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"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" is a song by the Beatles from their 1968 album The Beatles, often called "the White Album". It was credited to Lennon-McCartney but was written solely by Paul McCartney. It was released as a single that same year in many countries, but not in their native United Kingdom nor in the United States until 1976.
Paul McCartney wrote the song around the time that highlife and reggae were beginning to become popular in Britain. The starting lyric "Desmond has a barrow in the market-place" was a reference to the first internationally renowned Jamaican ska and reggae performer Desmond Dekker who had just had a successful tour of 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. Another example of the term in popular culture is the 1945 song "In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee", which Mary Lou Williams composed for Dizzy Gillespie (heard on Dizzy Digs Paris).
Scott-Emuakpor tried to claim a writer's credit for the use of his catchphrase in the song. 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. He later dropped the case when McCartney agreed to pay his legal expenses for an unrelated issue.
The Beatles gathered at George Harrison's Esher home in Surrey in May 1968, following their return from studying Transcendental Meditation in Rishikesh, India, 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.
The formal recording of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" involved several days of work, during which the Beatles experimented with different tempos and styles. At McCartney's insistence, the band remade the song twice in an effort to capture the version for which he was aiming. According to studio engineer Geoff Emerick, John Lennon "openly and vocally detested" the song, calling it Paul's "granny music shit". Lennon left the studio during one of the sessions, then returned under the influence of marijuana, went immediately to the piano, and played the opening chords louder and faster than before. He claimed that was how the song should be played, and it became the version that the Beatles ended up using.
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". Reportedly, 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 line "We all know Ob-la-di-bla-da, but can you show me where you are?" According to music journalist Robert Fontenot, Harrison was also "very vocal" in his dislike of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", and the reference in "Savoy Truffle" was his way of conveying his opinion of McCartney's song.
Releases and live performances
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-la-Da" was released on The Beatles on 22 November 1968. In the US, in 1976, it was released as a single with "Julia" as the B-side. An alternate version, 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.
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" topped singles charts in Austria, Switzerland, Australia and Japan. Nevertheless, 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.New Musical Express website editor Luke Lewis has argued that the Beatles recorded "a surprising amount of ropy old toss", singling out "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" as "the least convincing cod-reggae skanking this side of the QI theme tune". Tom Rowley in The Telegraph named the track as 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.
The Scottish pop band Marmalade released their rendition of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" in 1968. Their version reached number one in the UK Singles Chart in January 1969, making them the first Scottish group to ever top that chart. Their cover 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 in kilts.
Because the song features the lyrics "life goes on", a version performed by Patti LuPone and the cast of Life Goes On was featured on the 1989-1993 drama of that name on ABC in the United States.
An instrumental version was performed in the intro of the first episodes, and different covers were used for the outtros of the Branko Mili?evi? children's TV series "Cube, Cube, Cublet" (1974); the song gained great popularity among the children in the former Yugoslavia.