All You Need Is Love

I grew up hearing the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love,” whose lyrics appear below. (NOTE: You don’t have to read the whole song, just look at the occurrence of the word love.)

“All You Need Is Love

Love, love, love
Love, love, love
Love, love, love

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy

Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need

Love, love, love
Love, love, love
Love, love, love

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need

Nothing you can know that isn’t known
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown
Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be
It’s easy

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need

All you need is love (All together, now!)
All you need is love (Everybody!)
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Yee-hai! (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)

Yesterday (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Love is all you need (Love is all you need)
Oh yeah! (Love is all you need)
She loves you, yeah yeah yeah (Love is all you need)
She loves you, yeah yeah yeah (Love is all you need)

A 394-word composition, this song repeats the word love 76 separate times–once every five words–in a demonstration of the rhetorical power of repetition. Equally popular songs, such as Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” have followed the same strategy to outrageous success.

“All You Need Is Love” was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The BBC commissioned the Beatles to write a song of universal appeal for Our World, the first live global television show. The song was first broadcast by satellite on June 25, 1967, where it was viewed by an audience of more than 400 million people scattered across 25 countries, cementing the song’s popularity as it quickly rose to #1 on the Billboard chart, the 14th Beatles song to do so.

ggDCy

Journalist Julian Wright, speaking of the song’s lyrics, noted that, “The nice thing about it is that it cannot be misinterpreted. It is a clear message saying that love is everything.” Lennon was fascinated by the power of slogans and identified this song, as well as “Give Peace a Chance” and “Power to the People,” as propaganda songs designed to bring about a revolutionary change.

But, is love all we need?

Is love, as Wright suggested, beyond misinterpretation? Is love everything?

The answer is an unequivocal “No” for some, who point to all the obvious reasons that love is not enough, such as this article by Galanty Miller titled “Your Love Is Worthless Garbage,” which you can enjoy here. Lest the name lead you depressingly astray, this is 90% cacao and bittersweet dark humor.

This question of love, in lyrics and as a theme, reflecting a changing world intrigues me. Do we love less now than our ancestors did? Do we love differently than they did? I would suspect the answer is yes to both of these questions and yet, the scope of such a question is so vast and cross-cultural, I’m not sure a grand answer is possible; and so instead, I went looking to the world of song to discover what, if anything, was known about the word “love” and its current condition in our world.

I found a study which you can read here if you are interested.Through careful analysis of pop music’s number one songs over a fifty-year-period, certain words were found to be common. At the time of the Beatles song, “Love Is All You Need,” the word love was the most influential word in popular music, where it held the top spot until the 1990s when it began its decline, dropping from number one to the number three spot, edged out by words expressing quantity.

Screenshot 2014-09-12 11.47.57

That’s an arresting thought, at least to me. Love, the great stimulus of life, was slipping, to third place in the 1990s and to ninth place by the 2000s, where it was used less often in popular song than the equally emotionally loaded word nigga. (Note word use in the lower corner of far right column of Table 1.) This makes me wonder, what has replaced love? Are modern people, especially young people, loving less or do they just sing about it less?

In Henard’s study, he sorted his data according to a series of clearly identifiable themes, not just considering the primary themes which occurred in song but also secondary themes which were worthy of note. It’s fascinating to me to consider how this work might reflect a changing world which no longer believes that love is all you need, a world sophisticated enough to recognize that a heavy reliance on love alone is not enough to make life work. I should mention here the study was done for the field of advertising as a guide to the emotional tones which register with consumers and is novel and groundbreaking research.

Cynically, I wonder if the idea of  love was simply an overplayed rhetorical device which reached a high point in the touchy-feely sixties and infiltrated our culture at that earlier time. I wonder, too, what type of love is being referenced in the original song, for it is a love so vague as to be meaningless and unenforceable, to use the language of lawyers and of parents and others who extract agreements.

jack-ziegler-the-sixties-are-over-ralph-the-seventies-and-the-eighties-for-god-s-s-new-yorker-cartoon

When I look at the work of Helen Fisher, a pioneering researcher from Rutgers University who discusses the the hormones of love in a three-stage-model moving from lust to attraction to attachment, I can’t help but wonder if the original song, much as I love it, wasn’t in some way a victim of an incomplete cycle of development,  one that never made it to the attachment phase.

The first phase of love, characterized by the hormones testosterone and estrogen, is noted for lust. In the second phase, the powerful chemical cocktail of dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin work like crack on the human brain with notable symptoms such as profuse sweating, loss of appetite, obsessive thinking, reduced need for sleep, and greater energy. Dopamine is the anticipatory hormone we all encounter when we think lovingly of our next fix, whether that be for love, cocaine, alcohol, food, gambling or sex, while serotonin is the culprit who causes us to think of our lover at inopportune moments when we should be focused on work. All of these early-phase hormones are designed to subside to the more mature upperclassmen of emotions: oxytocin (the cuddle hormone which deepens attachment) and vasopressin (which sustains devotion). It is hard not to wonder if the Beatles weren’t composing and singing their song from Phase 2 – attraction,  for their personal lives at the time reveal relationships heading off course, and all four band members divorced or ended their relationships with their then-partners. I don’t say this to judge as much as to question the underlying clarity of the word love and the imprecision with which they may have applied it in their own lives. What the heck: it was the sixties.

A better statement on love was made by C.S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves, in which he looks from Storge (affection) to Philia (friendship) to Eros (romance) to Agape (unconditional love). I believe the sentiment implied by the original Beatles song was something much closer to Agape than to Eros, though I grow sure of it, confidently sure of it whenever I consider the unending tedium of substituting the word love with the word agape all 76 infernal times necessary to make my the point.

The_Four_Loves

 

One thought on “All You Need Is Love

  1. I find this whole exploration fascinating! What kind of love is *any* of the popular songs about these days? Interesting question! And I find the actual word frequency study engrossing. Thanks for this post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s