1968 French single cover
|Single by the Beatles|
|from the album The Beatles|
|Released||22 November 1968|
|Recorded||8, 9, 11 and 15 July 1968|
|Studio||EMI Studios, London|
|Single by the Beatles|
|Released||8 November 1976|
|Format||7-inch vinyl record|
|The Beatles US singles chronology|
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" is a song by the Beatles from their 1968 album The Beatles (also known as "the White Album"). It was written by Paul McCartney and credited to the Lennon-McCartney partnership. Following the album's release, the song was issued as a single in many countries, although not in Britain or America, and topped singles charts in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and West Germany. When belatedly issued as a single in the United States in 1976, it peaked at number 49 on the Billboard Hot 100.
McCartney wrote "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" in the Jamaican ska style and appropriated a phrase popularised by Jimmy Scott, a London-based Nigerian musician, for the song's title and chorus. Following its release, Scott attempted, unsuccessfully, to receive a composing credit. The recording sessions for the track were marked by disharmony as McCartney's perfectionism tested his bandmates and their recording staff. The song was especially disliked by John Lennon and a heated argument during one of the sessions led to Geoff Emerick quitting his job as the Beatles' recording engineer. A discarded early version of the track, featuring Scott on congas, was included on the band's 1996 compilation Anthology 3.
The Beatles' decision not to release the single in the UK or the US led to several cover recordings as other artists sought to achieve a chart hit with the song. Of these, Marmalade became the first Scottish group to have a number 1 hit in the UK when their version topped the Record Retailer chart in late 1968. Despite the song's popularity, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" has been ridiculed by some commentators for its lightheartedness. From 2009, McCartney has regularly performed the song in concert.
Paul McCartney began writing "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" during the Beatles' stay in Rishikesh, India, in early 1968.Prudence Farrow, one of their fellow Transcendental Meditation students there, recalled McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison playing it to her in an attempt to lure her out of her room, where she had become immersed in intense meditation. McCartney wrote the song when reggae was becoming popular in Britain; author Ian MacDonald describes it as "McCartney's rather approximate tribute to the Jamaican ska idiom". The character of Desmond in the lyrics, from the opening line "Desmond has a barrow in the market-place", was a reference to reggae singer Desmond Dekker, who had recently toured the UK. The tag line "Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah" was an expression used by Nigerian conga player Jimmy Scott-Emuakpor, an acquaintance of McCartney. According to Scott's widow, as part of his stage act with his band Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, Scott would call out "Ob la di", to which the audience would respond "Ob la da", and he would then conclude: "Life goes on."
Following the release of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" in November 1968, Scott tried to claim a writer's credit for the use of his catchphrase. McCartney said that the phrase was "just an expression", whereas Scott argued that it was not a common expression and was used exclusively by the Scott-Emuakpor family. McCartney was angry that the British press sided with Scott over the issue. According to researchers Doug Sulpy and Ray Schweighardt, in their study of the tapes from the Beatles' filmed rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studios in January 1969, McCartney complained bitterly to his bandmates about Scott's claim that he "stole" the phrase. Later in 1969, while in Brixton Prison awaiting trial for failing to pay maintenance to his ex-wife, Scott sent a request to the Beatles asking them to pay his legal bills. McCartney agreed to pay the amount on the condition that Scott abandon his attempt to receive a co-writer's credit, which Scott duly did.
The Beatles gathered at Harrison's Esher home in Surrey in May 1968, following their return from Rishikesh, to record demos for their upcoming project. "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" was one of the 27 demos recorded there. McCartney performed this demo solo, with only an acoustic guitar. He also double-tracked his vocal, which was not perfectly synchronised, creating an echoing effect. George and John can be heard throughout the recording, offering backing vocals and comments-noises.
The formal recording of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" took place in July and involved several days of work. The first completed version of the track featured Scott playing congas. At McCartney's insistence, the band remade the song in an effort to capture the performance for which he was aiming.[nb 1] McCartney's perfectionism annoyed his bandmates, and when their producer, George Martin, offered him suggestions for his vocal part, McCartney rebuked him, saying, "Well you come down and sing it." According to Geoff Emerick, the band's recording engineer, the usually placid Martin shouted in reply: "Then bloody sing it again! I give up. I just don't know any better how to help you." The following day, Emerick quit working for the group; he later cited this exchange between McCartney and Martin as one of the reasons, as well as the unpleasant atmosphere that had typified the White Album sessions up to that point.
In Emerick's recollection, Lennon "openly and vocally detested" the song, calling it "more of Paul's 'granny music shit'", although at times he appeared enthusiastic, "acting the fool and doing his fake Jamaican patois". Having left the studio at one point, Lennon then returned under the influence of marijuana; he went straight to the piano, and played the opening chords louder and faster than before, in what MacDonald describes as a "mock music-hall" style. Lennon claimed that this was how the song should be played, and it became the version that the Beatles ended up using. McCartney nevertheless wanted to remake the track once more, but deferred to the group.
