Say the Word: Love and The Beatles

Ringo Starr (Paramount Theatre) Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

Tim Van Schmidt

 

In 1967, the venerable folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary released the song “I Dig Rock and Roll Music,” approaching the then-roaring rock music movement with a cynical attitude. Obviously not impressed with rock, the singers satirized popular artists of the time like The Mamas and the Papas and Donovan.

When it came to the super-popular band The Beatles, they just hit them between the eyes, singing, “And when The Beatles tell you/They’ve got a word “love” to sell you/They mean exactly what they say.”

Yes, it’s true. The Beatles wrote love songs — a lot of them — but then again, who didn’t? I guess not Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Paul McCartney; Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

Go back nearly sixty years to The Beatles’ failed audition tapes for Decca Records — recorded on January 1, 1962 — and you’ll hear the band that would break the mold for pop songwriting perform, well, love songs.

There were three originals in the batch — love songs all — but many of the others were written by well-known composers such as Buddy Holly, Phil Spector, Carole King, Carl Perkins, and Chuck Berry. One tune, “Till There Was You,” was written by Meredith Willson, recorded originally by Willson and his orchestra, then included in his musical play, “The Music Man.”

Everybody was writing love songs. That’s just the musical environment The Beatles came out of.

But listen to The Beatles’ 1967 single, “All You Need is Love,” released just a month before “I Dig Rock and Roll Music.”  “Love” here was something more than just about personal relationships. It was about how you approached living and the world in general. While Peter, Paul, and Mary were snarking at the past, The Beatles were pointed toward the future.

By 1976, even Beatle John Lennon and other critics assailed Beatle Paul McCartney, then fronting a new band called Wings, for continuing to write love songs. McCartney’s answer to that was a hit titled “Silly Love Songs,” which emphasized the line, “What’s wrong with that?”

It might be worth mentioning that even though Lennon moved beyond the standard love song format in general, he didn’t shy away from sharing deeply personal love songs about his wife Yoko Ono, all the way through his last album, “Double Fantasy,” released in 1980 just before he died in New York City.

Now, let’s jump to 2020 — 58 years after the Decca audition session. Right at the end of the year, McCartney released a one-man studio project titled “McCartney III,” and, wouldn’t you know, he is still writing about love.

In the tune “Deep Deep Feeling,” though, you could say what’s changed here is a sense of maturity. In this case, love is something precious but also intense, maybe even painful. The song “Seize the Day” says it plainly: “Love was the greatest prize/I only had to open my mind.”

Another sign of maturity on the album is that McCartney writes about life in general, with a sense of love and gratefulness.

“McCartney III Imagined” is a collection of covers and remixes of the songs on “McCartney III”. It is due out this April, featuring Beck, Josh Homme, Anderson Paak, and more.

Drummer Ringo Starr joined the Beatles in September 1962, nine months after the Decca audition. In the 21st Century, he has become the standard-bearer for that bigger sense of love that “All You Need is Love” proclaimed.

Ringo Starr2016 (Paramount Theatre Denver); Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

Perhaps a cynical person today might agree with Peter, Paul, and Mary’s estimation that “love” was a Beatles sales brand as Starr has made “Peace and Love” his constant mantra while always flashing double peace signs with his fingers. It’s a simple message he has been repeating for years.

On his March 2021 EP release, “Zoom In,” Starr goes directly to the heart of the matter. On the CD cover, Starr is sporting a “Peace Now” shirt like a superhero’s costume. In the title song, “Zoom In, Zoom Out,” he declares, “Love is what it’s all about.”

The song “Not Enough Love in the World,” written by Steve Lukather and Joseph Williams of the band Toto — Lukather is also a longtime member of Starr’s All-Starr Band — makes its intent clear from the start. It begins with “Every day the news always sounds the same/Peace seems so far away” (how true), and the chorus delivers the punch line: “There’s not enough love in the world.” It’s an upbeat song and even fun, but it is inspirational because it attempts to bring the subject “Peace and Love” back to the table.

But is “Peace and Love” so simple? It is not. The recent shootings in Boulder tell us so. The message of “Peace and Love” is not just a brand but an ideal worth keeping alive. Will we ever really get there? We won’t if we don’t try.

So I say three cheers for Ringo Starr for singing new songs we need in 2021. Three cheers for Paul McCartney for still digging deep. Let’s just say the word: three cheers for love!


Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. See his gallery of original photos, “Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr,” on his YouTube channel at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”

 

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