The Ballad Of John And Yoko

The Ballad Of John And Yoko single - United KingdomWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 14 April 1969
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 30 May 1969 (UK), 4 June 1969 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, lead guitar, acoustic guitar
Paul McCartney: harmony vocals, bass, drums, piano, maracas

Available on:
Past Masters
1

A snapshot of the events surrounding John Lennon’s marriage to Yoko Ono, The Ballad Of John And Yoko was recorded in a single day by just Lennon and Paul McCartney.

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It was very romantic. It’s all in the song, The Ballad Of John And Yoko, if you want to know how it happened, it’s in there. Gibraltar was like a little sunny dream. I couldn’t find a white suit – I had sort if off-white corduroy trousers and a white jacket. Yoko had all white on.
John Lennon
Rolling Stone, 1970

The song was written in the days immediately following Lennon and Ono’s wedding.

Well, guess who wrote that? I wrote that in Paris on our honeymoon. It’s a piece of journalism. It’s a folk song. That’s why I called it The Ballad Of.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

On 14 April 1969 Lennon arrived at McCartney’s London home to work on his unfinished song. After quickly completing the writing, the pair immediately took it to Abbey Road.

Although the recent Let It Be sessions had been mostly unhappy, with The Beatles steadily unravelling as a unit, The Ballad Of John And Yoko saw Lennon and McCartney collaborating as equals, showing a renewed enthusiasm for recording.

John was in an impatient mood so I was happy to help. It’s quite a good song; it has always surprised me how with just the two of us on it, it ended up sounding like The Beatles.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Lennon’s controversial 1966 comments on Christianity (“We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity”) had damaged The Beatles’ career in an number of countries, particularly in south east Asia and the southern states of America.

The chorus to The Ballad Of John And Yoko contained the words “Christ, you know it ain’t easy, you know how hard it can be. The way things are going, they’re gonna crucify me.” Lennon, aware that the lines risked reopening old wounds, made efforts to keep the song under wraps prior to its release.

Tony – No pre-publicity on Ballad Of John & Yoko especially the ‘Christ’ bit – so don’t play it round too much or you’ll frighten people – get it pressed first.
John
Memo to Apple plugger Tony Bramwell, written by John Lennon

Nonetheless, the song was banned by a number of radio stations in the US and UK; others bleeped out the word ‘Christ’.

It’s like an old-time ballad. It’s just the story of us getting married, going to Paris, going to Amsterdam, all that. It’s Johnny B Paperback Writer!
John Lennon, 1969
Anthology

The Ballad Of John And Yoko’s bass line and closing guitar riff bear a strong resemblance to the 1957 song Lonesome Tears In My Eyes by The Rock And Roll Trio. The Beatles had covered the song in their earliest days, and in July 1963 recorded it for the radio show Pop Go The Beatles. It was released in 1994 on Live At The BBC.

In the studio

One of the luxuries of EMI owning Abbey Road was that The Beatles were able to work at their own pace. In the case of Sgt Pepper this had meant they could block book the studios for weeks at a time,with the luxury of experimentation and unhampered by time constraints.

Also meant they could record at short notice. Under the working title The Ballad Of John And Yoko (They’re Gonna Crucify Me), the song was recorded at Abbey Road’s Studio Three in a session beginning at 2.30pm and ending at 9pm.

It was then mixed for stereo, and was finished and ready for release by 11pm. According to George Martin, Yoko Ono was present in the studio, although she appears to have played no part in the recording.

I enjoyed working with John and Yoko on The Ballad Of John And Yoko. It was just the two of them with Paul. When you think about it, in a funny kind of way it was the beginning of their own label,and their own way of recording. It was hardly a Beatle track. It was a kind of thin end of the wedge, as far as they were concerned. John had already mentally left the group anyway, and I think that was just the beginning of it all.
George Martin
Anthology

Following his reduced role in the Get Back sessions, The Ballad Of John And Yoko was once again produced by George Martin. Also returning to the Abbey Road control room was Geoff Emerick, who had stopped working with The Beatles during the White Album sessions.

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.
Geoff Emerick
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

The success of the session may have contributed to the positivity that surrounded the recording of Abbey Road, which began shortly afterwards. It appears to have particularly helped ease relations between Lennon and McCartney, who at the time were locked in a legal battle over the management of the group.

At the time Ringo Starr was filming The Magic Christian, and George Harrison was on holiday. In their places, Lennon and McCartney played all the instruments on the song.

The Ballad Of John And Yoko only had Paul – of the other Beatles – on it but that was OK. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? was just Paul and me, and it went out as a Beatle track too. We had no problems with that. There’s good drums on The Ballad Of John And Yoko, too.
Ringo Starr
Anthology

They recorded 11 takes of the basic rhythm track, with simultaneous drums, acoustic guitar and vocals. Five of the takes broke down immediately before the line “Made a lightning trip to Vienna”, when McCartney mistakenly added an extra snare drum beat.

