In the studioSgt 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. It 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 by John Lennon and Paul McCartney at Abbey Road’s Studio Three on 14 April 1969, 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/Let It Be 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.
Lennon and McCartney recorded 11 takes of the basic rhythm track, with Lennon’s acoustic guitar on track two of the eight-track tape, McCartney’s drums on track three, and Lennon’s vocals on four.
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 seven from the session was released in 2019 on the super deluxe 50th anniversary reissue of Abbey Road.
The 11th take was recorded in a higher key – G instead of E. Lennon and McCartney then decided that take 10 was the best, and it became the basis of the final version.
The first overdub was McCartney’s bass guitar on track one, followed by Lennon’s electric guitar on track five. He then added more electric guitar to track six, with McCartney simultaneously adding a piano part on the same track.
Track seven was filled with McCartney’s backing vocals, and the song was completed with McCartney’s maracas and Lennon making percussive sounds – made by slapping the back of an acoustic guitar – on track eight.