The Ballad of John & Yoko - The Beatles

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"The Ballad of John & Yoko" - The Beatles (1968)

"The Ballad of John & Yoko" was the first time only Lennon and McCartney recorded a song together. It was also the first single to be released in stereo.

Lennon was in such a rush to record the song he didn’t want to wait until Ringo and George Harrison had returned from a vacation and had asked McCartney to help him. Together- they overdubbed all of the instruments with McCartney playing he drums. It was recorded and mixed in 9 hours on the day it was written.

On March 14, 1969, Lennon decided to marry Yoko Ono. His original plan, worked out while en route to Dorset to introduce Yoko to his Aunt Mimi, was to get married at sea.

There were several legal problems with that idea, so they headed to Southampton, England, in order to take a ship to Paris and wed there. John was turned back immediately, not being a French citizen. Gibraltar was chosen as an alternate location as it was a British protectorate.

At the time, Spain, headed then by the dictator Francisco Franco, was angered by John’s location of Gibraltar, near Spain. Clearly Lennon added this to the line to the song to make it rhyme, but at the time Gibraltar was then embroiled in a dispute between Spain and UK over its ownership. Franco subsequently ordered this song removed from all Spanish Beatles albums.

The track is so outrageously egocentric that it’s difficult to know whether to deplore its vanity or admire its chutzpah. Although entitled “ballad” the song is not a ballad at all but very much up-tempo. The stylized blues quickie remains quite a curiosity of the Beatles catalog as there is no other song quite like it.

For instance, it is the only Beatle song that only the two of them would provide all the music. Most of that was McCartney who played the drums, piano, bass, maracas, and provided vocal harmonies.

Engineer Geoff Emerick wrote:

“This was one of the first times I put microphones both on top of and under the snare drum, which imparted a larger-than-life crack to the sound, the perfect complement to John’s aggressive vocal.”

Beyond technique, it is impossible not to hear the sense of creative fun and collaborative byplay shared by John and Paul- in spite of the overtly John and Yoko focus of the narrative. It forces you to question the well-worn conventional wisdom that insists their musical relationship had manifestly gone bust by this time. Or-that McCartney loved the guy and wanted to make him happy and helping him record it- right then- was important to him.

It’s been suggested that the inclusion of the lyric “Christ! You know it ain’t easy” was intended to settle an old score with the press, the radio stations, and the world for the way in which he was some combination of cajoled and bullied by the press in August 1966 to somehow apologize for saying the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus”.

This was not a “John Lennon song” but a statement by him about what was happening to him at the time- but in musical form. McCartney’s musicianship makes the song as catchy and hip as it is. One can only wonder how it would have sound had it not been recorded so hastily.

“The Ballad of John & Yoko” is a unique song in Beatles history as it is completely autobiographical.

Professor Ken Womack writes:

“Given its unequivocal self-referentiality, The Ballad of John & Yoko affords listeners with universal notions of self-awareness even amidst its highly personalized context. In this way, it explodes the group’s carefully embroidered shroud of literary distance. The Beatles’ fictive world, having been populated by the likes of Nowhere Man and Lady Madonna, had been roundly displaced by the flesh-and-blood personae of John and Yoko.

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