A Hard Rate's Night: The Beatles Rate - #45, comrades | Page 13 | The Popjustice Forum

A Hard Rate's Night: The Beatles Rate - #45, comrades

Discussion in 'Charts, rates etc' started by Ironheade, May 10, 2021.

  1. I'm a complete sucker for all the random (and sometimes gimmicky) production tricks people starting pulling in the mid-60s. It became such a wild west of ideas... and to be the first one to do something original on a song was such a badge.

    Some things were so bizarre (especially when 'big acts' did them) that being overly zealous in the creative quest to 'be different' in certain production tricks hurt some songs. I'm thinking famously of The Beach Boys song 'The Little Girl I Once Knew', where Brian Wilson used all these dramatic starts & stops. This made the song have seconds of dead air (a complete no-no for terrestrial radio stations, especially in the 60s!). As such, radio stations were not excited to play it & became one of The Beach Boys lowest charting single of the era.

    Keeping in theme with the rate, John Lennon famously loved it & wrote a review for it in 1965:

    "This is the greatest! Turn it up, turn it right up. It's GOT to be a hit. It's the greatest record I've heard for weeks. It's fantastic. I hope it will be a hit. It's all Brian Wilson. He just uses the voices as instruments. He never tours or anything. He just sits at home thinking up fantastic arrangements out of his head. Doesn't even read music. You keep waiting for the fabulous breaks. Great arrangement. It goes on and on with all different things. I hope it's a hit so I can hear it all the time."

  2. Gonna take a little more time on this next one, because I realised that if I'm going to do it properly, it's going to have to come with an Attached Thinkpiece, another of the Being for the Benefit of... series focusing on particular figures in their history. That should give you a good hint!
  3. Well, FECK.

    I just spent bloody four evenings writing all this, then I realise it was for the wrong song! Fuck it, I'm putting it out as #53 now and #54 will be the next reveal.

    53. The Ballad of John and Yoko

    30 May 1969 (non-album single b/w "Old Brown Shoe")


    John Lennon – Lead vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, percussion
    Paul McCartney – Harmony vocals, bass guitar, piano, drums, maracas

    Highest scores: 1 x 9.75 (@DJHazey )
    Lowest scores: 1 x 2 (@blissteria )

    Ah! But first, a thinkpiece.

    My Love Will Turn You On
    Being for the Benefit (?) of Yoko Ono


    This Japanese witch has made him crazy and he’s gone bananas. But … all she did was take the bananas part of me out of the closet that, you know, has been inhibited by another part. - John Lennon

    So! Now's as good a time as any. Let us address the matter of Yoko Ono, perhaps the most controversial figure in the Beatles' tangled history. And when it also involves the likes of Allen Klein, Phil Spector, CHARLES MANSON, and hell, Lennon-McCartney themselves, that's saying an awful lot.

    A disclaimer before we begin. Nobody involved in this story is a reliable narrator, and Yoko herself is one of the more unreliable, it seems. For example, the idea that she didn't know who the Beatles were upon her first meeting with John seems wildly implausible to say the least, and I can't see why she insists upon this point. Then again, John and Paul's tales seem equally implausible at times, and the fact that everyone involved was abusing copious amounts of drugs cannot help matters. Furthermore, Paul, Yoko and Ringo all like to endorse a rose-tinted version of the Beatles' history these days, and their agreed-upon narrative certainly does not always jive with other people's recollections. Who is to say what is fact and what is fiction, in such circumstances? (Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but Paul is 79 and Yoko is 88, and the events in question were fifty to sixty years ago. I wouldn't blame either for their memories of the time being a little jumbled.)

    But one thing can be agreed on: Yoko didn't enter into a welcoming atmosphere. The Beatles had long had a policy of not inviting wives and girlfriends to the studio, regarding them as a distraction. But now Yoko was sitting in on the recording sessions, and not only that, but trying to offer musical direction. Paul in particular did not take that well, and he blamed John becoming increasingly critical of his compositions, to the point of downright rubbishing them, on her avant-garde influence (and he in turn bashed “Revolution 9”). John and Yoko were spending far more time on each other than the Beatles, exacerbating already existing issues between Paul and John over the latter's lack of motivation brought on by heavy drug use – by now, both he and Yoko were heroin users. Paul had effectively wrested control of the band away from John at this point, doing anything to keep an already crumbling band together, and he could not handle this extra crack in its fragile armour. It also seems that the other Beatles disliked her personally, regarding her as intrusive and patronising. John and George had bonded over LSD and spirituality, but now he was spending that attention on Yoko and becoming distant from him, and that jealousy may well explain why George was the most directly unfriendly towards her. Basically, she and John were that annoying couple doing constant PDA and talking about nothing but each other ALL the time and pissing off their friends. I can sympathise, but that's not exactly the stuff of a pure evil succubus, now is it? Mostly, a lot of this seems like the other Beatles being jealous. (And when Paul's own in-laws entered the picture... well, then it got really messy, because then actual business concerns were on the table. But nobody blames Linda for breaking up the Beatles.)

