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 (US)|
|Format||Vinyl record 7"|
|The Beatles singles chronology|
"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". Paul McCartney claimed in a 5 September 2018 interview on The Howard Stern Show that Lennon "did like that song, I think so, yeah." 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.
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. McCartney also performed the song in Hyde Park on 27 June 2010 as part of the Hard Rock Calling event, and the song was well received by the crowd. He also 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 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.
Conversely, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic includes the song among McCartney's "stunning" compositions on The Beatles. Jann Wenner in Rolling Stone called it "fun music for a fun song about fun."
- Paul McCartney – vocal, electric bass, acoustic bass, handclaps, vocal percussion
- John Lennon – piano, backing vocal, handclaps, spoken word, vocal percussion
- George Harrison – acoustic guitar, backing vocal, handclaps, spoken word, vocal percussion
- Ringo Starr – drums, bongos, maracas, other percussion, handclaps, vocal percussion
- Horns arranged by George Martin
|Single by Marmalade|
|Format||7" vinyl record|
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.
- Jimmy Cliff, as a bonus track on the CD version of Humanitarian.
- The Bedrocks, a West Indian band from Leeds (reached #20 on the UK singles chart in 1968).
- The Spectrum (reached #19 on the German singles chart in 1968).
- 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.
- Florida band Mercy covered the song and released it on their 1969 album "Love Can Make You Happy"
- Two Anything Muppets performed the song on an episode of The Muppet Show.
- Phish, on the album Live Phish Volume 13.
- The song was the inspiration for The Offspring's "Why Don't You Get a Job?"
- An instrumental version was performed in the intro of the first episodes, and different covers were used for the outtros of the Branko Milićević children's TV series "Cube, Cube, Cublet" (1974); the song gained great popularity among the children in the former Yugoslavia.
- 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.
- In 2011, the song was parodied by The Fringemunks to recap Fringe episode 4.03, "Alone in the World."
- An orchestral cover version of this song was played in a Thomas & Friends Japanese special titled Thomas and the UK Trip.
- 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.
- Helen Gamboa released a cover version in 1969 as a single with a cover of "Harper Valley PTA" as the B-side.
- Filipino entertainer Yoyoy Villame also covered the song with parody lyrics in Cebuano under the title "Birth Control".
The Beatles version
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||1|
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||1|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||5|
|French Singles Chart||3|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||3|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||1|
|Japanese Oricon Singles Chart||7|
|Japanese Oricon International Chart||1|
|New Zealand (Listener)||1|
|West German Media Control Singles Chart||1|
|Canada RPM Top Singles||19|
|US Billboard Hot 100||49|
|US Billboard Adult Contemporary||39|
|US Cash Box Top 100||47|
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||1|
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||1|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||2|
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