1 9 7 7 (UK)
17 x 60 minute episodes
Director Tony Palmer bumped into John Lennon by chance on a Manhattan street in the autumn of 1972. Over lunch, Lennon asked Palmer what he was working on. The conversation drifted on to the epic documentary series that were all the rage at the time, such as Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation and Alistair Cooke’s America.
Lennon thought the history of popular music would provide worthy subject matter and started drawing up a list of topics to be covered. As he left the café, he turned around and said to Tony Pamer, “I’ve got the perfect title for you. Call it All You Need Is Love.’”
So began the first major television insight into the origins of popular music, which attempted to look beyond the commerciality of the business to champion the people whose artistry fed the voracious and cynical industry.
With the support of his old boss Paul Fox, then at Yorkshire Television, Palmer sweet-talked ITV into commissioning the series. Sixteen episodes were planned – one for each of the topics on the original Lennon-inspired list. It was a monumental undertaking, and, faced with a mountain of research, Palmer enlisted some help from specialists, including George Melly, Stephen Sondheim, Humphrey Lyttelton, Jack Good and rock journalist Charlie Gillett.
Palmer took to the road and, over five months across 40 countries, he filled reel after reel of film with interviews and performances courtesy of some of the most important names in music history: Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Hoagy Carmichael, Richard Rodgers, Bing Crosby, Cab Calloway, Artie Shaw, BB King, Pete Seeger and virtually everyone (Elvis Presley aside) who mattered from rock’n’roll onwards.
Some were harder to track down than others. Jerry Lee Lewis was discovered playing the piano in the lobby of a Holiday Inn, and Muddy Waters was found entertaining a pitifully small audience in a Chicago blues club.
But the effort paid off. All You Need Is Love is a remarkable catalogue of the great and the good of twentieth-century music – moving from African tribesmen beating drums via ragtime, jazz, blues, vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, swing, rhythm & blues, country, protest music, rock’n’roll, The Beatles, psychedelia and glam rock – that astonished even the director in retrospect. “I occasionally look at bits of it for one reason or another, and I can’t believe that I met these people,” Palmer said.
While much of the film is original, Palmer also managed to unearth rare existing footage and obtain material secreted away in private collections. It was thought, for example, that no film existed of Arlo Guthrie, but the series found some.
When the series aired, the 16 episodes were preceded by an introductory episode that explained what viewers could expect in the coming weeks. This was a late addition and a clever one because it encouraged people to watch the whole series and not dip in and out when their favoured genre was featured.
A cavalcade of artists were featured, including Hoagy Carmichael, Bing Crosby, Carl Perkins, Bill Haley, Bo Diddley, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, The Beach Boys, The Who, The Supremes, The Rolling Stones, Cliff Richard, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Alice Cooper, Joan Baez, Stevie Wonder, The Bee Gees, Gary Glitter, Electric Light Orchestra, Roxy Music, The Osmonds and KISS.