It's Only Love

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Cover versions and notes on The Beatles' song "It's Only Love".

Written By: 
Primary Recording
The Beatles
Lead Vocal: 
John Lennon
Cover Versions
Amazon MP3: 
Part Number:
Image of It's Only Love
Manufacturer: Disk Eyes Productions
Part Number:
Part Number:
Image of It's Only Love
Manufacturer: Little Parrot
Part Number:
Image of It's Only Love
Manufacturer: Acme Brothers Records
Part Number:
Alan W. Pollack's "Notes On"

Notes on "It's Only Love" (IOL)

KEY C Major


FORM Intro -> Verse -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain -> Outro GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST

Style and Form

- The combination of textural soft-focus with a Moderato tempo is a bit of a departure for John though the elliptical emotional stance of the lyrics is right up his alley.

- The form is structurally both short and simple. To the extent that, as we'll see, the formal boundary between what I've labelled as Verse and Refrain is rather blurred you might argue that the meat of the song be even more compactly described as a repetition of a single larger Verse + Refrain "combo" section.

Melody and Harmony

- Chromatic scale motion, always one of John's favorite hot buttons, has an influence on both melody and harmony in this song; creating here side effects as diverse as cross-relations, augmented triads, and harmonic root movement of a tritone.

- In spite of the relatively small number of chords that are utilized throughout, the song deploys the mildly unusual flat-VII (B flat) in two entirely different contexts; as we'll see, it's the same old chord but with a different meaning, the result of a change in the angle of approach.

- The melodic hooks of the song feature a sighing 6->5 appoggiatura, whether it's the descending guitar lick of the intro/outro, or the main vocal line; in the verse, on the words "(be)side-you", and in the refrain on the word "hard", so to speak.


- The overall sound of the piece is one that is difficult to pigeonhole. You would expect the prominence of the guitar parts and relative absence of percussion to project a Byrds-ey folk rock image, but the hazy finish applied to the final mix works at cross-currents to that.

- The acoustic and electric guitars remain well isolated from each other on the two stereo tracks in spite of all haze. The lead part consists heavily of choppy chords applied to the syncopated off-beats and short melodic fills between the phrases.

- The vocals feature John all the way; single tracked solo in verse, and doubled up in the refrain. The double tracking here sounds more out of synch and less evenly balanced than usual, making me wonder if one of the two vocals is actually the vestige of a "guide vocal" left over from an early take of the backing track.



- We have a four-measure intro which economically establishes the instrumental texture, tone, and tonality of the entire song:

        --------------- 2X --------------
        |C              |a              |
C:       I               vi

- The intro, (as well as the outro and part of the refrain) place an almost hook-like emphasis on the I->vi progression, which is an old Beatles trademark starting back as far as "Misery" and running heavily through the 'A side' of _With The Beatles_.


- Very much like what we saw last time in "I've Just Seen A Face", the verse here is a twelve measure section whose 'AAB' phrasing pattern matches that of the blues even though such a connection is supported by neither the harmony nor the style:

        ------------------------------- 2X ------------------------------
chords: |C      e       |B-flat   F     |G              |G augmented    |
b'line: |C      B       |B-flat   F ...
         I      iii6/4   flat-VII IV     V 4  ->  3      #5

                                         6   -> 5
        |F              |G              |C              |a              |
         IV              V               I               vi

- The downward chromatic bassline at the start "forces" a strange root progression of I->iii->flat-VII. The effect of this is somewhat softened by the linear logic of the bassline itself and the placement of the iii chord in so-called second inversion; try playing the same progression with the iii chord in root position and see how much more strange it sounds.

- Some analysts might even argue in favor of not analyzing our e minor chord here as 'iii' with a Roman numeral per se, as much as they would describe it more simply as the transitory harmonic by-product of linear motion between the two surrounding chords. Again, try imagining the phrase without *any* e minor chord in it, just the C Major chord sustained all the way through the entire first measure, and note how the overall feel of it is still the same.

- The usage of flat-VII sounds here like the "IV-of-IV" variant most familiar to Beatles fans in context of the second half of "Hey Jude".

- A constant low-level of harmonic dissonance abounds, rather evocative of the vague basal uneasiness described in the lyrics. Some of it is logically motivated and clearly resolved; e.g. the 4-3 suspension implied by the lead guitar part in measure 3, and the transient augmented chord caused by chromatic motion, this time upward for a change. Yet, some of it is entirely gratuitous; e.g. the added sixths implied by the vocal part over the F and G chords in the last phrase (on the words "so" and "to/it").

- The first two phrases open out to V; not just a "vanilla" kind of V, but that intensified augmented flavor of it. And this only goes to heighten the sense of musical frustration and backing off that is inherent in the deferred gratification of moving onward from V to IV.

- The ending of the section with our much favored I-vi progression is so open ended in feeling that the dividing line between the verse and refrain is much less clearly articulated than usual.


- The refrain is eight measures long and built out of two roughly parallel phrases that are equal in length. The first phrase leads into the second one exactly the same way it itself had been set up by the verse ending. The second phrase leads back toward the following verse with its ending on V:

        |B-flat         |G              |C              |a              |
         flat-VII        V               I               vi

                                         6   -> 5
        |B-flat         |G              |F              |G              |
         flat-VII        V               IV              V

- With the the verse ending on the vi chord (a minor), you'd much sooner expect the first chord of this refrain to be either IV (F) or ii (d); try this out and see how well it actually works. The move to B flat, while not at all unsatisfying *does* work as a surprise, and furthermore sets up a cross-relation when the next chord after it is V (G). This use of flat-VII as a subdominant is something we saw for the first time way back in "All My Loving", of all places. As a device, you might describe it as similar in structure and effect to the gambit in which V-of-V is followed by IV, which also turns out to be a much favored harmonic trick of the Beatles.

- No surprise, by the way, but a tambourine is added for this section to provide some contrast in the instrumental backing.


- The outro is so smoothly handled that you'd never notice where the seams of it are unless you stopped to analyze it per se. It starts off with a single petit reprise of last half-phrase of the refrain that is stretched out for an extra three of measures by John's falsetto melissma, with the whole thing is capped by the intro redux:

                                        ------- 2X -----
        |F      |G      |C      |a      |C      |a      |C      ||
         IV      V       I       vi      I       vi      I
        |--- reprise ---|---- melissma ---------|
                                        | -- 2nd time: intro ----|

- The resonating reverb and tremelo applied to the the final chord is striking; what more can I say about it ?


- The lyrics of this song are deceptively simple in their outlook and message. We've noted elsewhere (e.g. back in our study of "Yes It Is") John's talent for plumbing the poetic depths that are inherent in the bourgeois cliches of the vernacular, and this one provides yet another fine example. Indeed, if it's "*only* love", then why the exquisite pleasure pain over why it's "so hard"? Right!?

- On a different plane, I seem to remember a possibly apocryphal tale that a certain Mr. Zimmermann has claimed to have been clued in to the fact that Our Own Sweet Boys had begun to "take Tea" by the opening line of this very song. Can one of the biographic fiends of this group shed some light on this one? "I get high ...", really, now.

Alan ( *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)

"She'll only reject me in the end and I'll be froostrated."     011993#74

                Copyright (c) 1993 by Alan W. Pollack
                          All Rights Reserved

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