George Harrison was looking for a new house to buy, and Ringo Starr was working on the set of the film The Magic Christian, so Lennon and McCartney were the only members of the group to perform on the song.
It was recorded in Abbey Road’s Studio Three between 2.30pm and 9pm, and immediately afterwards it was mixed in stereo in a two-hour session in the control room. The balance engineer was Geoff Emerick, whose first Beatles session was on 20 February 1963 but had stopped working with them in July 1968 during the making of the White Album. He had recently been employed as the chief engineer at Apple Studios.
The Ballad Of John And Yoko recounted the couple’s wedding and honeymoon, and was a product of Lennon’s desire to make music an instant snapshot of a moment. It was recorded in 11 takes under the working title The Ballad Of John And Yoko (They’re Gonna Crucify Me).
Five of the 11 takes broke down because McCartney added an extra snare drum hit prior to the line “Made a lightning trip to Vienna”, and the second take ended after Lennon broke a guitar string. The master version was take 10.
The eight-track tape had Lennon’s acoustic guitar on track two, McCartney’s drums on three, and Lennon’s vocals on four, all of which were recorded simultaneously. McCartney then overdubbed bass guitar onto the first track, after which Lennon added two electric guitar parts onto tracks five and six. The second of these also featured McCartney’s piano.
McCartney recorded backing vocals onto track seven, and the pair added percussion onto eight. This featured Lennon hitting the back of his guitar, and McCartney shaking a pair of maracas.
The Ballad Of John And Yoko was The Beatles’ first single to be released exclusively in stereo. Five remixes were made before work ended at 11pm.
The Ballad Of John And Yoko was a very fast session. It was a really good record too, helped by Paul’s great drumming and the speed in which they did it all.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn