There is a very good reason why we have placed this song immediately after “Ballad Of John And Yoko”. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da is “The Ballad Of Paul and Linda”.
The spring of 1968 was a busy time on that filthy ball of dirt we like to call Earth.
American and Vietnamese youth were ripping each other apart with napalm and homemade weaponry. China was continuing to consume itself in a frenzy of Revolting Culture. Nigerian forces were performing genocide in Biafra. Paris was burning and considering handing itself over to 23 year old Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Richard Nixon was in the process of getting elected as President. Valerie Solanas and Sirhan Sirhan were planning to shoot Andy Warhol and Robert F. Kennedy respectively. Enoch Powell was making his incendiary class="Apple-style-span" style="font-size:large;">Rivers of Blood speech to proto-fascists in Birmingham, England. Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Doctor Harry Steinberg turned 58 (see TBCOU #84) and Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot dead.
Naturally, Paul McCartney thought that what the world needed at that moment in history, was a casually racist, hyper-catchy, faux-reggae, singalong about family life and cross dressing. It was a profoundly personal and intimate song.
You know the reference points. I wonder which Beatle was the closet cross-dresser? My guess is George.
Many of the songs on The White Album written and recorded quickly but “Ob-La-Di” was so important to Paul that it took over sixty takes to get to the version we all know and love/hate today. John helped write an early version of the song when they were working in India, but it was not long before John turned on his original creation, calling it, "Paul’s granny shit".
After leaving the studio during the 45th recording of the song, Lennon returned elegantly elevated, stumbled to the piano and played the opening chords considerably louder and faster than before. He forcefully claimed that was how the number should be performed.
This, of course, was the version they ended up using.
Paul wanted to get this song right but the many re-recordings drove the remaining three Beatles to distraction. Harrison hinted at his frustration on "Savoy Truffle," which was recorded three months later. In the song he wrote;
"But what is sweet now, turns so sour/ We all know Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da/ But can you show me, where you are?"
McCartney genuinely loved this song, and I think I know why. What he was yearning for, in the middle of his world-famous, jet-setting Beatleworld, was a good, old-fashioned family life, with music and maybe just a little perviness on the side. Which is what he pretty much ended up with in the end.
John thoroughly loathed this song. It represented everything he despised about Paul. Lennon had recently fallen in love with the future Mrs Lennon and he wanted to avoid all the cliches of romance and family life that Paul represented. To have such a happy, simple ballad shoved in his face must have been very confronting. John was later to call the song nonsensical. Maybe Paul should have added lyrics about "yellow matter custard" or "semolina pilchards" or maybe "eggmen" Maybe it would have more sense then.
Ultimately it became The Ballad Of Paul And Linda. Paul stays at home and does his pretty face – What else does a musician do without a day job? – and in the evening Linda became a singer with the band.
McCartney wanted to release Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da >as a single, but the band rebelled and refused, which gave a small unknown band an opportunity. Marmalade became the first Scottish group to top the UK charts, leaving little doubt about their birthplace when they performed the song on Top Of The Pops wearing kilts.
Marmalade’s bassist Graham Knight recalls, "The Beatles’ music publisher, Dick James, played us the acetate of The Beatles’ Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da and we thought it was great. He said, ‘You can have it, I won’t give it to anyone else,’ but of course he passed it to another 27 acts. We rush-recorded it in the middle of the night during a week of cabaret in the north-east. Our manager, who was in America at the time, kept sending us telegrams not to do it. He didn’t think we should record a Beatles song. We expected it to do well, but we didn’t think it would go to #1. We got no feedback from The Beatles at all. There had been so many covers by that time that I shouldn’t think they’d have been very interested." (1000 UK #1 Hits)
There is a little controversy about the authorship of the song.
McCartney was quoted, "A fella (Jimmy Anonmuogharan Scott Emuakpor) who used to hang around the clubs used to say in a Jamaican accent, "Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on," and he got annoyed when I did a song of it, ’cause he wanted a cut. I said, ‘Come on, Jimmy, it’s just an expression."
