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’.
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.
The lyrics of ‘The Word’ displayed an almost religious fervour, with John Lennon and Paul 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.
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 reproduced in Cage’s book Notations, a collection of scores from modern music.
‘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?
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 Paul McCartney, a harmonium part performed by George Martin, and maracas played by Ringo Starr.