The Ballad of John and Yoko

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Album This song officially appears on the The Ballad Of John And Yoko / Old Brown Shoe (UK - 1969) 7" Single.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1969

Related sessions

This song has been recorded during the following studio sessions


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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

The Ballad of John and Yoko” is a song by the English rock band the Beatles that was released as a non-album single in May 1969. It was written by John Lennon and credited to the Lennon–McCartney partnership, and chronicles the events surrounding the wedding of Lennon and Yoko Ono. The song was the Beatles’ 17th and final UK number-one single. In the United States, it was banned by some radio stations due to the lyric’s reference to Christ and crucifixion. The single peaked at number 8 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The song has subsequently appeared on compilation albums such as Hey Jude and 1967–1970.

Writing

Lennon wrote the song while he and Ono were on their honeymoon in Paris. It describes the events of the couple’s wedding, in March 1969, and highly publicised honeymoon activities, including their “Bed-In” at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel and their demonstration of “bagism”. In an interview with Alan Smith of the NME published in May 1969, Lennon described it as “Johnny B. Paperback Writer“; in a 1980 interview, he said it was “a piece of journalism“.

Lennon took the song to Paul McCartney at the latter’s home in St John’s Wood, London, on 14 April, eager to record it that evening. Recalling the controversy engendered by Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” remarks in 1966, McCartney was alarmed at the references to Christ in the new song but agreed to assist Lennon. Ono later said: “Paul knew that people were being nasty to John, and he just wanted to make it well for him. Paul has a very brotherly side to him.

Recording

Lennon and McCartney recorded the song without their bandmates George Harrison, who was abroad, and Ringo Starr, who was filming The Magic Christian. McCartney recalled that Lennon was so convinced the song had to be recorded immediately, he was “on heat, so to speak“. Reflecting the unusual situation, the session tapes include the following exchange:

Lennon (on guitar): “Go a bit faster, Ringo.”
McCartney (on drums): “OK, George!”

In choosing to collaborate on the song, Lennon and McCartney set aside the antagonism that existed between them during a period when McCartney was outvoted in the Beatles’ choice of a new manager for their failing business enterprise, Apple Corps. The recording also marked the return of Geoff Emerick as recording engineer at a Beatles session, after he had quit working with the group in July 1968 during the tense White Album sessions. Commenting in the Beatles Anthology book, Harrison said: “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.

Music critic Richie Unterberger comments on the historical significance of the seven-hour session since it produced “probably some of the final tapes of Lennon and McCartney working closely together, alone“. In Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn’s description, the session tapes challenge the typical reports of Lennon and McCartney’s acrimonious relationship in 1969, as the pair’s “great talent, humour, musical understanding and togetherness shone through from start to finish“.

Mark Hertsgaard of The New Yorker, the only other writer known to have heard the tapes, attended a private listening session in London with Lewisohn in January 1994. Soon afterwards, Hertsgaard wrote that Lewisohn had again enthused about Lennon and McCartney’s camaraderie and “musical kinship“, but he himself detected “a forced, polite quality to their joking, and none of the enthusiastic electricity heard during earlier Beatles sessions … They are coming apart, and they know it.

Release

Although Lennon was impatient to issue the single, its release was delayed to allow for the Beatles’ April 1969 single, “Get Back“. Backed with Harrison’s “Old Brown Shoe“, the single was issued in the United Kingdom on 30 May 1969. Lennon and Ono were performing a second bed-in at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal at the time. The United States release followed on 4 June.

In the UK and Europe, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” was the first Beatles single to be issued in stereo. It was therefore their first release not given a mono mix. Lennon advised Tony Bramwell, Apple Records’ promotions manager, to limit pre-release previews of the record and not to give it any advance publicity, especially with regard to “the Christ! bit”. In his NME interview at this time, Lennon said that although the story had already emerged that Harrison and Starr did not play on the song, he would not have chosen to publicise this, adding, “It doesn’t mean anything, it just so happened that there were only us two there.”

In the US, Apple issued the record in a picture sleeve containing two photos of the Beatles and Ono in the garden of McCartney’s London home, taken by Linda McCartney. The front of the sleeve shows Lennon and Ono seated, and Harrison, McCartney and Starr standing behind them. According to author Bruce Spizer, Lennon’s bandmates appear uncomfortable ceding the spotlight to Ono and in better humour in the shot used for “Old Brown Shoe”, on the reverse of the sleeve.

The single was accompanied by two promotional clips assembled from footage of some of Lennon and Ono’s public activities – all of which the couple routinely filmed – between July 1968 and April 1969. The first clip was broadcast three times on Top of the Pops and contains footage from four events. When shown on the Australian TV show Rage long afterwards, in black and white, this version had the word “Christ” bleeped out in the choruses with an on-screen starburst effect. In the second film, broadcast on the US show The Music Scene, a traffic sign containing an exclamation mark appears each time the word is heard. This film is made up of footage from considerably more events, showing Lennon and Ono in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Vienna, among other locations; for this reason, according to author John Winn, it “illustrates the lyrics much more effectively” than the first clip.

