When John Lennon Flubbed Beatles Lyrics on a Broadcast to 350 Million People

If you ever watch the Super Bowl halftime show, you know how much lip-snyching takes away from the performance. However, with hundreds of millions of people watching around the globe, some performers don’t want to take the chance they’ll mess up.

When The Beatles agreed to perform “All You Need Is Love” for the first global broadcast transmitted around the world, John Lennon seemed to realize that singing it live was the only way to go. Behind the scenes, the band’s production team at Abbey Road thought it was a bad idea.

“Miming to a prerecorded track was the safest course of action,” engineer Geoff Emerick wrote in Here, There and Everywhere. Emerick described Lennon’s plan to sing live as “a foolhardy — though brave — decision.” Producer George Martin agreed the Fab Four should tape everything.

But John was one of two leaders in the world’s most famous band, and he insisted they do as he said. And though the performance went well, John did mess up on a few lyrics in a broadcast that reached an estimated 350 million people on June 24, 1967.

John became nervous right before the ‘One World’ performance

The Beatles meet with the press at EMI Studios in Abbey Road for the ‘One World’ global TV satellite link up programme. The band performed ‘All You Need is Love,’ 24 June 1967. | Mark and Colleen Hayward/Redferns

While John seemed confident in the run-up to the performance, he got quite nervous when it came time to sing. Emerick recalled him walking around the studio chain-smoking cigarettes and muttering about “getting the words right.”

At this point in time, The Beatles had stopped touring, so tasks like remembering lyrics on stage didn’t come with the job. John couldn’t use a lyric sheet, either. The way the production crew set up the cameras, such a sheet would be too conspicuous. He had to sing the lyrics by memory.

Fortunately, he wasn’t singing “I Am the Walrus” or another song impossible to perform live. “All You Need Is Love,” as every Beatles fan knows, only contains a few short, repetitive verses that total nine lines apart from the chorus.

The trick is remembering the key word — whatever follows “Nothing you can” — that triggers the following lines of each verse. Though he smoked up a storm and fretted about the performance, John got most of them right. However, he did miss two lines in the One World performance.

John had to redo 2 lines of his ‘All You Need Is Love’ vocal

‘The Beatles’ perform their song ‘All You Need Is Love’ on ‘Our World’ the first live satellite performance broadcast to the world on June 25, 1967. | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

While John delivered his usual powerhouse vocal on the “All You Need Is Love” broadcast, Emerick said he flubbed two lines in the second verse. Fixing it was easy enough: The production team pulled the lines from the live version and got the correct ones on the single they released weeks later.

Would anyone have noticed an issue with John’s lyrics? It would have been next to impossible. After all, he’d written “All You Need Is Love” specifically for that broadcast. So Beatles fans (and all other listeners) were hearing it for the first time.

Meanwhile, the lengthy lines in the verses can be hard to follow even for Beatles fans. (“Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time” offers a good example.) So, flubbed lyrics and all, the Fab Four’s performance was a success. And the song became a No. 1 hit in 10 different countries.

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