Welcome to the Beatles Rarity Of The Week. In early April 1969 after John Lennon had put his wedding and honeymoon exploits to verse, he was very eager to get his “Ballad Of John And Yoko” recorded. The Beatles had not had a full recording session in months and currently George Harrison was busy shopping for his new home (he ended up moving from his Kinfauns bungalow into Friar Park 11 months later). Ringo Starr was also occupied on the set of the movie The Magic Christian where he was co-starring with Peter Sellers. On April 18th, the band were planning to meet in the studio to record George’s “Old Brown Shoe” but John did not want to wait until then. On Monday April 14th, he met with Paul McCartney in EMI Studio 3 for what would otherwise have been just a mixing session with producer George Martin, and the two of them completed the song in an eight hour session on their own.
“The Ballad Of John And Yoko” is a ballad in the traditional sense of a narrative poem put to song and not in the sense used in modern pop and rock music where the term usually refers to a slow and sentimental love song. The lyrics cover the events of March 16th through April 1st, 1969, to include John’s marriage to Yoko Ono in Gibraltar on March 20th. It was unusual to record without George and Ringo present but John did not want to wait and he and Paul had planned to attend the mixing session that day anyway.
The backing track was completed after 11 takes with take 10 being marked best. John’s acoustic guitar on track 2, Paul’s drumming on track 3 and John’s lead vocal on track 4 were all recorded simultaneously. During the session while Paul was drumming, John can be heard on the session tape saying to him “Go a bit faster, Ringo!” to which Paul replies “OK, George!” Overdubs began with Paul’s bass on track 1, followed up by John’s lead guitar on track 5. On track 6, John added additional guitar to include the call-and-response licks that effectively give the song an extra edge. Paul’s backing vocals were added on track 7, and on track 8 John added the percussion effect of hitting the back of his guitar. Paul shook maracas in the second half of the song. With some help from returning sound engineer Geoff Emerick, the session was completed in about 8 hours. Geoff had quit working with The Beatles nine months earlier due to the tensions that had mounted during the White Album sessions and John and Paul were happy to be working with him again.
This week’s BROW let’s us hear how the recording sounded before any of the overdubs were added. As detailed above, tracks 2, 3 and 4 included the “live in the studio” account of John’s lead vocal and acoustic guitar with Paul’s drums and that is only what we hear at this stage. The drums have been mixed low to give emphasis to the lead vocal and John’s extraneous vocalizations at the end of the song have yet to be removed.
1) “The Ballad Of John and Yoko” was released on a single on May 30th in the U.K. (June 4th in the U.S.) and was the last #1 U.K. single for the band. In the U.S. it peaked at #8 on the Billboard singles chart. The b-side of the single was George Harrison’s “Old Brown Shoe” recorded by all 4 Beatles later in the week.
2) The original title of “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” included the parenthetical subtitle “They’re Gonna Crucify Me,” but John agreed to drop it, aware that it would not help the commercial appeal of the record to use the “crucify” word.
3) The final drumbeat in “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” was at an equal volume level with the rest of the recording on the original single. On subsequent compilations however such as the U.S. Hey Jude album or the first issuance of The Beatles 1967-1970 (aka “Blue”) album, the final drumbeat is faded down noticeably low. On the recent remasters of the Past Masters CD set, One or The Beatles 1967-1970, the final drumbeat has once again been presented in full volume.
Here are some Amazon links to read more on, or purchase, some music related to this post:
1) Past Masters (Remastered) 2009 remastered 2-CD collection of Beatles singles and other non-album tracks. Contains both “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” and it’s B-side “Old Brown Shoe”.
2) The Beatles 1 2011 remaster of original 2000 CD collection of Beatles #1’s, including “The Ballad Of John And Yoko”.
3) 1967-1970 (Blue) Remastered – 2-CD 2010 remaster of original double album late Beatles hits compilation from 1973. Contains both “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” and it’s B-side “Old Brown Shoe”.