The Beatles: Do we still believe love can change the world?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series The Beatles

George Harrison singing “All You Need Is Love” in a live global television link in 1967 viewed by 400 million people in 26 countries.

NOTE from Dr. Wayne Baker: Please welcome journalist and educator Charles Honey for a thought-provoking series based on classes he has taught about the impact of the Beatles’ music. Here’s Charles’ third column …

George Harrison was the most overtly religious of the Beatles, with his sitar-inflected affinity for Eastern thought. But Paul McCartney and John Lennon, albeit agnostics, were secular evangelists for the revolutionary power of love.

They proclaimed it in The Word–Have you heard? The word is love–and the utopian All You Need is Love, which in a worldwide 1967 broadcast insisted “love is all you need” despite ample evidence to the contrary.

This was not love as romance but as action, an inner enlightenment that could change the world. Writes Steve Turner in The Gospel According to the Beatles, “The Apostle John declared ‘God is love.’ The Beatles effectively turned this around and said, ‘love is God.’”

They preached this gospel most powerfully in personal songs where lack of love leaves loneliness and disconnection. Listen to John lament the solitary soul of Nowhere Man, making all his nowhere plans for nobody:

Nowhere Man, please listen.
You don’t know what you’re missing.
The world is at your command.

How so? What is Lennon saying here? Maybe that Nowhere Man has more power than he thinks to enter what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beloved community.”

He’s as blind as he can be,
just sees what he wants to see.
Nowhere Man can you see me at all?

How is he blind? Spiritually, I would say. He is so plugged into his own version of reality that he can’t see the beauty around him. He can’t even see the person standing in front of him as he really is, just a projection of his own separation.

As George later lamented on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping …

What love is sleeping inside Eleanor Rigby as she picks up the rice from a church wedding? McCartney’s masterpiece stands as perhaps pop’s most poignant portrait of human loneliness. In so vividly describing her waiting by the window, wearing makeup for no one, Paul etches a painful picture of life without love and connection.

All the lonely people,
where do they all come from?
All the lonely people,
where do they all belong?

In not answering, Paul prompts us to wonder: What do I do about loneliness? How am I blind? Is the world really at my command, if only I can truly love?

The questions echo down the decades, and in my heart, to this day.

Here’s a video clip from the 1967 worldwide broadcast …

From a later remastering, this is Nowhere Man …

And here’s Eleanor Rigby …

Care to read more?

Charles Honey is a freelance writer specializing in faith, education, music and baseball. He wrote a religion column for The Grand Rapids Press/MLive for 20 years, is a staff writer for School News Network and writes a blog on everyday spiritual experience, He teaches a short adult-learner course called “Love is All, Love is You: The Spirituality of the Beatles.” Recently, Charles was featured in a ReadTheSpirit Cover Story about his new book Faith on First.

ALSO THIS WEEK, our section on Holidays, Festivals & Anniversaries looks at the many ways the Beatles reshaped popular culture in the second half of 1965—a golden anniversary in 2015. Plus, to help you sense what it was like 50 years ago, this column includes two short videos of the Beatles taking the stage at Shea Stadium and then performing A Hard Day’s Night on that historic occasion.

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  1. jean says

    The beatles mostly helped steer young people toward the occult and eastern religions. They were responsible for much turning away from God and towards drugs, sex, etc.

  2. Mary says

    Jean, I agree that the Beatles definitely influenced the baby boomer generation, and, unfortunately, not all for the good. However, they were not the only factor in our generation turning away from God and toward unhealthy — and times deadly — practices.

    Some of their music was meaningful (in a good way) and masterfully played.