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Monday, April 2, 2012

The Ballad of John and Yoko b/w Old Brown Shoe

The single Get Back had barely hit the stores when John Lennon, fresh from his whirlwind marriage and honeymoon with Yoko Ono, showed up at Abbey Road Studios on April 14th, 1969 with a new composition in hand based on those experiences, wanting to record it immediately.  Only Paul, always eager to record, was available.  Undeterred, the two of them set to work on the next single.

The Ballad of John and Yoko - Imagine the chutzpah it takes to believe that you can write a song about yourself and your new wife, put your names in the title, and expect that people will actually want to buy it and listen to it.  That is exactly what Lennon did and, amazingly, he was right.  Whether the press loved them or hated them, they could not get enough of John and Yoko, and the couple was smart enough to use that to their advantage at every turn.  The lyrics of the verses in the song are factual, and the journey they trace is pretty outrageous.  The refrain and the bridge comment on the action, putting it all in an equally-outrageous perspective.

None of this would matter if the song were not entertaining, and John was a master showman.  He and Paul spent the day concocting a simple, perky three-minute pop record that was hard to resist.  From all accounts, the two of them had a blast laying down the basic track of rhythm guitar, lead vocal and drums, then overdubbing every other instrument and some typically bright vocal harmonies.  Engineer Geoff Emerick, who had quit working with the group about a third of the way into the sessions for the "White Album" due to the tension, was back with them for the first time on this day, and had nothing negative to report.

Old Brown Shoe - With the single in need of a B-side, Harrison chipped in with this uptempo number.  He was really hitting his stride as a composer at this time and had begun to stockpile quite a few songs, especially since John and Paul had given short shrift to several of his offerings during the Get Back sessions.  He made three solo demos on February 25th - this song among them - all of which would eventually see the light of day.   (These demos, which include the title song of his landmark solo album All Things Must Pass, are all on Anthology 3.)

Only two days after John and Paul recorded the A-side, all four Beatles were available and met to work on this number.  George's lead vocal, recorded huddled in a corner at his request, sounds muddy on the track, but if you can pick out the lyrics, they contain some fun yin/yang wordplay.  Paul's bass line, particularly in the bridges, is a marvel, and George plays a wonderful lead guitar during the instrumental break.  I have always felt that the tempo of this song is so brisk that Ringo sounds as if he is trying to keep up with the group instead of driving them, as he usually does, but that is a minor criticism.  George overdubbed a Hammond organ part on April 18th to complete the recording.

The single was released on May 30th in the UK and on June 4th in the US as Get Back was still sitting at number one on the charts - a curious move.  In the UK, The Ballad of John and Yoko still managed to take over the top spot and, in fact, it proved to be the group's last number one in their native land.  In the US, the refrain, which opened with the word "Christ" and ended with "they're gonna crucify me," did not go over well with the same people who had been offended by John's "We're bigger than Jesus" interview in 1966, and the song received either limited airplay or none at all in some parts of the country.  I can remember WPRO-AM in Providence, RI broadcasting a version of the song which edited out the word "Christ" at the top of each refrain, and I'm sure this was used elsewhere, as well.  The record peaked at number eight on the Billboard chart.  Both of these songs appeared on the US compilation album Hey Jude in February of 1970.  (So did the B-side of the previous single, Don't Let Me Down, a fact I failed to mention in my last entry.)

This was the first single by the Beatles to be released in stereo worldwide.  No mono mixes exist for either one of these songs.  And these sessions marked the last time that the group went into the studio for the express purpose of recording a single.                       

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