Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
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Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"
Ob la di Ob la da single cover.jpg
1968 French single cover
Single by the Beatles
from the album The Beatles
Released22 November 1968
Recorded8, 9, 11 and 15 July 1968[1]
StudioEMI Studios, London
George Martin
Audio sample
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"
Single by the Beatles
Released8 November 1976
Format7-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.

Background and inspiration

Paul McCartney began writing "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" during the Beatles' stay in Rishikesh, India, in early 1968.[4][5]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.[6] 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".[7] 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.[8] 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.[9][10] 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."[11]

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.[12][13] 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.[10] McCartney was angry that the British press sided with Scott over the issue.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]


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.[17][18] "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" was one of the 27 demos recorded there.[19] 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.[20][21] 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,[24][25] and when their producer, George Martin, offered him suggestions for his vocal part, McCartney rebuked him, saying, "Well you come down and sing it."[26] 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."[27][28] The following day, Emerick quit working for the group;[29][30] 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.[26]

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".[31] 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.[7] Lennon claimed that this was how the song should be played, and it became the version that the Beatles ended up using.[32] McCartney nevertheless wanted to remake the track once more, but deferred to the group.[7]

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.[13] Harrison and Lennon yell "arm" and "leg" between the lines "Desmond lets the children lend a hand" and "Molly stays at home".[33]

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?"[34] Like Lennon, Harrison had been vocal in his dislike of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da".[29][35] According to music journalist Robert Fontenot, the reference in "Savoy Truffle" was Harrison's way of conveying his opinion of McCartney's song.[35]

Releases and live performances

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-la-Da" was released on The Beatles on 22 November 1968.[36] As one of the most popular tracks on the album, it was also issued as a single, backed by "While My Guitar Gently Weeps",[37] in many countries, although not in the main commercial markets of the UK and the United States.[38] McCartney had wanted the single released in these two countries also,[37] but his bandmates vetoed the idea.[39] In November 1976, Capitol Records issued the song as a single in the US, with "Julia" as the B-side.[40] The sleeves were white and individually numbered, as copies of the White Album had been.[40] 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.[41] 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.[42] 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,[43] Austria, Switzerland, Australia and Japan over 1968-69.[38] In 1969, Lennon and McCartney received an Ivor Novello Award for the song.[38] 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.[44] According to author Steve Turner, it has been described as the first song in the "white ska" style.[13]

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.[45] 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".[46] Tom Rowley of The Daily Telegraph said the track was a "reasonable choice" for derision, following the result of the Mars poll.[46] It was also included in Blender magazine's 2004 list "50 Worst Songs Ever!"[47]CNN journalist Todd Leopold reported in 2006 that Lennon "loathed" the song.[48] McCartney claimed in a 5 September 2018 interview on The Howard Stern Show that Lennon "did like that song", adding, "I think so, yeah."[49]

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".[50] Conversely, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic includes the song among McCartney's "stunning" compositions on the album.[51]Jann Wenner in Rolling Stone called it "fun music for a fun song about fun".[52]


According to Ian MacDonald[7] and Mark Lewisohn:[53]

The Beatles

Additional musicians

  • James Gray, Rex Morris, Cyril Reuben - saxophones[35]
  • George Martin - woodwind arrangement

Cover versions

Marmalade version

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"
Marmalade Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da.jpg
Single by Marmalade
Format7" vinyl record
Mike Smith

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.[35] 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.[55][56] Marmalade's recording sold around half a million in the UK, and a million copies globally by April 1969.[57] They appeared on BBC One's music programme Top of the Pops to perform the track, dressed in kilts.

TV series

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.

