Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Lennon/McCartney)

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Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Lennon/McCartney)

The phrase “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is from the Yoruba tribe (Nigerian) and it means “life goes on”, a phrase used frequently by conga player Jimmy Scott, whom Paul had met. After Paul used the phrase Scott wanted a royalty, however Paul insisted that it was a common phrase. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da is cited as the first example of “white reggae.” Paul wanted to use the song as a single, but when John refused the song was re-recorded by the band Marmalade and became a British hit. A deritive of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da was used in the theme song to the 1980s television show “Life Goes On”.

John’s disdain

During the recording sessions the Beatles went through numerous takes with several different sounds until John, who hated the song to begin with, just went up to the piano and banged out the opening notes, which they kept for the master.

Quotes

“We went down to the village one evening when they were showing a film; the traveling cinema came around with a lorry and put up a screen. It was a very pleasant Indian evening so Maharishi came, everyone came, and we all walked down as a procession. And it was very very pleasant; walking along in the dust slightly downhill through a path in the jungle from the meditation camp with my guitar and singing ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La Da,’ which I was writing, accompanying the procession on the way. Of course (the song) has got no connection with meditation except ‘Life goes on…‘, it’s a little story about Desmond and Molly. In actual fact, I think they quite enjoyed it, Maharishi quite liked someone strolling along singing.” – Paul McCartney

“This was a McCartney composition that Lennon openly and vocally detested. These days, the two former close friends and songwriting partners expressed little but disdain for each others contributions; in fact, it seemed that whenever one would even bother to offer a suggestion to the other, it would be rejected out of hand, even if it was a good one. Paul and John weren’t having legitimate musical differences; instead, they seemed to be saying, ‘I don’t like what you’re suggesting because I don’t like you.’ They weren’t necessarily angry at each other, but you could see that both were highly frustrated, and Yoko’s constant presence certainly wasn’t helping matters any. As a result, within what had once been a close-knit group, there was no longer any sense of team or unity; any camaraderie that had once been there had now simply vanished.” – Geoff Emerick, from Here, There and Everywhere

“I had a friend called Jimmy Scott who was a Nigerian conga player, who I used to meet in the clubs in London. He had a few expressions, one of which was, ‘Ob la di ob la da, life goes on, bra.’ I used to love this expression. Every time we met he’d say, ‘Ob la di ob la da, life goes on, bra.’ Or somebody would say ‘Too much’ and he’d say ‘Norhing’s too much, just outta sight’…He was just one of those guys who had great expressions, you know.” – Paul McCartney, from Many Years From Now

“I said to him, ‘I really like that expression and I’m thinking of using it.’…and he got annoyed when I did a song of it ’cause he wanted a cut. I said, ‘Come on, Jimmy, it’s just an expression. If you’d written the song, you could have had a cut.’…I sent him a check in recognition of that fact later because even though I had written the whole song and he didn’t help me, it was his expression.” – Paul McCartney

Personnel

  • Paul McCartney – vocal, electric bass, acoustic bass, handclaps, vocal percussion
  • John Lennon – piano, backing vocal, handclaps, vocal percussion
  • George Harrison – acoustic guitar, backing vocal, handclaps, vocal percussion
  • Ringo Starr – drums, bongos, maracas, other percussion, handclaps, vocal percussion
  • Uncredited session players – 3 saxophones

Release dates

Notable covers

  • Marmalade