The song has been included on several compilation albums: Hey Jude (US, 1970), 1967–1970 (1973), 20 Greatest Hits (1982), Past Masters, Volume Two (1988) and 1 (2000). Apple’s EPK for 1 included a new colour print of the US promo clip.

Reception

In his review of the single in the NME, John Wells said he found “The Ballad of John and Yoko” profoundly moving as an account of people’s attitude towards Lennon and Ono, and only the “raw, earthy rock” backing stopped him succumbing to tears. He described it as a “stormer” but predicted that the record’s sales would be affected by “Get Back”‘s ongoing chart success.

The single became the Beatles’ 17th and final UK number 1. In the US, it peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. On the other national charts there, it reached number 10 in Cash Box and number 7 in Record World. Several US radio stations declined to broadcast the song because of the use of the words “Christ” and “crucify” in the chorus:

Christ you know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They’re gonna crucify me.

“The Ballad of John and Yoko” never appeared on the surveys of WLS in Chicago or WABC in New York, two of the largest Top 40 stations in the US. The word “Christ” was censored (by being “bleeped out”) for radio airplay in Australia.[citation needed] The Spanish government under Franco objected to the song because of the phrase “Gibraltar near Spain”. The status of Gibraltar is a long-running subject of debate between Spain and the United Kingdom.

When cartoonist Al Capp visited Lennon and Ono at their 1969 Bed-In for Peace in Montreal, he pointedly asked Lennon about the meaning of the song’s lyrics.[citation needed] Their testy exchange, which included Capp referring to Ono as “Madame Nhu”, later appeared in the 1988 documentary film Imagine: John Lennon. On Capp’s exit, Lennon sang an impromptu version with a slightly revised lyric that stated, “They’re gonna crucify Capp!”

In 2012, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” was ranked as the 404th best classic rock song of all time by New York’s Q104.3. Less impressed, Alex Petridis of The Guardian ranks the song last of the Beatles’ 22 UK singles, saying: “John Lennon once convened a meeting of the Beatles to inform them that he was Jesus: the charmless ‘Ballad of John and Yoko’ is that crazed egotism and messiah complex wrought into song.” Rolling Stone ranked it at number 48 on the magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs.

Paul McCartney in "Many Years From Now", by Barry Miles:

John was in an impatient mood so I was happy to help. It’s quite a good song; it has always surprised me how with just the two of us on it, it ended up sounding like The Beatles. […]

John brought (the song) around to Cavendish Avenue for me to help finish the last verse he was having a bit of trouble with. He knew he could always leave a couple of sentences out, come and see me and we knew we would always finish them. It was a guaranteed solution.

We did do a few little bits and pieces together before we all went our separate ways. John and I and Yoko did The Ballad of John and Yoko. He enlisted me for that because he knew it was a great way to make a record. “We’ll go round to Abbey Road Studios. Who lives near there? Paul. Who’s going to drum on this record? Paul. Who can play bass? Paul. And who’ll do it if I ask him nicely? Paul.” He wasn’t at all sheepish about asking. He probably said something like, “Oh, I’ve got this song I want to record. Would you come round?” And I probably said, “Yeah, why not?”

There were still a lot of loose ends to tie up. We still had all the business things to surmount. You have to remember, I sued him in court. I sued my friends from Liverpool, my lifelong friends, in court. But in the end, I think playing on that session with him and Yoko contributed to our having quite a few friendly meetings and conversations later.

Paul McCartney – From Paul McCartney reveals the stories behind his greatest hits | The Sunday Times Magazine | The Sunday Times (thetimes.co.uk), 2021

From The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations:

[a] stereo 14 Apr 1969.
UK: Apple R5786 single 1969, Apple PCSP 718 The Beatles 1967-1970 1973.
US: Apple 2531 single 1969, Apple SW 385 Hey Jude 1970, Apple SKBO-3404 The Beatles 1967-1970 1973.
CD: EMI CDP 7 90044 2 Past Masters 2 1988, EMI single 1989, EMI CDP 7 97039 2 The Beatles 1967-1970 1993.

The single release has a loud final drumbeat; it is faded on the other releases.

