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The Beatles Songs: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The Beatles Songs: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

The 1976 single of the Beatles "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"

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Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

Written by: Paul McCartney (100%)
(credited to Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: July 8-9, 11, and 15, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: July 8, 11, and 15; October 12, 1968
Length: 3:08
Takes: 23

Musicians:

John Lennon: backing vocals, piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand "Mrs. Mills"), maracas, handclaps
Paul McCartney: lead vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S), piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand "Mrs. Mills"), handclaps
George Harrison: backing vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar (1963 Gibson "Super Jumbo" J-200), handclaps
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig), tambourine
James Gray, Rex Morris, Cyril Reuben: saxophones
Available on: (CDs in bold)

The Beatles (a/k/a "The White Album"; UK: Apple PMC 7067-8; US: Apple SWBO 101; Parlophone CDP 7 46443 2; CDP 7 46444 2)
The Beatles 1967-1970 (UK: Apple PCSP 718; US: Apple SKBO 3404; Apple CDP 7 97039 2)

History:

  • One of several Beatles songs named after a seemingly nonsense phrase, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" had as its main inspiration Jimmy Scott (real name: Jimmy Anonmuogharan Scott-Emuakpor), a Nigerian conga player who had a steady gig playing Afro-soul type music at London's ultra-hip Bag O' Nails club. It was Scott who used the title phrase, allegedly Yoruban for "Life goes on," although Scott would later claim, after the song was a hit, that his family alone used it.
  • Inspired by Scott, and also by the wave of ska and "rocksteady" music sweeping through Britain, McCartney decided to create a tribute, writing it during the band's famous encampment in Rishikesh, India in the spring of 1968. Film and TV director Paul Saltzman, with the band as they studied under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, claims to have seen the chorus written out on a note under Paul's foot, and to have seen Paul and John working on the song. (John later denied any real involvement in the song's creation.) In any case, "Ob-La-Di" does exist in demo form, nearly complete, on the "Kinfauns" demos made at George's home just after the band returned from India. Another of Paul's "story" songs, it revolves around the fictional romance of two people named Desmond - McCartney's nod to Desmond Dekker, then introducing the Brits to rocksteady with his massive hit "Israelites" - and Molly.
  • Recording for "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" began on July 3, 1968, and dragged out over three days: Paul invited Jimmy Scott himself to play bongos on what was a faster, yet gentler pop version of an Afro-soul tune. (Paul would later revisit this style with his Wings song "Mamunia.") However, the bassist was dissatisfied with the result, and on July 8th, he started with a fresh track that featured him playing the "fuzz bass" heard on the earlier "Think for Yourself." Incredibly annoyed by having to spend so much time on one song, John left the sessions, came back very stoned on marijuana, and banged out the piano intro that begins the song as we now know it, more or less ordering Paul to finish the song off.
  • McCartney was still unsatisfied, however, and after a day of laying down the basic track that's heard on the final version, he went back into the studio on May 9th and started over again from scratch for the third time. He abandoned this one fairly quickly, however, and re-recorded lead and backing vocals onto the "John" version. On the 11th, George Martin added a typically Beatlesque horn section consisting of three saxophones and Paul added some piano arpeggios in the third verse; finally, on the 15th, Paul redid the lead vocal once again. The song was complete after nearly 42 hours of tinkering.
  • Despite the tension at the "White Album" sessions, the Beatles appeared to have a lot of fun recording the vocals for this track; it's filled with chatter, asides, and "vocal percussion." McCartney famously mixed up the words on July 8th, singing "Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face" instead, a flub the rest of the band liked and which Paul repeated and elaborated on when cutting his final lead vocal. When Paul sings "home sweet home" the second time, John can be heard spelling out the word "home" in the background. And when Paul sings "Desmond lets the children lend a hand," John responds "arm" and George responds "leg!" (The second time around, George merely replies "foot.")
  • John and George were very vocal in their dislike of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." John dismissed it at the time as more of "Paul's granny shit," and he and George both refused to release it as the next Beatles single; that honor would go to a song McCartney brought in a few weeks later called "Hey Jude" (released as the a-side, at John's insistence, with the faster version of "Revolution" on the flip). George, for his part, mockingly referred to it a few months later in his song "Savoy Truffle": "We all know Ob-La-Di-Bla-Da / But can you show me / where you are?"

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