    For his own part, John blamed racism in the tabloids, and perhaps also lingering memories of anti-Japanese sentiment from World War II, for Yoko's stinking reputation. I can believe it, at least to a degree. After all, Paul recalls Linda having come in for some stick too, for being an American Jew rather than the posh high-society English bird (e.g. his last amour, Jane Asher) a Beatle was “supposed” to end up with – and one of Russian descent, at that! (Her father, Lee Eastman, had come to America as Leopold Epstein.) The worst of it comes from Albert Goldman, in his risible 1988 book John Lennon: A Life, responsible for a lot of the more sordid tales about him. While John certainly was a man with many faults – and he would admit freely to most of them, like his tendencies towards violence, infidelity, laziness, and drug abuse – the great bulk of the book is lurid and easily debunked tales that make him out to be some sort of fairytale ogre… and he almost comes off well compared to Yoko. Yoko is given a blatantly sexist portrayal (and I am not somebody who makes such accusations lightly – he calls her “simian” for crying out loud!), depicted as skimming off John's fortune, having prostituted herself at university and been a willing participant in the alleged crimes of her ex-husband Tony Cox, controlling of John by encouraging his heroin use, keeping him isolated from his friends, and of having drugs planted in Paul's luggage so that Wings could not tour in the US in 1980. Almost none of this is verifiably true. But one thing does persist from Goldman's heap of bound toilet paper: that Yoko was just riding the success of the Beatles, using them to give herself a leg up before trying to ditch John for the “lost weekend”. Well, it's probably true that a lot of normies would never have heard of Yoko Ono if she hadn't been Mrs. John Lennon, but it's not like she was going nowhere fast. In reality, Yoko was no sugar baby: she was eight years John's senior, and an established conceptual artist while the Beatles were, artistically speaking, in short pants. It's not to everyone's taste, I'll grant you, and certainly is not to mine, but she was far from an unknown quantity. She also helped John in quite a few ways, I don't doubt - both have spoken of how she forced him to confront his violent tendencies, casually cruel manner, and frequently chauvinistic attitude. John still had a long way to go by 1980, a number of callous comments in his Playboy interview speak to that, but he was a better man by then than in 1970, and I think we have Yoko to thank.


    And musically, I think she could use a bit of a reappraisal. I won't say she was the hidden genius of the Ono-Lennon pair, but her B-sides did usually at least offer an intriguing artistic contrast. I don't even mind her startling primal wails – I always have had an attraction to the unconventional voices of the world. Not to mention, anyone who's put off by Yoko being an experimental conceptual artist and political commentator? She has multiple albums of conventional pop-rock music out there. Well, “conventional”, but you get my meaning. Dive in!


    Claims have also been made that she was responsible for driving a wedge between John and Paul, including that she wrote most of the lyrics to John's anti-Paul screed, “How Do You Sleep” - a song so needlessly bitter, abrasive and spiteful I find it impossible to enjoy – but “most” would seem to be an exaggeration (she did apparently contribute some though, in spite of John having sole writing credit). The truth was that the two were already drifting apart before she was even in the picture. John was a heavy drug user, increasingly involved in counter-cultural politics, laid-back to the point of apathy, and his love life was tangled. Paul was drug-agnostic, peacefully content after he met Linda, tight-wound and controlling of what he increasingly saw as his band, and had an interest in the avant-garde that John had not at first shared. Their relationship was combustible, Paul getting irritated by John's lack of motivation and effort, John (and the other two) disliking Paul's high-handed and bossy attitude as self-appointed studio bandleader. Whether John even wanted to be a Beatle by 1968 is doubtful, and he certainly did not by 1969, not when he was finding far more artistic satisfaction in his collaborations with Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band. He made a few statements to the effect that the Beatles were not breaking up in early 1970, and it was Paul who ultimately pulled the trigger after Let It Be shambled onto the shelves, but Paul the bus driver's passengers had clearly all wanted to get off long ago. The problem is, in the 60's, nobody knew about any of that, or that those desires were in place before Yoko was even in the picture, so Yoko was essentially caught in the crossfire, an easy source of blame as someone who came into the wrong place at the wrong time. And by the time these details became known, it was too late.

    I won't say I'll let Yoko off scot-free. By most accounts, she certainly was not an easy person to get along with (but then again, neither was John – or Paul, for that matter). Paul, perhaps, was right to feel that she was a distraction to the Beatles' recording sessions, and resentful that his old friend and writing partner was consulting his wife over him on artistic matters, if not quite as salty as he actually was. Tales persist, in more reliable sources than Albert Goldman, of mistreatment towards her staff and a generally unpleasant attitude to her musical collaborators, though she's evidently mellowed out over the years. And while Paul changing the accepted “Lennon-McCartney” to “McCartney-Lennon” on Beatles songs he primarily wrote might have been a bit of a petty move, Yoko trying to make a fuss about it and take him to court really wasn't necessary.

    And to say the least, her treatment of Julian Lennon has been nothing less than shabby over the years, something that even her and John's own son Sean has expressed dissatisfaction with (the two half-brothers are in fact very close). Don't get me wrong, John totally deserves every bit of the blame for having abandoned his family and been cruel to Cynthia. He and Julian, however, did reconcile to a degree during the 70's, and by the younger Lennon's own recollection they were speaking regularly and cordially, if not precisely as a conventional father and son, at the time of his death. But a lot of Yoko's behaviour at the time indicates jealousy and not wanting John to associate with his “old” family over her, and her attempts to lock Julian out of the Lennon legacy to which he had a right after John's death has just been plain shameful. It took May Pang, John's girlfriend during the “lost weekend” (the period when he and Yoko separated in 1972-73), to get him to reunite with Julian in the first place, which Yoko did not want; she tried to bar him from attending John's funeral, as he wished to bring his mother Cynthia, who ultimately did not attend; Julian was snubbed in John's will by receiving only a trust fund while Sean became the estate's major beneficiary, he had to take Yoko to court to get his fair share of the estate, and even then he had to spend most of that money to get some of John's possessions back. Poor guy.

    But responsible for the breakup of the Beatles? Good lord, no. Paul and George have both expressed repeatedly that they didn't blame her; as the former put it, “the Beatles broke up the Beatles”. Her presence may well have exacerbated tensions that were already there and acted as a reflection of John's growing desire for independence, but most likely those tensions would have made themselves known eventually, with or without her. And to be adopted as the archetypal figure of an evil female interloper? Well, if you ask me, that's just not fair.

    Hey, at least she can laugh about it.

    And Now, To the Song


    And why did I talk about all that? Because it's a lot more interesting than “The Ballad of John and Yoko”.

