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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!’
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.
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.