The Beatles Loved Love

The Beatles


By way of a change from my regular posting of word etymologies, I’m going to present an analysis of the vocabulary of Beatles’ song titles. I was prompted by a posting on the OUP Blog by Gordon Thompson entitled The Beatles and ‘Let It Be,’ and because I’ve always been struck by the simplicity of the lyrics used by Lennon and McCartney – whether they planned it or not. For example, consider lyrics of the song, Love Me Do. For educational purposes (and I say that so I can claim Fair Use under Section 107 of Title 17 of the US Copyright Law) I’ve reproduced them below in their entirety:

Love, love me do.
You know I love you,
I’ll always be true,
So please, love me do.
Whoa, love me do.

Love, love me do.
You know I love you,
I’ll always be true,
So please, love me do.
Whoa, love me do.

Someone to love,
Somebody new.
Someone to love,
Someone like you.

Love, love me do.
You know I love you,
I’ll always be true,
So please, love me do.
Whoa, love me do.

Love, love me do.
You know I love you,
I’ll always be true,
So please, love me do.
Whoa, love me do.
Yeah, love me do.
Whoa, oh, love me do.

Using one of my favorite pieces of text analysis software, Concordance, I found that the song contains only 20 different words (types, for you linguist types) out of 108 words used (tokens). Of those 108 tokens, love scores 24 times, which is 20% of the song. For the curious, here’s the actual frequency list:

LOVE          24
DO                14
ME               14
YOU               9
WHOA          5
ALWAYS     4
BE                   4
I                       4
I’LL                4
KNOW          4
PLEASE        4
SO                   4
TRUE            4
TO                    2
LIKE                1
NEW                1
OH                     1
YEAH              1

What’s also interesting is the prevalence of pronouns – which I suggest (pending more analysis) is a common feature of Beatles’ songs. You have I, you, and me way up there, and the indefinite pronouns someone and somebody making a significant contribution to the sample. I suspect that the frequency of use of indefinite pronouns in the Beatles’ lyrics is statistically higher than that of the normal lexicon – but that’s another investigation.

So I found a list of all the Beatles’ song titles – or enough to be what seems a reasonable representation – and subjected them to the Concordance software followed by some number work using Excel. And it became clear that love was an important topic for the Fab Four.

Out of the 565 different words used, the word love was used 22 times, coming in a number seven on the “Top Ten” word list. And for the curious, the “Top Ten” words, which accounted for 20% of all the words used, are, in reverse order;

  • 10. IN
  • 9. OF
  • 8. MY
  • 7. LOVE
  • 6. ME
  • 5. TO
  • 4. I
  • 3. A
  • 2. THE

and the number one;


In truth, the word I should really be counted as being higher because if you add in the contractions I’m and I’d, then you see I nudge ahead of you.

But going back to the obsession with love, if you look at other published word lists, the Beatles clearly did use it with a much greater frequency than is normal. The British National Corpus (BNC) [1] has love at number 644 and the Lancaster-Oslo-Bergen (LOB) [2] corpus ranks it at 250th place.

So maybe is it true that all you need is love.

All You Need Is Love


[1] Leech, G., Rayson, P. and Wilson, A. (2001). Word Frequencies in Written and Spoken English: based on the British National Corpus. Longman: London.

[2] Hofland, S. and Johannson, K. (1984). Word frequencies in British and American English. The Norwegian Computer Centre for the Humanities: Longman.


Filed under grammar, Vocabulary

2 responses to “The Beatles Loved Love

  1. I have to admit, I have a fascination with “Love Me Do” too. The sheer simplicity of the song both textually and musically makes it an ideal opportunity to examine the songwriting of Lennon and McCartney at the official inception of their catalog.
    Your observation about pronouns is correct. Lennon and McCartney at this point in their songwriting felt that by using pronouns they could make a closer connection with their fans/listeners. The were quite deliberate about this approach.
    Glad my blog inspired your response.

    • russellcross

      It’s fascinating to hear that they consciously worked on targeting pronouns in an effort to promote closeness. And my guess is that a corpus analysis of all their lyrics would show a use of high frequency “core” vocabulary that underlies the lexical simplicity. “She loves you and you know that can’t be bad” or even “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” positively bristles with simple vocabulary – despite the obvious syntactical challenge of the latter sentence! Folks clearly have a grand time trying to work out what Beatles’ songs mean but I’m also fascinated by how they say it ;)

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