    DJHazey (9.75) - I’ve always heard of how John and Yoko “broke the band up” or at least that was always part of the folklore. So when I saw this title I was thinking “oh no, watch this be some sleepy ballad about their relationship”. Imagine how far my wig flew. Instead I’m presented with a massive bop, far more enjoyable than I ever could’ve imagined. Back to that co-worker Beatles fan I mentioned in my commentary for “Blackbird” -- she was also quick to point out how she loathed this song because of what it stood for in connection to that “John and Yoko broke the band up” narrative. Though I’ve learned it was alot more than that, I wasn’t about to correct her, but did say “aw, I like that one!”. Okay let’s jump into the world of ‘What in hell is Hazey talking about?” again for a second. Whenever this chorus comes to a close, I always want it to break into something similar to “Que Te Quiero” by Karina & the Waves (1985) - listen to it and you'll know what I’m referring to. (I swear they were inspired by this Beatles tune) Insert something like that in there somewhere and this is a 10, because I feel like there’s room for explosiveness and we never quite get here.


    It's probably for the best that I provide some context, because the lyrics, essentially, are just a diary of recent John and Yoko happenings - “a piece of journalism”, John called it in his famous 1980 Playboy interview. The narrative it tells is of their trouble in getting a wedding arranged at extremely short notice, until they were eventually able to manage it in Gibraltar. It continues with their famous “Bed In For Peace” at the Amsterdam Hilton, a quick jaunt through Vienna, and back home to Britain. (It's also notable as the only time one of the Beatles' staff is named in a song: Peter Brown, who had been the late Brian Epstein's assistant, and incidentally also John's best man in his wedding to Yoko.) This was actually pretty controversial: thanks to John's less than reverent “Christ, you know it ain't easy” and “they're gonna crucify me” in the chorus (a cheeky reference to “more popular than Jesus” perhaps?), it got banned by the BBC and many major American radio station. It of course didn't stop it from going to number one in the UK anyway, the final Beatles song to do so, but it sputtered out at #8 on the Hot 100, one of very few American Beatles singles to not at least reach the top five. Not to mention, the Franco regime also kicked up a fuss, thanks to its reference to “Gibraltar near Spain”, the status of Gibraltar remaining something of a sore point with the Spanish government to this day.

    Verandi (7) - Issa bop, but this is one of those songs where it's impossible not to think about John the person and god I always found him so unlikable nn

    (Well, as the thinkpiece above would show, you wouldn't be alone - Ed.)

    Now, all of this detail could potentially make for an interesting song, a tale of two lovers hounded by the press, laughed at by the more tabloid-bent reporters as a pair of ridiculous drug-addled hippies pursuing a pie-in-the-sky cause of peace, under a cloud of suspicion for the acrimonious circumstances in which John's previous relationship broke down. The problem is, we don't get all that much sense of it throughout the song. The crack about “they look just like two gurus in drag” is a great line, but other than that, the journalists never come across as particularly rude or invasive as they no doubt were. For example, during the verse describing the bed-in – the press did laugh at them for that at the time, so one might expect a particularly venomous stab at what they said. But it's not there, just a limp little “say, what you doing in bed?”, as if the potential of the protest was so self-evident it did not need explicating. What we have, instead, is a lot of flavourless and unadorned detail about their exact movements, given little emotional shading or context that might give it some memorability. Far removed as we are from the contemporary press circus around Lennono (as nobody calls them), this dry list cannot be of much interest to anybody but John and Yoko themselves.

    Given all that, the conclusion to the song rings hollow. It should be a classic bit of Lennon irony, the press that once lampooned and vilified them suddenly having a change of heart and welcoming them home once they're not safely away from them behind a typewriter. But instead, it doesn't feel earned, and lands with a thud. I would, honestly, have liked to hear more of what's on the bridge, where the Ono Lennons lay out their theory of “bagism” (a satire of prejudice, where a person could avoid being judged on external characteristics by wearing a bag over their bodies). I always did feel that the songs that leaned too heavily on his own personal life, modulo the purgations of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, never quite landed for someone who does not invest in his favourite artists' personal lives much. I generally preferred his more philosophical pieces. (Yes, that includes “Imagine”. No, I never did get into the backlash on that one. I'm a sap, what can I say?)

    I don't know. Our old friend Todd in the Shadows, in his video on Cher and Gregg Allman's Two the Hard Way (linky), talked about celebrity couple projects that rely too much on the target audience being invested in their relationship. And if you don't have that with John and Yoko, well...

    Filippa (9) - This is so unusual, but I really like it.

    “The Ballad of John and Yoko” was done at such short notice that only two Beatles were available to record it, George being on holiday and Ringo busy filming The Magic Christian. (No regrets on their part, though. As George later put it, “I didn't mind not being on the record, because it was none of my business ... If it had been 'The Ballad of John, George and Yoko', then I would have been on it.”) According to Paul, John was “on heat”, convinced that the topical song had to be recorded immediately or it would lose its impact. The lack of Ringo, much like on “Back in the USSR” and “Dear Prudence” a couple of years prior, really comes through – Paul picks up the slack again with a competent enough drum performance, one which is not out of time or distasteful in any way, but is also very basic and lacks flair. The lead-ins to the chorus are practically crying out for one of Ringo's offbeat lead-with-the-left tom rolls, and I would easily welcome some of his energetic sloshy hi-hat work over Paul's uptight little taps. It's competent, as I said, but it needs extra spice.

    Boombazookajoe (6) - I know the title refers to a "ballad" in the folktale/storyteller sense, but as a musician first, I see "ballad" and I think slow song -- so every time I listen to this song I go: " This ... isn't a ballad." Doesn't affect the lowish score though, just a random observation.

    DominoDancing (9) - Simple, but I love the bassline, the chorus guitar licks are super fun, and John's tongue-in-cheek "they're gonna crucify me" lyrics are entertaining as well.

    That said, there are some very good things about the arrangement. “The Ballad of John and Yoko” is not perhaps what one might be thinking of from the self-referential title and deeply felt subject matter – not something in the folk ballad tradition, and not the portentous thing one might be led to expect. Instead, it's a quick and almost frivolous-sounding uptempo rock and roll number, another one of their semi-regular throwbacks to their 50's childhood that the Beatles did in their last couple of years. Ironically, it is Paul who does the better instrumental work here, with his tight bouncy bassline grooving along amiably at the bottom of the mix; meanwhile, John contributes some stinging rockabilly lead guitar fills that would not embarrass George. The few ticklish piano chords that lead into the chorus are a great bit as well, giving the song an air of affectionate exasperation that dovetails well with John's playfully tossed-off delivery of “Christ, you know it ain't easy”.

