When was it recorded? Jul. 3-15, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”
Who wrote it? McCartney
Have I heard this song before? Oh yeah
What my research dug up:
Though influenced by the growing popularity of highlife and reggae/ska in Britain, Paul began writing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” in India.
“I remember walking down a little jungle path with my guitar to get to the village from the camp. I was playing ‘Desmond has a barrow in the market place…’” — Paul McCartney (Anthology)
‘Desmond’ was reportedly a reference to Jamaican musician Desmond Dekker, who according to Wikipedia “had just had a successful tour of the UK.”
According to the Beatles Bible, “‘Ob la di, ob la da’ was a phrase McCartney had heard from a friend called Jimmy Anonmuogharan Scott Emuakpor (known as Jimmy Scott), who he met in the Bag O’ Nails club in Soho, London. The phrase was said to be Yoruba for ‘Life goes on.’” Scott later tried to claim a writer’s credit for the song, saying the phrase was significant only to his family and not a general expression as Paul thought. Quoth Wikipedia though, “[Scott] later dropped the case when McCartney agreed to pay his legal expenses for an unrelated issue.” Paul also claimed in “Anthology” to have sent Scott an unofficial royalties check.
John wanted nothing to do with this song. John probably wanted less than nothing to do with this song, but as this is a Beatles blog he at least warrants a mention, so… sorry in retrospect.
Paul recorded an Esher demo of “Ob-La-Di” in May 1968. He tried double-tracking his own vocals on the track, key word being “tried.”
I don’t know; the echo effect has a weird charm to it.
John was not the only one who disliked “Ob-La-Di” – sound engineer Geoff Emerick quit the day after they completed this song. It’s understandable. Under Paul’s direction, the Beatles spent around 42 hours working on “Ob-La-Di.”
- Jul. 3 = Rhythm track recorded – according to the Beatles Bible, “McCartney overdubbed vocals and more guitar onto take seven, before deciding take four was better and adding guitar to that too.”
- Jul. 4 = Vocals added to Take 4
- Jul. 5 = More overdubs added, including piccolo (which was later erased), bongos, and saxophones
The song up to this point was dubbed Take 5 and appeared on “Anthology 3.” It’s worth pointing out this version is in the key of A Major while the final version is in B Flat.
Three days later, the Beatles scrapped these recordings and started over, recording 12 takes.
Quoth the Beatles Bible, “By this point Lennon had grown tired of recording the song. He reportedly came into the studio under the influence of drugs, sat down at the piano and banged out the introduction on the keys.”
“John Lennon came to the session really stoned, totally out of it on something or other, and he said, ‘All right, we’re gonna do ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.’ He went straight to the piano and smashed the keys with an almighty amount of volume, twice the speed of how they’d done it before, and said, ‘This is it! Come on!’ He was really aggravated. That was the version they ended up using.” — Richard Lush [sound engineer] (Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions)
(I know it’s not really that funny, but that anecdote always cracks me up.)
- Jul. 9 = Paul tried to remake the song yet again but gave up after two takes; “assorted sound effects” (like the clapping) and vocals overdubbed
- Jul. 11 = Saxophone and bass parts overdubbed
- Jul. 15 = Paul re-recorded his lead vocals and THEN IT IWAS FINALLY DONE HALLELU
According to the Beatles Bible, “McCartney’s hope was for the song to become a Beatles single, although this was vetoed by the others.” That said, “Ob La Di” actually was released as a single in a number of countries, peaking at #1 in Austria, Australia, Japan, and Switzerland. The song was released as a single in 1976 in the US.
I have to say I’m surprised by all the vitriol I’ve seen thrown at “Ob-La-Di!” Was it worth all the takes and re-takes? Probably not. Is it the Beatles’ best song? No, but I’d hardly say it’s their worst (not after some of the clunkers I’ve listened to). It’s hardly the worst song ever either, though most of the polls I saw citing it as such were pre-Internet-explosion. It’s easy to forget I live in a world where anything awful can (and will) go viral in 24 hours. I’ve always liked “Ob-La-Di,” though. Sometimes I need a reminder to lighten up and that the world will keep on turning. This song certainly fits the bill, and has fun doing so.