Monday, July 21, 2014

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" is a McCartney composition that appeared on the White Album, which was released in 1968 on the Apple label.  The first line ("Desmond has a barrow . . . ") referred to Jamaican reggae performer Desmond Dekker, who had recently toured Great Britain.  The title itself was an expression used by Jimmy Scott-Emuakpor, a Jamaican conga player and friend of McCartney.

Scott-Emuakpor later tried to claim partial song writing credit and asked McCartney for royalties.  McCartney describes the issue as follows in his 1980 Playboy interview: "A fella who used to hang around the clubs used to say 'ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on,' and he got annoyed when I did a song of it 'cause he wanted a cut.  I said, 'Come on, Jimmy.  It's just an expression.  If you'd written the song, you could have had the cut.'  He also used to say, 'Nothin's too much.  Just outta sight.'  He was just one of those guys who had great expressions, you know."

The Beatles gathered in May of 1968 at George Harrison's house in Surrey to record twenty-seven demos for the White Album, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" among them and performed solo by McCartney on acoustic guitar.  The song would appear much later on the White Album Unplugged.  The song is also reported to have been used as a spontaneous sing-along while the Beatles were with the Maharishi in India.

Several sources agree that Lennon hated the track.  Studio engineer Geoff Emerick said Lennon "openly and vocally detested the song."  Emerick and fellow sound engineer Richard Lush agree that Lennon arrived at one of the sessions very stoned and announced "Alright, we're gonna do 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.'"  Lush said that, "He went straight to the piano and smashed the keys with an almighty amount of volume, twice the speed they'd done it before, and said, 'This is it!  Come on!'  He was really aggravated.  That was the version they ended up using."

During one session, McCartney recorded his lead vocal several times in an attempt to get it done perfectly, a common McCartney trait.  Pete Shotton reported that after what appeared to be a perfect take, McCartney said he'd have to do it again because he'd sung "Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face" when he meant to use the name Molly in the line.  John and George both said they thought it was fine the way it was.  Paul decided to leave the song as he'd recorded it, citing that listeners would wonder if Desmond was a bisexual or transvestite.

McCartney wanted the song released as a single in 1968, but Harrison and Lennon were against it, believing it to be trite.  It was released in several countries as a single, however, although not in the UK or United States.  In France and elsewhere, it was released as a single with "While My Guitar gently Weeps" as the B side.  In the Philippines, the B side was "I Will."  The song was released as a single by Capital in 1976 with "Julia" as the B side and rose to No. 49 on the Billboard chart.  It was the first Beatles single not to break into the top 30.

Despite mixed reviews of the song from the very beginning, producer Phil Spector said the song was a great hit with a good hook and melody line.  Stewart Copeland, drummer for the Police, liked the song and claimed it was the first example of "white reggae." 

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" was recorded on August 20, 1968 at Abbey Road.  There is disagreement as to who performed on the track.  Some sources say that no other Beatle performed and that McCartney played bass, electric and acoustic guitars, drums and sang all vocals.  Other sources claim that McCartney sang lead vocal, with McCartney and Harrison singing backing vocals.  These sources also maintain that McCartney played bass, Lennon piano, Harrison acoustic guitar, and Starr drums and bongos.  All Beatles are said to have performed handclaps. 

McCartney has performed the song live on tour since 2009 and is currently singing it on his Out There tour (2013-2014).

The song has been liberally covered by other artists.  A few are Jimmy Cliff, Bing Crosby, Maria Muldaur, Desmond Dekker, and dozens of others.


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