    Unfortunately, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” is let down by one big thing: it is almost wholly monorhythmic, the verse melody not changing at all throughout the song, and the middle eight not rhythmically distant enough from it to make much of an impact. Paul's percussion work is probably one of the main culprits there, but “The Ballad of John and Yoko” is a prime example of when one of John's typically ironic, sedentary melodies takes it too far and ends up a bit of a drone. It does change a bit throughout, with Paul entering on a harmony vocal (one that almost emulates the slapback echo characteristic of the rockabilly they are imitating), and some maracas being overdubbed over the percussion track, but it's not quite enough. It's a shame, because the verse melody is a nice catchy one and the chorus is memorable, but they're just repeated too much, to the point where it does become a little tiresome and over-extended by the song's end. And that's “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, really. It's a great arrangement in principle, but one that doesn't develop or change enough, and the lyrics let the side down (without that latter problem, I could've scored it higher). Ultimately, it's a song too shackled to its time, and to John's over-impatient need to get it out quickly, when it could have been fantastic with a little more care spent on it. Because what we have, I think, is a decent enough obscurity for one of John's early solo albums... but as a Beatles track, I fear it's not much.

    Pop3blow2 (8.7) - I just always thought this song was so catchy. I really loved Hootie & The Blowfish’s rather random cover of this (which I distinctly remember playing at my High School radio station in the 90s.)

    Oh yeah, that was a thing, wasn't it? (Said everyone about Hootie and the Blowfish after about 1995.) It seems like an odd song to cover, seeing as it's so closely tied to its original writer and performer, but whatever, it's a solid cover. Good to see one of these editions of Coverwatch go on a good note. (There's a lot of good Beatles covers actually, maybe I'll dedicate a post to them at some point.)

  4. Oh, the Twotles single. I didn't even know this existed until I got the Past Masters CD in 1988 and thought, wow...this was a single...and it got to No.1?!

    It's great of course. I love John's lyrics, and it doesn't even sound like the band (because of course it wasn't the band, just half of it). Would have actually made a brilliant solo Lennon single (maybe if they'd done stuff like that earlier, the band might have been saved for a while longer).
  5. John choosing self pity after supposedly the happiest event of his live tells you all you need to know about his abhorrent personality. Musically this just plods along, a perfect counterpart to Paul’s snooze fest “Oh Darling”. The vocal on this is just so grating to me.
    Verandi and Ironheade like this.
  6. One of my favorite new discoveries of the rate. I guess it's payback for some of the songs I scored low, which have already been eliminated.
  7. This, unfortunately, was the part of John's career where he did start to get kind of grating vocally at times. A combination of hard drugs, primal scream therapy, and a lot of poor decisions about singing technique really started to take their toll by 1974. (Try to sing "Instant Karma" without messing up your throat.) He did sound better on Double Fantasy at least, mostly by adopting a softer singing style.

    Anyway, to the REAL #54!

    54. Octopus' Garden


    26 September 1969 (on Abbey Road)

    Ringo Starr – Lead vocals, drums, percussion
    John Lennon – Rhythm guitar
    Paul McCartney – Backing vocals, bass guitar, piano
    George Harrison – Backing vocals, lead guitar, bubbles

    Lowest scores: 1 x 3.5 (@Auntie Beryl )
    Highest scores: 1 x 9.2 (@pop3blow2 )

    And within the bottom ten, Ringo takes another hit! I suppose it might have been expected, this being another children's song, but there's still songs I would have seen go before it, albeit some of those likely being unpopular choices. “Octopus' Garden” marked Ringo's second ever foray into songwriting, spurred by his desire to share in song publishing royalties, which had proven a far more reliable source of income than the Beatles had ever seen from record sales. The first had been “Don't Pass Me By”, an inane, grating pseudo-country throwaway that marks one of the White Album's true duds, and the idea that he had been working on it for years is frankly inconceivable to me. Let's just say, Ringo had improved a bit in a year's time. “Octopus' Garden” might be no masterpiece, but it's a fun little diversion with a catchy tune and can put a smile on the face easily. That'll do me just fine!

    The inspiration for the song came when Ringo was hanging out with his growing family in Sardinia, on no less than Peter Sellers' yacht, during his two-week hiatus from the Beatles in the middle of the White Album sessions. He asked for fish and chips for lunch, and received squid instead. (“It was OK. A bit rubbery. Tasted like chicken.”) This spurred a conversation with the boat's captain in which he told Ringo everything he knew about octopi, including their habit of trawling the seabed for stones and shiny objects to build “gardens” in front of their dens. (They do it, depending on species and situation, either to attract mates, to disguise themselves while hunting, or simply as a midden heap of crustacean shells after a meal. The more you know!) Ringo was fascinated by this idea, and decided to write a song based around it. Like “Yellow Submarine” before it, it also imagines the sea as being a place of freedom and happiness, where friendship is easy to find – in the toxic atmosphere of the late-period Beatles, Ringo said, “I just wanted to be under the sea too”. And so, we have the second and final solo songwriting credit he ever received with the Beatles.

    Pictured: A garden, probably.

    DJHazey (7.75) - Extremely carefree and folksy, I like it. Had to look it up and find it’s a rare Ringo song and that it’s considered one of the most ‘kid-friendly’ Beatles songs. I can see that and imagine Disney asking for it to be used in an ocean-themed animated feature. “I’d like to be. Under the sea.” is a nice little ‘pause and go’ play that I always go for. Also, there’s an aura of escapism in the works which puts a smile on my face as well. Nothing off charts, mind you, but it’s better than alot of their more serious songs, to me at least.

