The Word

Rubber Soul album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 10 November 1965
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 3 December 1965 (UK), 6 December 1965 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney: vocals, bass, piano
George Harrison: vocals, lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, maracas
George Martin: harmonium

Available on:
Rubber Soul
Love

Released in 1965 on Rubber Soul, The Word found The Beatles singing for the first time about love as a notional concept. It was a turning point in their writing, marking a transition between early songs such as She Loves You, and the psychedelic era's belief that All You Need Is Love.

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It sort of dawned on me that love was the answer, when I was younger, on the Rubber Soul album. My first expression of it was a song called The Word. The word is 'love', in the good and the bad books that I have read, whatever, wherever, the word is 'love'. It seems like the underlying theme to the universe.
John Lennon
Anthology

The lyrics displayed an almost religious fervour, with Lennon and McCartney acting as evangelists for their new revelation about love.

In the beginning I misunderstood
But now I've got it, the word is good...

Now that I know what I feel must be right
I'm here to show everybody the light

The Word demonstrated The Beatles' increasing awareness of their power as spokesmen and figureheads. This was developed especially by Lennon, in 1966's Rain ('Can you hear me?'; 'I can show you') and his later political songs.

The song was a collaboration between Lennon and McCartney, and began as an attempt to write a song based around a single note.

We smoked a bit of pot, then we wrote out a multicoloured lyric sheet, the first time we'd ever done that. We normally didn't smoke when we were working. It got in the way of songwriting because it would just cloud your mind up - 'Oh, shit, what are we doing?' It's better to be straight. But we did this multicoloured thing.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Lennon later allowed Yoko Ono to give the lyric sheet to John Cage as a birthday present. It was later reproduced in Cage's book Notations, a collection of scores from modern music.

Elements from The Word were combined with Drive My Car and What You're Doing, for a sequence on the 2006 album Love.

The Word was written together, but it's mainly mine. You read the words, it's all about - gettin' smart. It's the marijuana period. It's love, it's the love-and-peace thing. The word is 'love', right?
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

In the studio

The Word was recorded in a session beginning at 9pm on 10 November 1965, finishing at 4am the following morning.

It took just three takes to perfect the rhythm track. Onto this were overdubbed harmony vocals, piano by McCartney, a harmonium part performed by George Martin, and maracas played by Starr.

28 responses on “The Word

  1. SFDavis1089

    I remember the first time I heard that song. The announcer had prefixed it with a (not altogether verbatim) reading of the Vision of Lehi from the BOOK OF MORMON. Does anybody else remember a similar event?

      1. Gary

        You would be mistaken. John was certainly a cosmic fellow, and the fact that he presented this work to a woman with whom he later conceived and raised a child is no accident. This song is appropriately played in church services.

        what planet are you from?

  2. SD

    A complex recording with a total of seven vocals. We hear the following four tracks, 1 and 2 on the left, 3 and 4 on the right:

    1) Paul’s piano, Ringo’s drums, John’s “chick” rhythm on Strat
    2) John’s lead vocal and backing vocals from Paul and George
    3) John’s double-tracked lead vocal (muted for the British stereo mix) and doubled backing vocals from Paul and George, maracas (Ringo) plus Martin’s harmonium
    4) Paul’s bass, high falsetto vocal in the last chorus and coda by John and George’s overdubbed lead guitar (doubling Lennon’s mantra-like repeated line, first time appearing 0:28-0:36) plus more maracas by Ringo

    1. RingoStarr39

      Actually the 4 tracks are like this:

      1: Both guitars, Drums, Piano

      2: Maracas, George’s backing vocals, Bass, Harmonium

      3: Paul and John’s vocals, more of George’s vocals

      4: More of Paul and John’s vocals

  3. AlbertCunning

    Given that John Cage turned 50 in September 1962, the chart couldn’t have been presented to him then, as the song wasn’t written until late 1965.

    When interviewed by Howard Stern in 2001, Paul claimed Yoko came around to his flat to ask for some manuscripts to give away for ‘John Cage’s 60TH birthday or something…’

    Being rather unwilling to give away any of his own memorabilia, Paul suggested she’d go and see John instead, and HE then ended up giving away the lyric sheet/chart they made for ‘The Word’.

    54th birthday is probably correct.

  4. Nelson

    Does anyone see the connection between this song and “All You Need Is Love”? Its like the Beatles did the psychedelic hippie thing first on this song. I also loved how the merged funk elements in this song.

  5. 2much4mymirror

    “The Word” may be the first in what would be a long line of songs that reflected John’s affinity for the song as T.V. commercial. “All You Need Is Love,” “Give Peace A Chance,” “Come Together,” “Happy Xmas(War is Over),” “Mind Games” (especially the fadout), and even stuff like “Imagine” were songs that instantly grabbed you and then kept you with a simple compelling message.

  6. paulsbass

    When I played this to my little brother (about 14 at the time) he reacted just like I hoped:
    After 5 seconds of this incredibly tight and funky beat he just said: “Who will ever be better than the Beatles?”

    There are so many things to love about this song:
    1) The lyrics/message. John at his best.
    2) The groove. Paul and Ringo at their best. I mentioned the excessive and very effective use of the tambourine on this album somewhere else before (also check Paperback writer), it’s very important for the groove.
    3) The vocal harmonies. Love it how they put more and more on top of it in the last verse.
    4) Nobody mentioned the organ solo yet, which is about the best part! Put on your headphones and check out how the notes are swinging more and more the more dissonant they get – and the release in the last last notes. Genius!! Sounds best on Vinyl and mono, of course.

    One of my top ten Beatles songs, easily.

    1. philmat

      Totally agree with you on the rythm section. Paul’s bass almost sounds like Duck Dunn. As in Taxman, I believe this was the Ric he used here.

    2. philmat

      Also, not mentioned, is the piano part, which lends the song a very R&B flavor. Paul, brilliant, as usual. I actually have this song as my ringtone on my cell, haha.

  7. Von Bontee

    A funky song indeed, just like “Taxman” with the 7th chords on guitar leaving Paul free to jump around and provide most of the motion. And dig that wonderful little bass fill at 1:15!

  8. Joe T

    I can’t but help and think of The Gospel of John when listening to this song. As it begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And as it says in John 4:8, “God is love.”

    I don’t know if Lennon was aware of this as he wrote the song, but to me it is endlessly interesting.

  9. Bobby Shiflett

    I concur with Joe T’s analogy between the song, The Word and The Gospel of John. In many ways, this song was the first epistle of John Lennon’s on the subject of Universal Love. More obviously though are the lines that almost seem to be lifted from the Bible: “IN THE BEGINNING I misunderstood” vs. “In the beginning was the Word.” and the lines “Now I know what I feel must be right. I’m here to show everybody the Light.” vs. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” Also, “Give the word a chance to say, That the word is just the way…” John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Finally, given John’s fascination with the number 9, there is John 9:9 “Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he.” vs. “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” I Am the Walrus.

    1. Dr. Cornelius

      Yes absolutely – the word play between the Biblical concepts and his version based on love always seemed to me to be the dominant concept here but I hadn’t noticed the later verses you mention and the direct connection to those passages. Also there’s the “in the good and the bad books that i have read” bit which Joe touches upon too in the song write up he has here. This song is just brilliant. And think how this album must’ve really blown people’s minds, being barely a year after the height of Beatlemania (Hard Day’s Night etc)

  10. George Benaquista

    In my opinion,this song captures the essence of the classic Beatles sound during the mid sixties.This song has it all,great lyrics,great melody,great harmonies,great tempo.This song grooves. One of my all time favorites.

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