Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

From Rob Sheffield’s “Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World

Abbey Road, 1968: The Beatles are working on a new album, which will go down in history as the White Album. The sessions have degenerated into open warfare. Paul is driving everyone batty with a song he’s convinced is a hit, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” which John dismisses as “granny music shit.” Paul lashes them through it, night after night, trying to nail the ska offbeats. Tonight he announces a change in plan—after a week of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” he’s decided to scrap what they’ve taped so far and start from scratch. John storms out in a fit. He reappears a few hours later, making a surprise entrance through the upstairs studio door, screaming at the band from the top of the stairs.

“I am more stoned than you have ever been! In fact, I am MORE STONED THAN YOU WILL EVER BE!
“And THIS is how the fucking song should go!”

He marches downstairs and lunges for the piano. Not so steady on his feet. He bangs on the keys in a rage, speeding up that jingle-jangle intro.

Paul stares John dead in the eye. But all he says is, “Okay then.” Because that’s it. That is how the song should go. And Paul, furious though he is, can’t fail to hear it, because he’s too obsessive about his songs (even this song) to ignore it. So he utters his five least favorite words—“Let’s do it your way”—and lets John lead on the piano, faster and jumpier than before. And that’s the version on the record. You listen to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” a lighthearted ode to family life beloved by children of all ages, you’re hearing John beat on the piano, pretending it’s Paul’s skull.

The next afternoon, Paul changes his mind again, makes them try it a couple more times while he drums. But then he gives up because they can’t top last night’s version. The three of them gather around the mike, put on the headphones, and sing the backing vocals, la-la-la-ing and cutting up like they’re having the time of their lives. At the end John chirps, “Thank you!” “I fed tape echo into their headphones,” engineer Geoff Emerick recalled. “That’s all it took for them to suspend their petty disagreements; for those few moments, they would clown around and act silly again, like they did when they were kids, just starting out. Then as soon as they’d take the cans off, they’d go back to hating each other. It was very odd—it was almost as if having the headphones on and hearing that echo put them in a dreamlike state.”

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