    But should it be one? In the Let It Be documentary, George can be seen helping Ringo rearrange the song and work out the chords, along with John joining in on the writing session in a rare appearance of him playing drums. In this embryonic version, only the first verse appears to be properly worked out, the middle eight is missing, and the general chord structure is much different. There's some who'll argue, on this basis, that George should have had a writer's credit, much like his later (originally anonymous, later fully credited) contribution to Ringo's signature solo hit “It Don't Come Easy”. This was likely necessary thanks to Ringo's limited instrumental skills outside the drums, per George in a contemporaneous interview: “At home he plays a bit of piano, but he only knows about three chords. He knows about the same on guitar.” But George himself was characteristically diffident about his contribution, even if it was a fairly major one; as with “It Don't Come Easy”, he wanted it to be Ringo's moment and not crowd him out of the spotlight. Me myself... well, there's quite a difference between songwriting and arranging, and the main tune (a simple four-chord one, well within Ringo's abilities) and most to all of the words likely originate from Ringo. Still, it's heartening to see that as the Lennon-McCartney partnership disintegrated, with a few brief resurgences as they endeavoured to make the best music they could even in such unpromising circumstances, Harrison-Starr maintained the spirit of brotherly love. Perhaps the two felt some kind of solidarity, with George's compositions being sneered at and dismissed by Lennon-McCartney, and Ringo barely allowed a creative look in at all. It would certainly bear out in their post-1970 work, as the pair would collaborate more often than any other combination of ex-Beatles, and George even wrote Ringo's two biggest solo hits.

    And, well, it's always lovely seeing the other three come together (heh) to help their old mate Ringo over the finishing line. Even as he grappled with his own personal demons (Ringo was a severe alcoholic for twenty years, resulting in him neglecting his family, his first marriage breaking down amidst his infidelities, and his second almost going the same way after being marred by drink-fuelled violence), he seemed to bring out the best in his bandmates. John and Paul both credited his humour and easygoing personality as frequently being the only thing keeping them going through the torturous Get Back sessions, and George cited “Octopus' Garden” as having something “cosmic” about it in its longings for a simpler and happier life despite appearing to be simply “a daft kids' song”. Basically, if you want “aww” moments in the Beatles' history? Give the drummer some.

    And then George slept with Ringo's wife... while his own wife was in turn sleeping with his best friend Eric Clapton. Ouch!

    Filippa (7) - Ringo Starr booked on children’s songs.

    And now, to the music. Yes, the obvious comparison for “Octopus' Garden” is “Yellow Submarine”, to the point that you could even consider it something of a sequel. Both are children's (or childlike, anyway) songs with a nautical theme, sung by Ringo, with simple and easy-to-grasp melodies, and both make good use of foley sounds. It is the rare sequel, however, that betters the original, in quite a few ways, but we'll get to that. Where “Yellow Submarine” could be seen more in the tradition of whacked-out and childlike Barrettian psychedelia, “Octopus' Garden” absolutely is a children's song, and the distinction can be made in the way they approach their use of sound effects. “Yellow Submarine” goes hard on the tapes and effects work for such a goofy kids' song, the band giving everything they've got for that proper interbellum Royal Navy submarine vibe, which was absolutely the best thing about it. “Octopus' Garden”, meanwhile, contents itself with George blowing bubbles into a glass of milk. Don't get me wrong, it does convey the oceanic atmosphere decently enough, but I do miss the Beatles going HAM with the effects. It feels like the whimsy is almost there, but not quite coming through as it could.

    Unnameable (9) - I like it when they’re whimsical, and this is more fun whimsy.

    Pop3blow2 (9.2) - A whimsical little triumph a song. In some ways I’ve always heard this as the (more successful) sequel to ‘Yellow Submarine’. I also love that Oasis referenced this song no fewer that three times in their discography. Ringo’s impact!

    But “Octopus' Garden” does have a lot to like about it, more than you might expect. For one thing, Ringo's singing is a lot more assured than it is on its predecessors. No, he still hasn't expanded his range, but he sounds more at ease with what he does have, hitting the notes without much obvious effort or, like on “Yellow Submarine”, seemingly concentrating more on staying on key than on expressing the appropriate mood. If one can't have a technically proficient voice, one can, I suppose, at least have a likeable one. His animated and friendly-sounding voice might grate on something more complex, thanks to his still extant lack of range and dynamics that meant he couldn't really go outside his comfort zone, but for something like this, I find it to be more than acceptable – it's like one of the more chill breed of kids' show hosts, the ones who aren't overly bouncy or too condescending to the rugrats. (It's why he will forever remain the best narrator for Thomas. Not sorry for saying it!) The simple three-part harmonies don't have quite the same punch as the big boisterous group sing-along of “Yellow Submarine”, but they work well enough, even if they don't quite have the beauty of the Beatles' more refined harmony moments. Almost Four Seasons like, but I'm not exactly sure why I think that... hm, weird.

    Unfortunate fact, I can't hear Ringo talk about anything without imagining him narrating a Thomas episode. Sorry!

    DominoDancing (8) - Dangerously close to be as much of a children's song as Yellow Submarine, but George's amazing lead guitar raise this to another level.

    The arrangement, too, is much like the rest of “Octopus' Garden”: simple, but effective. As a frequent minder of a thirteen-years-younger cousin during her toddlerhood, the low quality of a lot of mass-produced kids' music became a frustration at times; it's not that expect Black Midi to be a big hit on the playgrounds or anything, but I see no reason why the kids should not be able to listen to something a bit closer to what we grown-ups can enjoy. I count this song a total success on that front: come up with some different lyrics, and “Octopus' Garden” absolutely could be a “normal” Beatles song. John plays the rhythm guitar here, in the fingerpicked “Travis” style he had been taught by Donovan during their Indian sojourn, while George (as our illustrious commentator says) does more with his lead guitar than he has any right to. The light-hearted and playful melodies hug the rhythm guitar tightly and give it additional texture, while his solo breaks free in spirited style. It anticipates some of the finest moments of George's solo career, when he could conjure both the Mississippi and Ganges deltas simultaneously on his slide guitar. Would that all children's music contained a twin guitar tandem this richly interwoven. The honky-tonk piano that backs the sections leading into the “I'd like to be...” hook is fun too, in Ringo's typical good-natured semi-country-rock fashion. Other than that, there isn't too much that makes an impression, but it all does what it needs to do.

