“All You Need is Love: The Story of Popular Music”: Tony Palmer’s 17-part UK TV docu-series

By on May 22, 2018

If you’ve been watching the snack-size “Night Flight Highlights” episodes we’ve been airing on the IFC channel every Friday night since April 20th, you may have seen excerpts from Tony Palmer’s ambitious All You Need Is Love: The Story of Popular Music.

The compelling 17-part docu-series — originally broadcast on the BBC during prime-time on Saturday nights, between February 12 -June 4, 1977 — has been available, as of 2008, as a five-disc DVD set.

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We’ve already featured clips of Ozzy Osbourne and KISS, but in one of our forthcoming IFC episodes, you’ll be able to see the Who‘s Keith Moon (from Episode 15: “Whatever Gets You Through the Night: Glitter Rock”).

In the original clip, Moon is very off-key as he sings the beginning of “Do Me Good,” a track from his 1975 solo album Two Sides of the Moon, sounding in dire need of some corrective Auto-Tune-like knob-twiddling.

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We found out that an enterprising soul has uploaded Moon’s clip on Youtube, although he used Adobe Premiere editing software to synch up Moon’s final album version.

You’ll have to tune in IFC to watch“Night Flight” on Friday, June 1, 2018, to see how Moon originally sounded.

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British-born, Cambridge-educated Tony Palmer has a very impressive C.V.

He wrote music criticism for The Observer (1967-74), and a “Notes from the Underground” column for The Spectator (1969-74), and freelanced elsewhere, before he became an award-winning filmmaker, directing over forty documentaries.

His numerous credits include Frank Zappa‘s 1971 “fantasy opera” 200 Motels, (which he later savaged in his column), as well as several episodes for the BBC’s “Omnibus” series, including “Cream’s Farewell Concert” (1969).

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Read more about Tony Palmer’s All You Need is Love below.

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According to an article he wrote for the UK’s Times (April 18, 2008), Palmer says it was his friend John Lennon who initially gave him the encouragement to begin this massive undertaking in 1973.

“It’s what’s needed,” Lennon told Palmer. “Something that pieces together all the various elements that have gone into making rock ‘n’ roll: country, jazz, blues, ragtime, music hall, soul… it’s easy!”

Lennon even provided the project’s title, one of the Beatles songs, and when Palmer met later with executives at EMI and they learned the Beatles had already given their blessing, they became financial-backing partners.

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Palmer had worked with Lennon on the 1968 “Omnibus” documentary All My Loving, the first BBC doc ever televised in the U.S.

It featured interviews with Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Eric Burdon, Donovan and the members of the Beatles, the Who, Pink Floyd and Cream.

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Palmer enlisted the help of music expects — including jazz historian Leonard Feather, the Beatles press officer Derek Taylor, Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim more than a dozen others — who provided 2000-word essays.

In 1976, these essays were published in a companion book (Grossman/Viking Press), before the docu-series aired.

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Palmer was given access to incredible archival footage, and filmed over 300 interviews himself.

Some of what we see is incredible, like Eric Clapton playing a solo “Layla”; the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman, in tears, describing the funeral of former bandmate Brian Jones; folk singer Pete Seeger describing what it was like to be spat at for his “communist sympathies”; and Paul McCartney, accompanying himself on guitar, singing “Yesterday” in public for the very first time.

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All You Need is Love — patterned on the popular historical British TV series like Alistair Cooke’s America (1972-1973) — begins with the music first made in West Africa before tracing how it evolved down through time as popular music, through Ragtime, Jazz, Delta Blues, Vaudeville, Music Hall, Tin Pan Alley, Musicals, Swing, R&B, Country, Folk and finally Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Here are the titles of the last five episodes — “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll!,” “Mighty Good”: The Beatles,” “All Along the Watchtower: Sour Rock,” “Whatever Gets Your Through the Night: Glitter Rock,” and “Imagine: New Directions.”

Much like watching original USA network broadcasts of “Night Flight” episodes from 1981-1988 (not to mention our syndicated early ’90s-era episodes), watching all seventeen episodes of All You Need Is Love in the year 2018 is a little like looking at an anthropological artifact trapped in amber, unchanged and frozen in time.

Much of what is included in the series — all 14 hours and 45 minutes of it, in 50-minute episodes — remains unchanged, of course, covering the first 75 years of popular music.

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However, some of what you’ll find in All You Need is Love is, as one reviewer once wrote, “laughably off the mark.”

We couldn’t help but notice — and we’re sure most fans of “Night Flight” will notice this as well — the glaring omission of some musical genres.

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There’s very little soul music to be found here whatsoever, not to mention girl groups, rockabilly (which would have fit in nicely somewhere in Episodes 8-10), Fifties doo-wop, and the whole ’70s-era West Coast singer-songwriter movement.

There’s no mention the New York underground art-rock scene, nor any mention of Kraftwerk or European electronic music (although, strangely, Tangerine Dream is talked about briefly), and there was absolutely no mention of disco music whatsoever.

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All You Need is Love fails to delve into the punk movement, and when the docu-series premiered in ’77, it happened to be right in the middle of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, amid the Sex Pistols fracas with “God Save the Queen.”

Palmer says he simply ran out of money, and was refused more funding because his investors despised punk rock.

Overall, though, All You Need is Love: The Story of Popular Music is compelling viewing that we highly recommend.

Buy All You Need is Love (Isolde Films).

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.