beats. If a percussion part does not provide the steady beat as a reference for the other parts, the function is adding color. This is a very appropriate term because the overall sound of the music changes with a variety of colors added. If The Beatles had substituted a cymbal roll played with soft mallets, for instance, the sound of the music would have sounded less martial and formal. As is the case in so many Beatles’ recordings, however, the roll is the perfect color to be added for the desired effect.
This is our next point to discuss: the difference between the function of drum set in popular music and percussion in classical music. Why this is important: Ringo now routinely assumes the additional role of percussionist in The Beatles’ Art Rock phase. He had done it on previous recordings: lots of tambourine parts (“Love Me Do,” “Norwegian Wood”), bongos (“I’ll Follow the Sun,” “And I Love Her”), a packing case (“Words of Love”), timpani (“Every Little Thing”), claves (“Tell Me What You See”), maracas (“I've Just Seen a Face”). From Sgt. Pepper onward, Ringo’s role as a percussionist becomes essential to the group’s Art Rock compositions.
Since this is the basic role of a classical percussionist, and Ringo had no previous training in classical percussion, we should once again marvel at his ability to evolve in the recording studio and meet the needs of the composers. As a child growing up in WW2 England, he was probably regularly exposed to this type of music on the radio but the opportunity to perform it was probably non-existent. Listen to the strong accent on the entrance, the smooth flow of the strokes and the tapered ending. This part is well executed and effective.
Example 8. “All You Need is Love”, snare drum roll at introduction.
Here is why so much time and space is dedicated to this simple song from The Beatles’ catalog: Ringo Starr’s role in the group is now pivotal and he is clearly the “face” of the drum parts. McCartney will begin to intrude on this with his own drumming (“Back in the U.S.S.R, “Ballad of John and Yoko”) as the band begins to dissolve internally but there are certain approaches that Ringo brings to Beatles’ recordings that are rudimentary to the sound. In fact, I will refer to these as “Ringo Rudiments” because fifty years later they are recognized as unique and essential to supporting a song. The timekeeping in “All You Need Is Love” is one such rudiment because Ringo seamlessly translates a mixed-meter song into a pop anthem.