Other versions

  • Jimmy Cliff, as a bonus track on the CD version of Humanitarian.[58]
  • In 1968, a recording by the Bedrocks, a West Indian band from Leeds, peaked at number 20 on the Record Retailer chart.[59] In a discussion at Twickenham Studios in January 1969, McCartney and his girlfriend, Linda Eastman, said they both liked the Bedrocks' version best out of all the cover versions up to that point, including a recent single by Arthur Conley.[60]
  • Also in 1968, the Spectrum reached number 19 on the German singles chart with their cover.[61]
  • Herb Alpert released his Tijuana Brass' version as a single in 1969, and he and it also included their version on the album Warm.
  • Peter Nero recorded his version as "Variations on the theme - Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da" included in the 1969's album I've Gotta Be Me.
  • Music fans and several critics and DJs said that "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" appeared to be the inspiration for the Offspring's 1999 single "Why Don't You Get a Job?", due to the similarity between the two songs.[62][63]
  • 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.[64]
  • Happy Mondays recorded "Desmond", which was heavily based on the song, for their debut album Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out). However, the song was removed from later pressings of the album because of the strong similarity.[65]
  • In 2011, the song was parodied by The Fringemunks to recap Fringe episode 4.03, "Alone in the World".[66]
  • Swedish singer Claes-Göran Hederström recorded a Swedish version of the song in 1968. The B-side of its single release was a cover of "Hey Jude" titled "Jo du" (Yes, you).
  • Swedish band Scotts recorded the song on the 2009 album Längtan.[67]
  • Helen Gamboa released a cover version in 1969 as a single with a cover of "Harper Valley PTA" as the B-side.

Chart history

The Beatles version

Chart (1969) Peak
Australian Go-Set National Top 40[68] 1
Australian Kent Music Report[69] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[70] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[71] 5
Belgian Ultratop (Wallonia)[72] 2
French Singles Chart[73] 3
Japanese Oricon Singles Chart[74] 7
Japanese Oricon International Chart[74] 1
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[75] 3
New Zealand Listener Chart[76] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[77] 1
West German Musikmarkt Hit-Parade[78] 1
Chart (1976-77) Peak
Canadian RPM Top Singles[79] 27
US Billboard Hot 100[80] 49
US Billboard Adult Contemporary[81] 39
US Cash Box Top 100[82] 47

Marmalade version

Chart (1968-69) Peak
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[83] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[84] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[85] 2
UK Record Retailer Chart[86] 1

See also


  1. ^ According to author Peter Ames Carlin, McCartney's "fussiness" over the track was him exacting "revenge" for Lennon's self-indulgence on "Revolution 9".[22] Lennon had created this eight-minute experimental piece, with Harrison and Yoko Ono,[23] while McCartney was in Los Angeles on business relating to Apple Records.[22]


