Ob-la-di, ob-la-da - The Beatles

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"Ob-la-di, ob-la-da" - The Beatles (1968)

The title of "Ob-la-di, ob-la-da" comes from one of McCartney’s friends at the time of the making of The White Album, Jimmy Scott- whose catchphrase for all occasions was an expression used by the West African ethnic tribe, the Yorubas. The term “ob-la-di, ob-la-da” is translated as “life goes on.”

John, George and Ringo hated the song and the three of them vetoed Paul’s wish that it be released as a single. They spent a great deal of time recording and overdubbing it. George hinted at his frustration when they recorded “Savoy Truffle” when he sings:

“But what is sweet now, turns so sour/ We all know Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da/ But can you show me, where you are?”

David Quantick, who wrote the only book on The White Album,  points out that the track is what broadsheet music journalists would call “the ska idiom,” i.e., it has a ska beat. Ska, also known in the UK as bluebeat, after the Jamaican record company of the same name, is a West Indian variant on soul music whose differentiating characteristic is a massive emphasis on the offbeat.

Lennon rescued the song by injecting some energy into it by pounding out a mock music-hall piano introduction at faster tempo. The story is told that after going through nearly 60 takes, Paul continued on trying to record it as a slow song. John was in another room in the recording studio and very frustrated to hear Paul record it slow so many times. He subsequently burst into the room where Paul was recording it, pushed him aside, and got on the piano playing the song very fast and upbeat.

This gave Ob-la-di, ob-la-da its very charming effect with an apparently spontaneous, come-as-you-are production feel. McCartney’s slightly complacent lyrics are not matched by a reassuring musical canter, but rather by Lennon’s enraged gallop on the ivories. It was a classic Beatles moment with the coziness of McCartney upended by the aggression of Lennon.

The lyrics concern a married couple named Desmond and Molly, but, in describing the lives of Desmond and Molly, they arbitrarily interchange the names so that neither person can be established as the husband or wife. The song is actually about the joys of conventional married life. It is possible to consider it ironic rather than straightforward, but another one of the Beatle songs that extol everyday 1960s British life.

The track deflates love by way of deliberate absence of matter. Its mood of casual optimism, its hummable tune and utterly indestructible chorus, which remains lodged in the skull long after the brain has turned to dust and been scattered by the wind, rendered it yet another Beatle classic.

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