    And you know what, the lyrics are a lot of fun. While “Octopus' Garden” may lack as striking an image as a brass band on a submarine which somehow has other submarines next door to it, the playful rhymes and loopy lightheartedness make them easily memorable, with an affectionate fatherly touch in the “Oh what joy, for every girl and boy, knowing they're happy and they're safe”. There's even some poignancy in this particular nautical narrative, as Jonathan Gould points out in Can't Buy Me Love – instead of the present-tense “We all live...”, it's a wistful “I'd like to be...”. “Warm beneath the storm” was precisely something that nobody involved with the Beatles at this time was, sadly.

    Boombazookajoe (8) - Too cutesy enough to be a top tier classic, but not hokey enough to be offputting.

    So, yes. I do feel a little foolish for having ranked “Octopus' Garden” as high as I did. It is, after all, “just a daft kids' song”, as George put it. But as far as daft kids' songs go, well, it's hard to imagine many better than this one. In keeping with one of my own critical maxims – Roger Ebert's coinage of “it's not what it's about, but how it's about it” - it sets a very particular goal of what it's trying to do, and achieves it quite well. Not something I pull out all that regularly, because it's still, after all, a song for the rugrats, not this grumpy old prog-rock fan; Ringo's singing, while likeable, is still limited, and forces the song into slightly too narrow a harmonic range for my liking. But when I'm listening through Abbey Road, I'm always happy to hear it for a bit of light relief, and it does fit in with the mature and mellowed pop style of that album better than one might suppose. Only the Beatles could make something like this seem completely natural to be on the same album as “I Want You (She's So Heavy)”.

    And I did indeed enjoy it very much as a tyke, so there's proof positive that “Octopus' Garden” did its job, I suppose. (For some reason, the Beatles Hits for Kids tape I had also included “Maxwell's Silver Hammer”... someone didn't think about that tracklist too hard, did they?)

    And now it's a book. Plug plug plug.
  8. @Ironheade you're the best when it comes to reviewing songs. How high did you actually rate the song?
    And George slept with Ringo's wife? I didn't know that although I read about Eric Clapton and Pattie Boyd, but they were really in love as they married in the end. I actually considered it as proof of how really huge George and Eric's friendship was that it survived Pattie ...
    But how could George sleep with Ringo's wife ... it's another "how low can you go" moment of one of the Beatles ...
  9. What does it cost to maintain an Octopus' Garden?

    Five squid.
    pop3blow2, Ironheade, Aester and 2 others like this.
  10. This was a 7.5 for me, half a point over "Yellow Submarine".

    And yes, George did allegedly sleep with Ringo's wife... while Ringo was also sleeping around a whole lot... and for that matter, Pattie eventually divorced Eric Clapton because he was cheating on her. And meanwhile, while John and Yoko were separated, Yoko immediately set him up with her assistant. It's all a bit of a soap opera, yes. (And meanwhile Paul and Linda were just chilling.)
    pop3blow2, DominoDancing and Filippa like this.
  11. It's a cute song but I expected it to be gone already so this isn't bad considering.
    Ironheade likes this.
  12. So the next one's coming tomorrow - and wouldja look at that, it's a Paul song after a run of a few without him on lead!

    Definitely one I thought would be divisive, too. Looks like my prediction paid off.
  13. Oh! I'll warn my Da.
  14. Rate goes on, brah.

    52. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da


    Release: 22 November 1968 (on The Beatles)

    Paul McCartney – Lead vocals, electric and acoustic bass guitars, handclaps, vocal percussion
    John Lennon – Backing vocals, piano, handclaps, vocal percussion
    George Harrison – Backing vocals, acoustic guitar, handclaps, vocal percussion
    Ringo Starr – Drums, percussion, bongos, maracas, handclaps, vocal percussion
    George Martin – Woodwind arrangement
    Uncredited – Three saxophones

    Highest scores: 2 x 10 (Hazey's Dad, @unnameable )
    Lowest scores: 1 x 0 (@KingBruno )

    This is definitely one of the songs, I think, that people have been calling for from the beginning, and might have expected to go this early. I can't blame them for that - “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is not exactly a Beatles fan favourite despite being one of the White Album's most popular tracks with the GP. For every one who appreciates it for its light-hearted earworm joys, there's another who'll call it a grating and inane bit of cod-ska. Indeed, this is the very song for which that immortal Lennon quote “Paul's fucking granny shit” was coined, for John detested “Ob-La-Di” from the beginning, or at least claimed to, and thus it became emblematic of all Paul's songwriting flaws for those who dislike him. But from where I stand? Ehh... “Ob-La-Di” is alright with me. It's not a great song, I wouldn't put it in any personal top 50, but it's one of that breed of songs that's too good-natured and peppy to ever dislike completely.

    KingBruno (0) - People often joke about this song, but I feel like we should genuinely state that this is shit.

    (And so it has been done. Incidentally, this was the ONLY zero that anybody gave to any song in this rate. Ouch...)

    So, where does “Ob-La-Di” fit into the Beatles canon, exactly? Well, this is our first encounter with one of the White Album's many genre parodies and pastiches, and it won't be the last. In this case, the idiom is Jamaican ska, a genre that was only just starting to become popular outside its homeland, with smatterings of Paul's affection for the old humorous songs of British music hall. The song was already in development while the Beatles were at Rikishesh, as (Dear) Prudence Farrow recalled, and was entirely Paul's work as a songwriter. As a nod to the genre that “Ob-La-Di” paid tribute to, the protagonist's name of Desmond was taken from the singer Desmond Dekker, who had toured the UK in 1968. (The following year, his signature song “Israelites” would give reggae its first UK number one hit and one of its earliest American top 10's.)

