If you want to chart how quickly The Beatles progressed in the late 1960s, just check the dates of the albums. By early 1967, they had expanded their musical palette with tunes like “A Day in the Life” fromSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Less than two years later, John Lennon and Paul McCartney collaborated on their last great tune together, “I’ve Got a Feeling.” With that song, fans heard stripped-down Beatles rock at its finest. It was a completely different sound from “Lucy in the Sky” (not to mention “Norwegian Wood”).
In March ’69, just after marrying Yoko Ono, John got to work on a new song about the adventures surrounding their wedding. Taking the same approach the band did on Let It Be, Lennon kept things rocking and spare on the tune.
However, the track that became “The Ballad of John and Yoko” never landed on a Beatles studio album. Since John recorded it much like he did his first solo album and wanted it released quick, it went out as a single instead of on the final albums.
John and Paul recorded ‘Ballad’ on their own shortly after the wedding.
About three weeks after his wedding, John was back in London with an apparent itch to record. However, George Harrison and Ringo were out of town. Unfazed, he went to Paul’s house to get a working version finished.
That must have come quickly, as the two showed up at the Abbey Road studios by 2 p.m. that same day. As The Beatles Bible documents, George Martin produced the session with Geoff Emerick as engineer. But only Paul and John played on the track.
Obviously, John handled the lead vocals while fulfilling rhythm- and lead-guitar duties; Paul handled everything else. Fans of the song know that Paul’s duties therefore included: bass, drums, piano, and backing vocals (quite the lift).
By 9 o’clock that evening, the old songwriting partners and bandmates had laid down the tracks you hear in the finished version. Martin and his team had it ready for release by 11 p.m. that night.
As sessions go, it’s hard to imagine a better result for the amount of time put in on the recording. Compared to the endless, contentious “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” sessions, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” was almost automatic.
Yoko said Paul helped John rush ‘Ballad’ though because of the couple’s bad press.
In and around the time of their nuptials, John and Yoko had taken a beating at the hands of the press. John looked for his release in the composition of a happy tune about their wedding. That explains why he wanted to rush it out in Spring ’69.
Yoko recalled Paul’s gesture of working with John at a moment’s notice with fondness. “Paul knew that people were being nasty to John, and he just wanted to make it well for him,” Ono told Rolling Stone. “Paul has a very brotherly side to him.”
After the problems the two had been having in the preceding months, Paul’s effort looms even larger. Their quick, hard work paid off handsomely. It became a No. 1 hit in the UK despite being banned by some radio stations for John’s exclamation of “Christ” in the chorus.
In the U.S., it peaked at No. 8 that summer. Precisely 50 years later, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” still rocks. If you want it as part of an album, you need to get the compilation of singles titled, Hey Jude.
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