All you need is love, as the Beatles said on a different occasion. And sometimes music is all you need.
Here then are a few thoughts on music in these fractured days. Days of bad-tempered electioneering. Days of anger and sorrow. And puzzlement at what is happening and why it’s happening and who might be to blame.
These thoughts were stirred by Sunday’s One Love Manchester concert and by Sgt Pepper’s Musical Revolution with Howard Goodall on BBC2.
I didn’t catch the whole concert but saw enough to appreciate that Ariane Grande and her manager did an amazing job in pulling together so many artists for this emotional benefit concert two weeks after the attack on her concert at the Manchester Arena.
It might have seemed odd – a mass charity gig so soon after the original ended with tragedy for an encore. And happening the day after the London Bridge attacks. But in the event, everything seemed right. Even Chris Martin and Liam Gallagher together seemed right. Even Coldplay seemed right and it’s not often you can say that.
Martin led the crowd in a swelling version of that Oasis hymn to Manchester, Don’t Look Back In Anger, and it was good and it was right.
Ariana Grande, who is 23, looked tiny on that stage, all heels and hair, but she belted out her songs and pleased her fans, and you can’t fault her for that. Or for her guts and spirit. She wanted to do something and this was it.
Many of her fans are girls and young women, and they love her beyond reason. And that image acts as a bridge here. For Howard Goodall’s programme began with footage of young women screaming themselves into a swoon as the Beatles sang.
That hysteria drove the Beatles to stop touring and hide in Abbey Road studios to concentrate on recording what would turn out to be their masterpiece.
It was 50 years ago today – or last week, if you’re being picky, that the Beatles released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Goodall’s programme took something familiar and showed how strange and mysterious and wonderful it really was, and still is. And you can take that from someone who isn’t even that much of a Beatles fan.
Goodall is a musical archaeologist who digs through layers of music. And there is so much to sift with Sgt Pepper – an album of many styles and moods that pretty much made the mould for modern music.
Using original tapes, outtakes and studio conversations, Goodall explains the sheer ambition of the album in its composition and recording. The Beatles took strands of their past and odd bits of reportage from the newspapers, and somehow span these fragments into something magical.
We already knew that Sgt Pepper wasn’t just a collection of great music – it was the creation of studio brilliance from George Martin and his team at a time when studios were basic, just four-track tapes and whatever hands-on cleverness could be summoned up.
But Goodall’s film reveals more about the recording, and shows just how inventive everyone was in that studio. With endless splicing and laying down of new tapes, those four tracks in Abbey Road produced effects that still astonish today – when a studio wizard can produce just about anything with a twiddle of a dial or two. Or 202 probably.
Goodall is the perfect guide here, as he knows the nuts and the bolts and the notes, and yet can still marvel at the music as he prises it apart. And plays the tune on a keyboard. He likes doing that and it helps.
All I can say is give that programme a watch: it’s marvellous.
Goodall unearths so much, and his taking apart of A Day In The Life is fascinating. He shows how this is essentially two songs linked by that orchestral surge when the players were told to start as low as their instruments would go and find their own way to E.
He also explained that triumphant final E major chord. Eight people played seven pianos, plus an electric organ and a harmonium. The dying sounds of the notes were recorded separately and the sound extended by the fader on the mixing desk.
That’s why that chord goes on for so long. Why it has echoed for 50 years. And why it will last longer than our present troubles. Sometimes music is all you need.