Take two broke down because, as John explained, ‘Un string avec kaput, Mal!’ And there was one lovely moment, before take four, where John said to the drumming Paul, ‘Go a bit faster, Ringo!’ and Paul replied to the guitar-wielding John, ‘OK, George!’
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Take 10 was the best attempt, and onto this McCartney added bass, piano, backing vocals and maracas, and Lennon overdubbed two lead guitar parts and percussive sounds – made by slapping the back of an acoustic guitar.

Chart success

The Ballad Of John And Yoko was released in the UK on 30 May 1969. It was rush-released just six weeks after it was recorded, while Get Back was still at number one in the UK charts.

It topped the UK charts for three weeks, but only managed to reach number eight in America. The b-side in both countries was George Harrison’s Old Brown Shoe.

18 responses on “The Ballad Of John And Yoko

  1. Tony Winston

    This song, along with Old Brown Shoe and (You know my name) look up the number, that would of made Let It Be, the album with all good songs, you got: Get Back, One After 909, Let It Be and lots more, it would of added icing to the cake

  2. Garrett Hawk

    I agree with Tony’s comment above. If you added some of the songs that The Beatles actually recorded at about the same time they were recording the album that would become “Let It Be,” you would turn a mediocre (for them) album into a great one.
    -Old Brown Shoe
    -Ballad of John & Yoko
    -Come And Get It
    -Give Peace A Chance

    It should also be noted that before the “Let It Be” album was released, John recorded “Instant Karma,” and Paul recorded “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
    Add those 2 songs to the above 4 (and include the best 6 or 7 songs that actually made the album), and you’d have a downright classic.

    1. Rick S

      Very true Garrett, and don’t forget George’s All Things Must Pass which was worked on during that time. How great would it be if their farewell album was a double. Off the top of my head, they could have also added Lady Madonna, Rain, The Inner Light , Mary Jane, We Can Work it Out & Yes it Is, all of which I don’t believe were released on albums as of then.

  3. Joseph Brush

    Way back when I was dumbfounded when “Don’t Let Me Down” was omitted from the Let It Be album along with different versions of Get Back and Let It Be instead of the singles.
    As for other songs, group and solo possibilities for Let It Be, the sky is the limit.
    After the breakup, there was a series of bootleg albums entitled Renaissance Minstrels containing solo music that catered to the wish fulfillment of some Beatle fans.
    Possibly the booters were fans themselves.
    Volume three for instance contained–It Don’t Come Easy,Cold Turkey, Deep Blue, Another Day, Instant Karma, Back Off Boogaloo, Blind Man, Happy Xmas (War Is Over), Give Ireland Back To The Irish, Give Peace A Chance, Early I970.
    The front cover shows the Fabs all dressed in Renaissance clothes with fractures separating each one from each other.

  4. Joseph Brush

    The Let It Be album is still a classic despite its previously stated flaws.
    I don’t think that Let It Be Naked was a remedy.
    I guess Let It Be and its whole storied history makes it THE album that Beatle fans like to realign with songs and/or versions of songs that were not on the original.
    A consolation is the fact they rallied to produce Abbey Road.

  5. graham

    that song has a real classic beatle sound ending. the first in years.funny that paul contributed to this song because i thought he hated yoko.also where in canada are you from joe?i’m a canuck also.youre web site rules!

  6. robert

    Funny – I was 12 when The Ballad came out and I still remember thinking that song sounded empty – and not like The Beatles usual sound.

    Flipping the single over and hearing Old Brown Shoe I thought “THAT sounds like them.”

    Years later finding out it was just John and Paul on Ballad, it all made sense.

    A great, great tune – but one wonders how it would have sounded with George adding vocals and playing lead and Ringo adding those syncopated fills only he could do.

    A great song nonetheless.

  7. Joseph Brush

    There are a number of Beatles songs that have less than four members playing.
    But The Ballad Of John And Yoko could be the most important one of them all because of John and Paul’s cooperation in recording the song.
    It subsequently inspired them to begin work on Abbey Road in the wake of the debacle of Get Back.

  8. MVP

    I think of this track really as part of Abbey Road, rather than Let It Be. The renewed enthusiasm was largely carried over during the recording of that record.

    A part of me almost wished they didn’t release it when they did. It would’ve been interesting to see what the track would’ve sounded like with Ringo on drums and George on lead guitar.

  9. Mr Moonlight

    You can sense that John and Paul were enjoying themselves recording this song. it adds a dimension to it that makes it a little similar to their early recording like IWTHYH and From Me to You. Also, the similarity of the guitar and base parts to Lonesome Tears in My Eyes never occurred to me until I read it here. interesting. Finally, there is a Hebrew version of this song recorded by a guy named Einstein (no relation to the Physicist) in the 60s or 70s that somehow captures the spirit of the original to an uncanny extent. Here if you are interested <>

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