It’s Only Love

Help! album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 15 June 1965
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

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

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar, electric guitar
Paul McCartney: bass
George Harrison: lead guitar, 12-string acoustic guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine

Available on:
Anthology 2

Written primarily by John Lennon, It's Only Love first appeared on the second side of the Help! album. It originally had the working title That's A Nice Hat.

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Lennon later spoke of his embarrassment at the triteness of the lyrics. He told Hit Parader magazine: "That's the one song I really hate of mine. Terrible lyric." In another interview he named It's Only Love and Rubber Soul's Run For Your Life as his least favourite Beatles songs.

It's Only Love is mine. I always thought it was a lousy song. The lyrics were abysmal. I always hated that song.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Paul McCartney, who co-wrote the song at Lennon's home in Weybridge, was slightly more forgiving.

Sometimes we didn't fight it if the lyric came out rather bland on some of those filler songs like It's Only Love. If a lyric was really bad we'd edit it, but we weren't that fussy about it, because it's only a rock 'n' roll song. I mean, this is not literature.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In his book Revolution In The Head, Ian MacDonald explained how Lennon's melodies tended to be 'horizontal' in nature, often based around a single repeated note, whereas McCartney's would climb up and down the scales 'vertically'.

It's Only Love, however, is more melodically 'vertical' than many of Lennon's compositions of the time. If Lennon was later ashamed by the lyrics, the winding tune and explorative chord sequence showed that he wasn't simply going through the motions of songwriting.

In the studio

The Beatles recorded It's Only Love during an afternoon session on 15 June 1965. It took six takes to get right, though only four of those were complete.

Lennon double-tracked his vocals onto take six, and five guitars were recorded: two acoustic, including a 12-string; and three electric guitars, with a tremolo effect applied to Harrison's 12-string Rickenbacker.

Take two of It's Only Love was included on Anthology 2 in 1996, along with the aborted take three from the session. Interestingly, Ringo Starr's drum part on take two was very similar to that later heard on another Lennon song, Rubber Soul's In My Life.

38 responses on “It’s Only Love

  1. SD

    Harrison also played acoustic guitar (in addition to his lead guitar) when the backing track was recorded. He played the 12-string acoustic capoed at the fifth fret. You can hear it clearly on the early take on Anthology 2, entering at 00:06. In the final mix this backing track was mixed to the left channel (compare the two versions).
    The right channel has Harrison’s lead plus a dry “chick” electric guitar playing chords in the verses (probably Lennon).

    1. 2much4mymirror

      Brian, I too have always had a fondness for this song. It’s quite pretty and kind of dreamy. The middle is especially good too. Wonder what Paul’s contribution was?

    2. Sea Jay

      I remembered this song years after it came out. I absolutely love it and love singing it. Too bad, John and Paul didn’t like it. Why do I love this song? Who knows why anybody love a particular song. I saw The Beatles when I was 13 years only in Baltimore, Maryland and have followed music my whole life. While I like all The Beatles music really, another one I not is “In My Life.

    3. Johnbee

      John seemed to base his liking for his own songs purely on the lyrics. If the lyrics meant something to him then he would like the song (Help, Don’t Let Me Down, etc) but hated this song which is by far the Beatles worst lyric IMO …. if he’d written better lyrics he’d probably have liked it.

  2. Bill

    After listening to It’s Only Love on the remastered mono CD, I wondered why the first (“I”) and third (“high”) words contain a noticeable warble that I never picked up on before. I also checked out the remastered stereo CD, and then the vinyl, and it appears on all of them. Almost sounds like there was a problem with the master tape, or some mild feedback. Any idea what caused it to sound like this, and not “smoother”?

    1. Tom Wotus

      Agreed, but I always thought it was simply distortion. After the word “high” it was very Clean the rest of the way. My guess is -the engineer simply brought the fader down a pinch. Lyric-wise…sure,a little Weak, BUT with every collection of “Masterpieces, there’s bound 2 b a so-so track,now & then.

  3. vonbontee

    That can’t be a Leslie creating that warbling guitar tone – wasn’t “Tomorrow Never Knows” famously their first occasion to employ one for anything other than the intended Hammond organ?

    To me, it just sounds like a guitar amplifier with a vibrato or tremelo unit; and, indeed, a Google search turns up many guitarists who, independently of one another, specifically cite a Magnatone amp as the probable source.

