Here’s the story behind “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” This is the track from “The White Album” that could have broken The Beatles up.
“The White Album” is a history-making record for The Beatles. Released as the band’s ninth studio album, it includes some of the band’s best work, including “Blackbird” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” With 36 demos in hand, the group began the recording process with a few disagreements.
One song that the band argued over was “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” This rough idea begins its life during The Beatles’ trip to India. Here, McCartney and Lennon start singing the hook in-between meditation sessions: “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, bra/La-La how the life goes on.”
The hook itself comes from a Nigerian acquaintance of McCartney’s named Jimmy Scott. Scott was a conga player who used the expression all the time. It also derives from the Yoruba phrase. McCartney runs with the idea of the line and decides to bring it to the group.
McCartney is a visionary. There are always ideas that he brings into the studio. However, he is not able to quite pinpoint the sound. The song’s arrangements vary daily. First, they record saxophones and heavy percussion. Next, they remove these instruments. Vocal parts are disagreed upon, and the band’s patience with McCartney wears thin.
Geoff Emerick (music engineer) claims that Lennon called the track “more of Paul’s granny-music shit.” Producer George Martin suggests new ideas that are all turned down. “I just don’t know any better how to help you” he famous says to McCartney.
The Redemption Of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
After 4 or 5 tense sessions working on McCartney’s track, John Lennon takes a different approach. Arriving to the studio stoned, he starts playing the piano. His aggressive performance is what becomes the famous intro to “Ob-La-Di, Ob La-Da.” From here, the band takes Lennon’s cue and gets to work.
“He (Lennon) was really aggravated. That was the version they ended up using,” Emerick says.
Finally, the band finishes the track. McCartney wants the song to be a single. The rest of the band disagrees but offers a compromise. “Ob-La Di, Ob-La-Da” is first released in Australia, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and New Zealand. It performs well in smaller markets but is not widely released until 1976. Critics have differing views on the quality of the song.
Nik Cohn of “The New York Times” describes the song as “stale.” He claims that the song is unoriginal and lacks any real meaning. Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone disagrees and thinks that the song works. “Fun music for a fun song about fun. Who needs answers?”
The song remains a controversial piece of The Beatles’ story. No matter one’s opinion of the track, it is a good life lesson to live by. Ob-La Di, Ob-La-Da – how the life goes on.