Jimmy Scott, who was Nigerian, not Jamaican, did try to claim a writer’s credit for the use of his catch phrase in the song. Scott argued it was not a general expression, but a phrase that was exclusively used in the Scott-Emuakpor family. However, he agreed to drop the case when McCartney agreed to pay Scott’s legal expenses for bail for missing alimony payments. McCartney had his friend Alistair Taylor put up the money in exchange for Scott dropping rights to the name. Taylor had to get the money from a friend, since no one in the Beatles camp carried much cash.
A melody strikingly similar to Ob-La-Di was used by The Offspring in their song "Why Don’t You Get A Job?".
I wonder if the lawyers chased that one?
The ukulele version of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da rejects all the jolliness of the original recording and confronts death face on.
We decided to record in the style of Samuel Beckett’s play “Krapp’s Last Tape” featuring the actor/director Victor Spinetti.
The phrase “Life goes on” is not necessarily a happy one.
Victor’s connection with The Beatles is a deep one. He appeared in all of their movies: A Hard Day’s Night, Help and Magical Mystery Tour. He also directed and co-wrote with John Lennon “In His Own Write” which was performed at The National Theatre in London in 1968.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Spinetti sprang to international prominence in three Beatles’ films in the 1960s, A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Magical Mystery Tour. He also appeared on one of The Beatles’ Christmas recordings.
The best explanation for this long-running collaboration and friendship might have been provided by George Harrison, who said, "You’ve got to be in all our films … if you’re not in them me Mum won’t come and see them—because she fancies you."
Paul McCartney described Spinetti as "the man who makes clouds disappear".
Spinetti has appeared in more than 30 films, including Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew, Under Milk Wood with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Becket, The Return of the Pink Panther and The Krays.
Spinetti’s work in Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop produced many memorable performances including Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be (1959, by Frank Norman, with music by Lionel Bart), and Oh! What a Lovely War (1963), which transferred to New York City and for which he won a Tony Award for his main role as an obnoxious Drill Sergeant. He has appeared in the West End in The Odd Couple (as Felix); Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the West End; as Albert Einstein in a critically lauded performance in 2005 in a new play, Albert’s Boy at the Finborough Theatre in 2005 and in his own one-man show, A Very Private Diary.
He directed The Biograph Girl, a musical about the silent film era, at the Phoenix Theatre. He has also appeared on Broadway in The Hostage and The Philanthropist. He has also acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in such roles as Lord Foppington in The Relapse and the Archbishop in Richard III.
Spinetti co-authored In His Own Write, the play with John Lennon which he also directed at the National Theatre, premiering on 18 June 1968, at the Old Vic.
In September 2008 Spinetti reprised his one-man show, A Very Private Diary, touring the UK, telling his life story.
He is currently on tour throughout Britain in Peter Gordon’s play Murdered To Death.
Dr. L.P.Nicolas adds
I am only too happy to interject on behalf of this oft-maligned ditty. Though my curmudgeonly half-brother Edward P. will no doubt demur, I myself cannot help but admire the bounce and pizzazz, the "naïf et primitif" charm that to this day causes audiences–when the song is performed faithfully to the original–reliably to smile, sing along to the admittedly inane chorus, and repeatedly flex and relax the muscles of their hindquarters and lower groin areas in time to the "beat," as the periodicity of emphasis in this style of music is commonly.
Furthermore, my ne’er-do-well layabout ‘musician’ nephew Eric reports that as recently as last night (Sunday July 25) a crowd of Russian and Israeli Jews at a house party on the Long Island Sound were roused to a merry frenzy by his band’s rendition of this same tune, bringing the dance floor to furious life as "September" and "Let’s Groove Tonight" had failed by comparison to do. McCartney elsewhere has opined that "Moscow girls make [him] sing and shout," and his music reliably returns the favor.