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.
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.