    DJHazey (9.25) - Another one that started and I instantly went “wait, this is a Beatles song?” as I always assumed it came from the mid to late 70’s from another band (obviously) -- I also remembered it as a TV show’s theme song, but looking up that the show was called “Life Goes On” I have no idea how it stuck with me as I don’t recall watching that show. While looking that up, I discovered that it was Paul’s song and the rest of the band hated it with a passion as they didn’t care for his later work and deemed it too basic. All I have to say is “YAS” to Paul for bringing the basic bawps!

    But behind the fun goofy song lies a tangled tale of bitterness and frustration. Firstly, “Ob-La-Di” became emblematic of the bitter disputes within the Beatles over what was done with their studio time, and the lack of discipline or anybody to tell them “no” that made the White Album sessions such a miserable environment. John, not unfairly, resented that Paul would force the band to spend days on his own songs to get them note-perfect, whereas when it came time to do one of his songs, a more casual and jam-like atmosphere would prevail that suggested Paul was not taking it seriously. And he was lucky, because George and Ringo barely got a look-in from Paul, who tended to talk down to them and dismiss their efforts, while John, certainly by the time of Abbey Road, had come to respect them more as songwriters. (John also disliked that Paul would use his songs to conduct sound experiments without his permission... though ironically, some of these would lead the general public to think that these experiments had been John's idea, and contributed to the picture of him as the greater artist. And he wasn't always above trying to take credit for them...)

    By the time “Ob-La-Di” was being recorded, the sessions for the White Album had dragged out for over a month already, and the process of getting it on record was a gruelling 42 hours in total. Paul insisted on endless retakes due to his conviction that “Ob-La-Di” could be a possible hit single, an effort that the other members considered disproportionate for such a fluffy and seemingly frivolous song that they weren't keen on to begin with, and the result was that Paul just got on everyone's nerves. (George said it as pithily yet obliquely as he ever could in his own “Savoy Truffle”: “We all know ob-la-di-bla-da, but can you show me where you are?”) John dealt with it the best way he knew how: by getting baked out of his gourd, clowning around and doing fake patois, and most importantly, bashing out the intro piano chords faster and louder out of pure frustration – which ended up being the version that got used. Paul also did not take George Martin offering suggestions for his vocal part at the 9 July session well, and snapped, “Well, you come down and sing it!” Martin uncharacteristically lost his temper, and shouted back: “Then bloody sing it again! I give up. I just don't know how any better to help you.” (As should be obvious, Paul being the unofficial in-studio bandleader, in the face of John's lack of motivation and George and Ringo's low moods, had rather gone to his head by this point.) The following day, Geoff Emerick, who had returned to engineer all the sessions thus far, handed in his resignation notice; the unpleasant mood in the studio had already been working on his nerves, and this argument was the final straw. Though Martin continued to produce Get Back and Abbey Road (the latter only on the condition of a return to “professionalism”), and Emerick also returned for Abbey Road, this disintegration of the Beatles' longtime collaborative circle should've been a major “writing on the wall” moment.

    DominoDancing (5) - I really don't like the album version of this. The oom-pah-pah rhythm and the lalala vocals basically render it unlistenable. The version on Anthology 3 on the other hand is great and would have received perhaps an 8 or even 8.5 for me. (The studio version gets an extra point for the gender switch though, even if it was unintentionally)

    To make matters worse... well, “My Sweet Lord” was not the first time a Beatle found themselves on the wrong end of plagiarism claims. (It's not just Paul and George, either - we'll get to John's brush with the copyright men eventually.) The phrase “ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on” had been lifted from a bit of stage banter by a Nigerian acquaintance of Paul's named Jimmy Scott-Emuakpor, a London-based entertainer who even played congas on an earlier take of the song. (Labelled “Take 5”, it appears on Anthology 3.) Scott tried to claim a writer's credit for the use of his catchphrase, which he said was unique to him, but Paul flatly turned him down, claiming it was “just an expression”. In 1969, when Scott was in prison awaiting trial because he had failed to pay maintenance to his ex-wife, he reached out to Paul for help paying his legal bills. Paul agreed to do so, on the condition that Scott abandoned his attempt to claim co-writing credit, and the matter was dropped from then on. Sheesh. Such a simple, goofy song, and it attracts this level of recrimination and infighting? That just doesn't seem right, somehow.

    Boombazookajoe (6.5) - One of those songs that everyone and their mother knows, but that type of "mass appeal" is kind of what turns me off to it? I don't know. It's corny.

    Pop3blow2 (8.2) - If you put ‘Penny Lane’ & ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ though a blender together you get this song… but it's not as good as either of those. It’s a fine little bop, though.

    Anyway, after all that, the important question. How is “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” musically? Very good, at least on paper. I mean, love or loathe the song, you cannot deny that it is one dickens of an earworm, let me tell you. And when it's one of the biggest earworms that the BEATLES, kings of the earworm, ever wrote, that has to be some sort of praise. Unfortunately, the way in which they choose to deliver that absurdly catchy melody is not quite one which I can give my full-hearted endorsement to.

    The bassline as is good as one could expect from Paul McCartney by 1968, with a continuous rising and falling melody that gives the song an agreeable bounce, while the brief interjections from a variety of percussion instruments keep the unchanging basic groove somewhat fresh. And whatever else one can say about Paul, he remains one of pop's finest singers; at his peak, he could do just about anything, morphing his voice to the needs of any song, and even with something as frivolous as “Ob-La-Di” (or “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, even), you could count on him to approach it with as much gravity as if he were singing “Yesterday”. Unfortunately, all of these fine elements are enmeshed within the inescapable fact that this is one genre pastiche I don't think the Beatles pulled off very successfully. Ian MacDonald describes the song's approach to ska as “somewhat approximate”, and... I think that fits as well as anything. The clanking introductory piano figure is not too far off something you might hear on an old Jamaican ska record (sped up a bit), and the standard-issue muted guitar on the offbeat is present and correct. But thanks to the altering of the tempo during recording to be faster, and a few too many moments where Ringo's drum track, the bassline and the additional embellishments emphasise the on-beat instead of the off, the song just doesn't capture that genuine ska feel. As a result, it sounds a bit of an awkward, textbook-learned imitation, one that can neither be a fully committed genre pastiche like “Martha My Dear”, or an innovative spin on a sound previously alien to the Beatles like “Back in the USSR” - neither nowt nor summat. It's rare that the Beatles sound musically out of their depth, but here, they definitely do.