Last updated on October 17, 2021

Lyrics

Standing in the dock at Southampton
Trying to get to Holland or France
The man in the mac said
You've got to go back
You know they didn't even give us a chance

Christ you know it ain't easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They're going to crucify me

Finally made the plane into Paris
Honeymooning down by the Seine
Peter Brown call to say
You can make it O.K.
You can get married in Gibraltar near Spain

Christ you know it ain't easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They're going to crucify me

Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton
Talking in our beds for a week
The newspapers said
Say what're you doing in bed
I said we're only trying to get us some peace

Christ you know it ain't easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They're going to crucify me

Saving up your money for a rainy day
Giving all your clothes to charity
Last night the wife said
Oh boy when you're dead
You don't take nothing with you but your soul, think

Made a lightning trip to Vienna
Eating chocolate cake in a bag
The newspapers said
She's gone to his head
They look just like two gurus in drag

Christ you know it ain't easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They're going to crucify me

Caught the early plane back to London
Fifty acorns tied in a sack
The men from the press
Said we wish you success
It's good to have the both of you back

Christ you know it ain't easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They're going to crucify me
The way things are going
They're going to crucify me

Officially appears on


The Ballad Of John And Yoko / Old Brown Shoe (UK - 1969)

7" Single • Released in 1969

3:01 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Bass, Drums, Harmony vocals, Maracas, Piano
John Lennon :
Acoustic guitar, Guitar-thumps percussion, Lead guitar, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & overdubs:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


The Ballad Of John And Yoko / Old Brown Shoe (US - 1969)

7" Single • Released in 1969

3:01 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Bass, Drums, Harmony vocals, Maracas, Piano
John Lennon :
Acoustic guitar, Guitar-thumps percussion, Lead guitar, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & overdubs:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Hey Jude

Official album • Released in 1970

3:01 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Bass, Drums, Harmony vocals, Maracas, Piano
John Lennon :
Acoustic guitar, Guitar-thumps percussion, Lead guitar, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & overdubs:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


1967-1970 (UK version, 1973)

Official album • Released in 1973

3:01 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Bass, Drums, Harmony vocals, Maracas, Piano
John Lennon :
Acoustic guitar, Guitar-thumps percussion, Lead guitar, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & overdubs:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Past Masters Volume 2

Official album • Released in 1988

3:01 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Bass, Drums, Harmony vocals, Maracas, Piano
John Lennon :
Acoustic guitar, Guitar-thumps percussion, Lead guitar, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & overdubs:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


The Ballad Of John And Yoko / Old Brown Shoe (UK - 1989)

7" Single • Released in 1989

3:01 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Bass, Drums, Harmony vocals, Maracas, Piano
John Lennon :
Acoustic guitar, Guitar-thumps percussion, Lead guitar, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & overdubs:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


The Ballad Of John And Yoko / Old Brown Shoe (UK - Picture disc - 1989)

7" Single • Released in 1989

3:01 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Bass, Drums, Harmony vocals, Maracas, Piano
John Lennon :
Acoustic guitar, Guitar-thumps percussion, Lead guitar, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer

Session Recording & overdubs:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


1

Official album • Released in 2000

3:01 • Studio versionA2000 • Stereo • 2000 remaster

Paul McCartney :
Bass, Drums, Harmony vocals, Maracas, Piano
John Lennon :
Acoustic guitar, Guitar-thumps percussion, Lead guitar, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer
Peter Mew :
Remastering

Session Recording & overdubs:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Past Masters (Stereo - 2009 remaster)

Official album • Released in 2009

3:00 • Studio versionA2009 • Stereo • 2009 remaster

Paul McCartney :
Bass, Drums, Harmony vocals, Maracas, Piano
John Lennon :
Acoustic guitar, Guitar-thumps percussion, Lead guitar, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer
Paul Hicks :
Remastering
Guy Massey :
Remastering
Steve Rooke :
Remastering
Sean Magee :
Remastering
Allan Rouse :
Project co-ordinator

Session Recording & overdubs:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


1967-1970 (2010 remastered version)

Official album • Released in 2010

3:00 • Studio versionA2009 • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Bass, Drums, Harmony vocals, Maracas, Piano
John Lennon :
Acoustic guitar, Guitar-thumps percussion, Lead guitar, Vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer
Paul Hicks :
Remastering
Guy Massey :
Remastering
Steve Rooke :
Remastering
Sean Magee :
Remastering
Allan Rouse :
Project co-ordinator

Session Recording & overdubs:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Apr 14, 1969
Studio :
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road


Bootlegs


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

2:19 • Outtake • The Ballad Of John and Yoko Take 10 Partial Mono


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

2:57 • Outtake • The Ballad Of John and Yoko Take 10 Apple Acetate Stereo


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

2:58 • Outtake • The Ballad Of John and Yoko Take 10 New Zealand Censored Mix Stereo


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

2:54 • Outtake • The Ballad Of John and Yoko Take 10 EMI Censored Video Version V1 Mono


Abbey Road Sessions

Unofficial album

2:59 • Outtake • The Ballad Of John and Yoko EMI Censored Video Version V2 Mono


Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.

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