Deep Beatles: "All I’ve Got to Do" from With the Beatles (1963)

As any Beatles student knows, the four made no secret of their love for R&B. Before they conquered the world, they cut their teeth on tracks by Little Richard, Arthur Alexander, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Larry Williams, and numerous Motown acts. Throughout their careers, The Beatles (as a group and as solo artists) interpreted soul and blues in a unique fashion, adding that pounding Ringo Starr backbeat and John Lennon’s slightly raspy vocals to lend them an edge. “All I’ve Got to Do,” a standout track from their second album With The Beatles (1963), blends rock and soul in a particularly sophisticated yet catchy way.

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In 1980 Lennon, the song’s primary composer, labeled “All I’ve Got to Do” as “me trying to do Smokey Robinson again.” While Lennon lacks Robinson’s patented falsetto, he does turn in a memorable vocal on this song. In fact, his emotion-packed singing ranks as one of his finest performances, both in his Beatles and solo years. “And the same goes for me, whenever you want me at all — I’ll be there, yes I will, whenever you call,” he cries, his voice rising in pitch and volume. When Lennon repeats these lines toward the track’s end, he effectively dramatizes the lovestruck man who will do anything for his beloved. “All I’ve Got to Do” also showcases The Beatles’ still-impressive harmonies, which they gradually honed until they reached near-perfection on Abbey Road. Paul McCartney and George Harrison’s combined voices punctuate and echo Lennon’s lead vocal, emphasizing his commitment. They stress the title phrase as well as the “you just gotta call on me” line, essentially convincing Lennon’s lover of his devotion.

Another standout in this track is Starr, whose slightly off-kilter drumming distinguishes this song from others circa 1963-1964. Few songs featured such start-stop rhythms instead of a typical 4/4 pattern. Starr’s trademark power-drumming accents the R&B roots of “All I’ve Got to Do,” also accompanying McCartney’s bass. When Starr’s beat briefly hesitates, it stresses Lennon’s passion while singing such lines as “And when I wanna kiss you, yeah, all I gotta do is whisper in your ear … the words you long to hear.” Having Lennon’s voice laid so bare must have been difficult for the rocker, as he famously disliked his own singing and often employed studio tricks to distort his vocals. However, such effects would have dulled the impact of the lyrics’ emotion.

The ending of “All I Got to Do” intrigues as well. Instead of fading out over the Beatles singing the lyrics, the song ends with Lennon humming the melody with McCartney and Harrison crooning “oos” behind him. After the intense feelings expressed in the final verses, the song downshifts to conclude on a quieter note. Has the narrator successfully convinced his lover of his devotion, thus transitioning into a laid-back, gently romantic tone? As is typical of many Beatles songs, the four leave it to listeners to determine for themselves.

Even early in their careers, The Beatles proved themselves masters of manipulating words and sounds to create a mood or evoke a feeling within the listener. In 1963, the Beatles were gradually experimenting with taking elements of already existing music, tearing them apart, and reconstructing them using their unique talents as glue. This action resulted in forever altering the rock landscape by expanding the very definitions of “rock” and “pop,” demonstrating that there may not be such a thing as “pure” soul or “pure” rock. Instead, these genres borrow from other fields to create new kinds of music. “All I’ve Got to Do” represents their early stage in this process, and album by album they further established themselves as “mad scientists” expanding the rock and pop worlds. While not as adventurous as later cuts like “Tomorrow Never Knows” or “A Day in the Life,” “All I’ve Got to Do” perfectly illustrates the Beatles’ pastiche technique.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

    I came to the Beatles earliest records very late — having viewed them throughout my youth as primitive and too sing-songy. Of course, all I had really heard were the biggest hits. When I finally delved into the albums themselves, cuts like this — the times when John explored his passion for Motown and R&B — were the ones that convinced me I had been wrong all along to ignore the pre-Help! era.

  • http://www.johnlennonseries.com Jude Southerland Kessler

    Kit, This is brilliantly done as always. Please keep me posted on your articles. I follow you on Twitter. For a researcher like me, this is gold. Thank you for such superb work. Jude

  • http://kitotoole.com Kit

    Thanks, Jude! I’m honored that you like my articles. Nick, thank you as well, and you bring up a good point–some people unfairly label their earlier work as “slight” compared to their later albums. Nonsense!

  • apollo c vermouth

    Nice reminder of the subtle effects/details that were little understood by early listeners. And many still.
    “All I’ve Got..” still plays easily in my head without the need of an actual device.

    Way back was old enough to have experienced early Elvis/his clones but, as a pre-teen, little identification with this ‘girly stuff’.
    My early music interests were mostly western/war movie soundtracks. ‘Magnificent Seven’, ‘Exodus’…’Rawhide’. ‘Classic’ support for cowboys, soldiers…tough guys. Inspirational while remaining some distance from a young teens own experiences.

    Finally caught by surprise by West Side Story. Closer to the heart. Early teen so enamored that besides owning the movie soundtrack also had Stan Kenton’s WSS ‘jazz’ LP. And yeah, admit to being into ‘Ferrante and Teicher’. Vegas styled piano guys who covered the popular themes with their sweeping versions.

    Then, of course, something else happened late ’63.

    Quickly became the proud owner of the first two US Beatles albums before the Fellas hit our shore.
    The timing was exactly right.
    That Feb Friday when they touched down was my birthday. Yes, I was just 17!, you know what….

    Of course the radio played the chart busters, everything. But at home listened to the covers/early L&M tracks equally with the hits. Was all so different from Elvis, cowboys and West Side Story.
    Girls swooned at the Beatles but they were obviously ‘serious’ musicians. So every awooohhh, chord, thumph, harmonica, drumbeat, detail was absorbed.

    There’s nothing like experiencing Beatles music (essentially) in chronological order.
    Absorbing Money/Thank You Girl before Things We Said Today, before Every Little Thing, before If I Needed Someone, before Hey Bulldog, before…..The End.

    Not done now. Too much exposure of the later and well known tracks.
    Or, at least, a challenge….a parent patiently and specifically introducing The Fabs from their beginning.

  • Karen Stoessel

    All I got to do…is read your reviews and know I’m going to love ‘em! As always…brilliant! Loved it and got to listen to the music as I read along. Loved that! Keep ‘em coming Kit.

  • http://kitotoole.com Kit

    Thanks, Karen! How cool that you listened to the song while reading my article. Great idea!