          1. Vonbontee

            That’s an informative page Nelson linked to! To my ears, “It’s Only Love” still doesn’t have that distinctive swirly Leslie sound, the way that “Bumble Bee” and “The Birds And The Bees” and everything else I recognize on that page does, but I suppose it’s possible I’m wrong. (Even though the guy who compiled the page invites people to make corrections of any mistakes he may have made…)

        1. michaelr

          George is using a tremolo effect on one of his overdubbed guitar tracks, and uses his volume pedal on another. The volume pedal (often mistaken for a wah-wah pedal) was also used by George on “I Need You” as well as “Yes It Is”.

    1. Jake's in Canada

      I heard a local band in north Wales do this one live in 1966. At that time, the lead guitarist and singer used a Selmer Zodiac Twin 50 with the green coloured blinking eye on the front, set at a very high speed. Playing a Rickenbacker through it, he really captured John’s guitar sound. I know JL used a Selmer on occasions. It’s not impossible it could have been this setup.

  4. DB

    What a beautiful melody. George’s playing with the 12-string acoustic guitar (heard best on the Anthology CD) is magnificent. And the Anthology version offers a good contrast in the strumming styles of George and John. Obviously, George Martin and the three surviving Beatles thought the song quite good enough for inclusion in the Anthology CD.

  5. Dave

    I always thought the repetition of the long “i” in the lyrics was unique and beautiful…

    “I… high… I… by… my… my… sight… nighttime… bright… sigh… insides… fly… Why… I… shy… I’m… beside… etc.”

  6. Tweeze

    Most groups would kill for what John calls trite and abysmal. No slam necessarily to Paul, but truly the lyrics approach Paul’s candy lightness and, quite frankly, still out performs many of his solo outings – especially the ‘Wild Life’ collection.

  7. tinkersong

    One of my favourite, lesser known Beatles songs, for which I have a great fondness. One I learned to play as a budding guitarist, there is some good/unusual chord sequencing in it.

    A great melody. I can even relate to the words – it’s boy-girl stuff.

  8. SW

    Is there any other example of John (jokingly) “trilling” the r, in a rhotic way, like he does in the word “bright”: “Just the sight of you makes nighttime bright”. I always laugh at that.

      1. SW

        I know! It’s so endearing. He doesn’t “trill” the r in the demo/”Anthology” version, I think, so one has to assume it was a spur of the moment kind of thing that ended up in the final version.

  9. babysneaks

    Ever notice the lead singing credit for this song on the British Help! is for John but on the American Rubber Soul the singing credit goes to “John and Paul”? Who added Paul and what was he or she hearing?

  10. Billy Shears

    Great observations on John’s wit in his songwriting. However, not to throw a wet blanket on everyone,but this is perhaps the first reference to any drug use in their songs. “I get high….” Not many listeners at the time may have picked that up – sounds innocent enough – but things were changing in the lives of the boys. I don’t think that that phrase was in common use for any type of “good-feeling” in 1965. Looking back at the progression of time and songs they wrote, this little subtle reference may tell volumes about a change of direction in both life-style and song craftsmanship.

    1. Silly Girl

      Ha! I noticed that too. “She’s A Woman” mentions turn-ons, but “It’s Only Love” has the first get-high, as far as I know. And both mentions escaped the broadcast censors?….

  11. Johan cavalli

    I think It´s Only Love is one of The Beatles best songs! It´s a masterpiece. A straight melody — it´s very difficult to compose a seemingly simple melody, Lennon was always able to that — and the hook “butterfly” in a +chord on the guitar. And Lennon´s fantastical voice; tender and desperate. The song was released together with Yesterday in the Help album in August 1965. I always thought that Only Love was as good as Yesterday, or better.
    There is something strange with Lennon´s contemt for the song. I am sure the reason why he hated it was another than he said. And because Lennon despised it, McCartney said it was a filler, and all later critics said the same.

  12. SaxonMothersSon

    Through the years of John’s interviews, I believe at some point he hated every song he wrote. This was on the American Rubber Soul. That whole period in my life was special, as I was just going into high school, leaving many old friends behind. Love this song. And yeah, its descending melody line would be repeated in Mr.Kite.

  13. manteau

    I hear John supressing a laughter after , or during “very bright”, makes me cheer up everytime since 76! beautiful melody, cheesy lyrics, was that the reason why he almost cracked up ? because this set of lyrics wasn’t comparable to Dylan’s output at the time? only he knows!

  14. Graham Paterson

    John particularly did not like this, but I love this songs melody. It is beautiful. Loved it when I first heard this on “Love Songs”. Would have fitted in well on the film and soundtrack of “Help!”, but ended up on side two. Love George Harrisons 12 string acoustic guitar work on this.

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