    Filippa (5) - Seriously?

    Verandi (9) - Mama this is camp!

    Once you see that, there's other aspects of “Ob-La-Di”, despite its truly great melody, that will start to grate. The knees-up jaunty piano and parping saxophones aren't as low-key charming as the arrangements of Paul's other music hall numbers, instead sounding like they're trying to force happiness and good vibes rather than simply being so. And I'll just be straight with you, I don't like the vocal percussion and little interjections from the other band members in the background. It surely does add to the song's cheery mood, but I also find them quite irritating, rather than spontaneously charming as I'm sure they were supposed to be. It makes me feel like I'm being constantly elbowed in the ribs. Most notable, of course, is the flub in one of the final verses. This was caused by John and George spontaneously shouting “Arm!” and “Leg!” in the studio, in response to the lyric “Desmond lets the children lend a hand”; Paul just about kept it together without giggling, but the distraction caused him to have Desmond, not Molly, stay at home and do his pretty face. Because of this there were theories, and even a minor controversy from the usual moral-panic busybodies, that “Ob-La-Di” was a veiled story of the life of a cross-dressing Desmond/Molly. Actually, no. Paul just messed up and the Beatles decided to leave it in because they thought it was funny. And, you know what? It is. It adds some spice to a lyric that, let's be honest, doesn't have too much going for it otherwise.

    In the midst of the politically transformative counterculture, in which John and George both sought to make cutting insights on social matters and unlock the very nature of existence, Paul continued for the most part to write, as the phrase has it, silly love songs, with a side of silly character pieces. There were those who saw his conservative and throwback-minded musical tendencies as outright reactionary for this reason, and a lot of critics in the 70's, who tended to side with John over the acrimonious breakup, seemed to resent Paul for seeming so damn contented when the professional and personal lives of the others remained turbulent. (Why one would even have to “pick sides” between John and Paul is frankly an unanswerable question.) All of this is to say: no, there's nothing wrong with a happy and upbeat narrative of two people falling in love like “Ob-La-Di” is, nor with visions of happiness in a wife-and-two-point-five-kids, white-picket-fence kind of situation. The problem is that there barely is any narrative, despite it seeming to be set up as one with its dual protagonists. There's nothing to overcome, no hint of difficulty, belying what one might expect from the resigned yet upbeat “life goes on”; just, they're happy, and that's it. The result, to me, is not terribly satisfying.

    I don't know. This is another one where I don't really know what to think. If “Ob-La-Di” catches me in the right mood, I'm grinning and tapping my feet right along and belting out the chorus. If it catches me in the wrong mood it can FUCK RIGHT OFF. So, a 7 for me, splitting the difference. The relentless, almost aggressive chirpiness of “Ob-La-Di” can irritate, but it's ultimately got its heart in the right place, and did I mention that it's pretty damn catchy? Worst Beatles song? Not even remotely!

    (My own personal pick there, for the record, is “Piggies”. Debate if you will.)

    Unnameable (10) - Such a jaunty song. Also reminds me of The Offspring’s “Why don’t you get a job”, which means The Beatles have influenced punk-pop among their many other influences.

    (Ah, yes, the song that is to “Ob-La-Da” what The Jam's “Start!” is to “Taxman”, i.e. a thinly disguised cover. Not a bad cover though. - Ed.)

    Auntie Beryl (2.5) - No. Nooooo. A song so ruddy awful, even Marmalade – Marmalade! – sounded embarrassed to record it. Truthfully, I never want to hear this again.

    Incidentally, Paul's conviction that “Ob-La-Di” would be a hit was not misplaced – but not for the Beatles in the US or UK, though it did get single release, backed with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and several European markets. He had wanted it to be a single in the US and UK, but the rest of the band vetoed the idea, the result being that the White Album had no singles in the Beatles' two main commercial markets, though “Hey Jude” was recorded at the same sessions. The result was that a lot of opportunists came a-sniffin' at their door to record covers; the most successful, however, was Marmalade, who took it all the way to number one in the UK. In the process, incidentally, they also became the first Scottish group to achieve this – well done! Paul and Linda's own preference, however, was for the cover by a Leeds-based West Indian group, the Bedrocks. Judge for yourself!

  15. Oh y'all hate fun!
    GimmeWork, Aester, Filippa and 2 others like this.
  16. “Mama this is camp!” used to describe this song is actually camp.
    DJHazey and Verandi like this.
  17. Wow, mess.

    (The stuff surrounding the song, that is).

    I've learnt something (scuse the pun) as I'd always assumed or misread/heard that John's "granny shit" was triggered by Your Mother Should Know and all those type of songs. But yeah, it fits with this too.
    Filippa likes this.
  18. That's my highest and lowest marks gone already.
  19. I picture a compilation of scenes from the TV series Cheers, even though I've barely ever watched the show, but that's the vibe the song has which to me is harmless and doesn't detract from the sound but I'm sure is exactly the kind of GP nonsense that would have others running for the hills.
  20. I can't say I dislike the song, Marmalade's version is a perfectly fine 60s song that really still can be listened to today, cheesy as it may be. So that speaks for it.

    But as a song for THE BEATLES? The lyrics (although the nod to Desmond Dekker is nice, thanks @Ironheade for pointing that out) are nonsensical, especially "Obladi Oblado" feels like an insult to for what The Beatles stand for me.
    Ironheade and DominoDancing like this.
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