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Monday, November 21, 2016

The Ballad of John and Yoko

Imagine your one-time best friend saying to you, "I've just written a song about my honeymoon.  Want to hear it?"  Though you might courteously reply in the affirmative, you would probably be cringing inside, especially if the person your friend married irritated you and contributed to the deterioration of your friendship.  If you were a good friend like Paul McCartney, however, not only would you listen to John Lennon's song, you would then agree to help him record it.

This was the situation on April 14th, 1969, when the two old mates got together at Paul's house, then headed over to Abbey Road Studios to produce the next single attributed to the Beatles.  John was impatient and wanted to record the song immediately, but Ringo was busy filming The Magic Christian and George may or may not have been out of the country, so John and Paul took it upon themselves to get the job done.  The fact that they were reunited with both producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick for the first time in many months assured that the process would be quick and efficient.

They recorded eleven takes with Paul on drums as John sang and played acoustic guitar.  Take ten being the best, the duo then proceeded to add numerous overdubs onto it, including piano, bass, maracas and an occasional harmony vocal by Paul, plus two electric lead guitar parts and percussive thumps on the back of an acoustic guitar by John.  The recording was only mixed for stereo - the first by the Beatles to not receive a mono mix. 

Paul clearly saw that, in spite of the outrageous subject material, John had a winning composition in hand, with a catchy refrain and a simple, straightforward groove.  George and Ringo must have agreed in order for them all to affix the group name to the finished product.  And fans in the UK responded, as well, buying enough copies to make the record a number one hit.  The sacrilegious lyrics of the song kept it off the airwaves in parts of the USA, however, where it peaked at number eight on the Billboard chart.    

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