In the final verse, McCartney made an error by singing, "Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face" (rather than Molly), and had Molly letting "the children lend a hand". This mistake was retained because the other Beatles liked it. Harrison and Lennon yell "arm" and "leg" between the lines "Desmond lets the children lend a hand" and "Molly stays at home".
The lyrics of Harrison's White Album track "Savoy Truffle" include the lines "We all know Ob-la-di-bla-da / But can you show me where you are?" Like Lennon, Harrison had been vocal in his dislike of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da". According to music journalist Robert Fontenot, the reference in "Savoy Truffle" was Harrison's way of conveying his opinion of McCartney's song.
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-la-Da" was released on The Beatles on 22 November 1968. As one of the most popular tracks on the album, it was also issued as a single, backed by "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", in many countries, although not in the main commercial markets of the UK and the United States. McCartney had wanted the single released in these two countries also, but his bandmates vetoed the idea. In November 1976, Capitol Records issued the song as a single in the US, with "Julia" as the B-side. The sleeves were white and individually numbered, as copies of the White Album had been. An alternate version of the song, known as "Take 5", was released on Anthology 3, in which the horns are much more prominent and the focus is on acoustic guitars rather than a reggae-style sound.
The first time the song was performed live by any of the Beatles was on 2 December 2009, when McCartney played it in Hamburg, Germany, on the first night of a European tour. Author Howard Sounes comments that, despite Lennon's derision of the song, it "went down a storm" in Hamburg - the city where the Beatles had honed their act in the early 1960s. McCartney also performed "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" in London's Hyde Park on 27 June 2010 as part of the Hard Rock Calling event, and the song was well received by the crowd. He added it as a number during the Latin American leg of the Up and Coming Tour. In 2011, the song was performed during McCartney's On the Run Tour. It was also performed in front of Buckingham Palace for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, then at San Francisco's Outside Lands concert on 9 August 2013. Most recently, it was performed by McCartney on his 2013-15 Out There! tour and his 2016-17 One on One tour, as well as his 7 September 2018 Grand Central Terminal concert.
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" topped singles charts in West Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Australia and Japan over 1968-69. In 1969, Lennon and McCartney received an Ivor Novello Award for the song. When belatedly issued as a single in the US, in 1976, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" peaked at number 49 on the Billboard Hot 100. According to author Steve Turner, it has been described as the first song in the "white ska" style.
The track is often the subject of ridicule. It was voted the worst song of all time in a 2004 online poll organised by Mars. In 2012, the NMEs website editor, Luke Lewis, argued that the Beatles had recorded "a surprising amount of ropy old toss", and singled out "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" as "the least convincing cod-reggae skanking this side of the QI theme tune". Tom Rowley of The Daily Telegraph said the track was a "reasonable choice" for derision, following the result of the Mars poll. It was also included in Blender magazine's 2004 list "50 Worst Songs Ever!"CNN journalist Todd Leopold reported in 2006 that Lennon "loathed" the song. McCartney claimed in a 5 September 2018 interview on The Howard Stern Show that Lennon "did like that song", adding, "I think so, yeah."
Ian MacDonald describes "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" as "one of the most spontaneous-sounding tracks on The Beatles" as well as the most commercial, but also a song filled with "desperate levity" and "trite by McCartney's standards". Conversely, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic includes the song among McCartney's "stunning" compositions on the album.Jann Wenner in Rolling Stone called it "fun music for a fun song about fun".
|Single by Marmalade|
|Format||7" vinyl record|
The Beatles' decision not to issue "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" as a single in the UK or the US led to many acts rushing to record the song, in the hope of achieving a hit in those countries. The Scottish pop band Marmalade released their rendition of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" in late 1968. It reached number 1 on the Record Retailer chart (subsequently the UK Singles Chart) in January 1969, making them the first Scottish group to ever top that chart. Marmalade's recording sold around half a million in the UK, and a million copies globally by April 1969. They appeared on BBC One's music programme Top of the Pops to perform the track, dressed in kilts.
|Australian Go-Set National Top 40||1|
|Australian Kent Music Report||1|
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||1|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||5|
|Belgian Ultratop (Wallonia)||2|
|French Singles Chart||3|
|Japanese Oricon Singles Chart||7|
|Japanese Oricon International Chart||1|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||3|
|New Zealand Listener Chart||1|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||1|
|West German Musikmarkt Hit-Parade||1|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||27|
|US Billboard Hot 100||49|
|US Billboard Adult Contemporary||39|
|US Cash Box Top 100||47|
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||1|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||2|
|UK Record Retailer Chart||1|