In the Beatles‘ early days, the songwriting partnership between John Lennon and Paul McCartney was balanced and consistent enough to warrant their 50/50 credit system. But the sweetly resolute road song “All My Loving” deviated from that norm.
The song — which famously opened their debut Ed Sullivan Show performance on Feb. 9, 1964 — was a solo McCartney composition, top to bottom. It originated the previous year, hashed out efficiently in their usual style from those days. And there was one other wrinkle. “It was the first song [where] I’d ever written the words first,” the bassist recalled in 1997’s Many Years From Now. “I never wrote words first, it was always some kind of accompaniment. I’ve hardly ever done it since either.”
McCartney dreamed up the lyrics, envisioning a “little country and western song,” as the Beatles traveled in a tour bus to a gig. Temporarily without a guitar, he sat down at a piano in the venue’s cavernous backstage area, figuring out a melody. “It was a good show song,” he added. “It worked well live.”
But that’s because of the spirited full-band arrangement, which packs in numerous interesting details into a reliably tight, two-minute pop-rock blast: McCartney’s lead vocal — clearly double-tracked, given the subtle variants of each take — glides over his own walking bass, Lennon’s furiously strummed triplet rhythm, chromatic chorus harmonies and George Harrison‘s twangy lead guitar break.
Another notable feature is silence. Note how the entire band stops playing after “I’ll send all my loving to you” around the 24-second mark. Then McCartney’s voice opens the next verse a cappella for the first two words (“I’ll pretend“), giving the band a visceral edge when they crash back in. (Ringo Starr‘s swooshing, opened hi-hats help tremendously.)
The Beatles recorded “All My Loving” on July 30, 1963, and it became an immediate highlight from their November-issued second LP, With the Beatles. The song feels extra significant in the band’s lore, partly because of the Ed Sullivan spot — so it’s fascinating to remember that they never released it as a single in the U.K. or U.S. (Regardless, a Canadian-issued single was imported into the States, and the track wound up at No. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 anyway.)
“All My Loving” ranks among the elite Beatles songs never released as a single — but more importantly, it’s a definitive showcase for the early group’s creativity and cohesion. Even Lennon, who by 1980 was often dismissive of McCartney’s writing, praised the track as a classic.
“‘All My Loving’ is Paul, I regret to say,” he told Playboy that year with a laugh. “Because it’s a damn good piece of work. … But I play a pretty mean guitar in back.”