  1. ^ Lewisohn 2005, pp. 141-43.
  2. ^ Carlin 2009, p. 172.
  3. ^ Quantick 2002, p. 183.
  4. ^ Miles 1997, p. 419.
  5. ^ Sounes 2010, pp. 201-02.
  6. ^ Paytress, Mark (2003). "A Passage to India". Mojo Special Limited Edition: 1000 Days of Revolution (The Beatles' Final Years - Jan 1, 1968 to Sept 27, 1970). London: Emap. pp. 16-17.
  7. ^ a b c d MacDonald 1998, p. 258.
  8. ^ Nytimes.com
  9. ^ Spitz, Bob (2005). The Beatles. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-80352-9.
  10. ^ a b Turner 2012, p. 173.
  11. ^ Turner 2012, pp. 173-74.
  12. ^ Womack 2014, pp. 683, 684.
  13. ^ a b c Turner 2012, p. 174.
  14. ^ Giuliano & Guiliano 2005, pp. 120-21.
  15. ^ Sulpy & Schweighardt 1997, pp. 33, 153.
  16. ^ Turner 2012, pp. 174-75.
  17. ^ MacDonald 1998, pp. 243-44.
  18. ^ Womack 2014, p. 683.
  19. ^ Unterberger 2006, pp. 195-96.
  20. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 259fn.
  21. ^ Giuliano & Guiliano 2005, p. 120.
  22. ^ a b Carlin 2009, p. 163.
  23. ^ Quantick 2002, p. 151.
  24. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 258; Unterberger 2006, p. 105; Womack 2014, p. 683.
  25. ^ Henderson, Eric (2 August 2004). "The Beatles: The Beatles (The White Album)". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2019.
  26. ^ a b Lewisohn 2005, p. 143.
  27. ^ Sounes 2010, p. 217.
  28. ^ Emerick & Massey 2006, p. 255.
  29. ^ a b Gerard, Chris (18 February 2016). "The Glorious, Quixotic Mess That Is the Beatles' 'White Album'". PopMatters. Retrieved 2019.
  30. ^ Sounes 2010, pp. 217-18.
  31. ^ Emerick & Massey 2006, pp. 246, 254.
  32. ^ Lewisohn 2005, pp. 140-42.
  33. ^ Lewisohn 2005, p. 141.
  34. ^ Roessner 2006, p. 156.
  35. ^ a b c d Fontenot, Robert. "The Beatles Songs: 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' - The history of this classic Beatles song". oldies.about.com. Archived from the original on 10 January 2013. Retrieved 2015.
  36. ^ Lewisohn 2005, p. 163.
  37. ^ a b Spizer 2003, p. 107.
  38. ^ a b c Womack 2014, p. 684.
  39. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 259.
  40. ^ a b Schaffner 1978, p. 188.
  41. ^ "Paul McCartney Says He's Doing All He Can to Fight Global Warming". WMMR. 4 December 2009. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011.
  42. ^ Sounes 2010, p. 563.
  43. ^ "The Beatles Single-Chartverfolgung (in German)". musicline.de. Archived from the original on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 2019.
  44. ^ Schaffner 1978, pp. 188, 195.
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  46. ^ a b Rowley, Tom (5 October 2012). "Poll: What is the worst Beatles song?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2014.
  47. ^ "'We Built This City' dubbed worst song ever". Today. 20 April 2004. Retrieved 2014.
  48. ^ Leopold, Todd (27 April 2006). "The worst song of all time, part II". CNN. Retrieved 2014.
  49. ^ Stern, Howard (5 September 2018). "Paul McCartney on "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"" (Interview). Interviewed by Howard Stern. Retrieved 2019.
  50. ^ MacDonald 1998, pp. 258, 259.
  51. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "The Beatles The Beatles [White Album]". AllMusic. Retrieved 2019.
  52. ^ Wenner, Jann S. (21 December 1968). "Review: The Beatles' 'White Album'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017.
  53. ^ Lewisohn 2005, pp. 141, 142.
  54. ^ Babiuk, Andy. Beatles Gear. p. 221. ISBN 1617130990. Retrieved 2017.
  55. ^ Roberts 2006, p. 351.
  56. ^ Roberts, David (2001). British Hit Singles (14th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 40. ISBN 0-85156-156-X.
  57. ^ Murrells 1978, p. 243.
  58. ^ Gallucci, Michael (2008). "Jimmy Cliff Humanitarian". AllMusic. Retrieved 2008.
  59. ^ Roberts 2006, p. 51.
  60. ^ Sulpy & Schweighardt 1997, p. 178.
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  62. ^ Boucher, Geoff (24 April 1999). "Is the Song an Offspring?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019.
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  66. ^ "Fringemunks Web site". Davidwumusic.com. Retrieved 2011.
  67. ^ "Längtan" (in Swedish). Svensk mediedatabas. 2009. Retrieved 2011.
  68. ^ "Go-Set Australian charts - 23 April 1969". poparchives.com.au. Retrieved 2019.
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  81. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1993). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-1993. Record Research. p. 25.
  82. ^ Hoffmann, Frank (1983). The Cash Box Singles Charts, 1950-1981. Metuchen, NJ & London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. pp. 32-34.
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External links

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