"The Ballad of John and Yoko" is a song released by The Beatles as a single in May 1969. Primarily written by John Lennon, the song was attributed, as was the custom, to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team. It chronicled the events surrounding Lennon's marriage to Yoko Ono and their subsequent activities together, including their famous first Bed-In in the Amsterdam Hilton, and demonstration of bagism. It was released while the couple was in the middle of their second Bed-In. It was recorded just before the main sessions commenced for the Abbey Road album.
The song is a ballad in the traditional sense of a narrative poem in a song, not in the sense used in modern pop music where the term usually refers to a slow, sentimental love song. It was the seventeenth and final UK number one single for The Beatles, and peaked at #8 in the U.S. The song is included on the Beatles' Past Masters, Volume Two, 1967-1970, and 1.
"The Ballad of John and Yoko" was performed by Lennon and Paul McCartney; George Harrison was on holiday, and Ringo Starr was filming The Magic Christian. Lennon had a sudden inspiration for the song and called on McCartney, suggesting the two of them record it immediately without waiting for the other Beatles to return.
Lennon was on lead vocal, and played two lead guitars, acoustic guitar and percussion (beating on the back of an acoustic guitar). McCartney sang harmony vocals and played bass, drums, piano, and maracas. The outro guitar riff was inspired by the Dorsey and Johnny Burnette song, "Lonesome Tears in My Eyes," notably covered by The Beatles in their early years and released on the album Live at the BBC.
The session recordings reveal this exchange between band members:
Lennon (on guitar): "Go a bit faster, Ringo!"
McCartney (on drums): "OK, George!"
The song's working title was "The Ballad of John and Yoko (They're Going to Crucify Me)." It is sometimes listed as "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and sometimes with the shorter title "Ballad of John and Yoko." For example, the picture sleeve single released in the UK on 30 May, 1969 shows the latter wording on the A-side and the former wording on the B-side of the disc.
Both the song and the circumstances surrounding its rushed recording and release were unusual for the Beatles, and reflect the unhappy status of the band in its final months. Lennon had been unhappy that A-sides for the band's singles over the previous two years had been McCartney compositions, with his songs relegated to B-sides. He had also been angry that the other band members had been cool to the presence and influence of Yoko Ono in the recording studio. The release of this song as a single seems to have been a gesture to temporarily appease Lennon, and indeed he did remain with the Beatles long enough to complete the Abbey Road album, before quitting the band in September 1969.
The song was banned by several US radio stations, due to the words "Christ" and "crucify" in Lennon's lyric, "Christ, you know it ain't easy, you know how hard it can be; The way things are going — they're gonna crucify me." (McCartney, providing backing vocals, noticeably does not sing the "Christ" line.)
These allusions, in combination with Lennon's controversial "Jesus" comment in 1966, might have contributed to the fact that it reached number one in the UK but not in the US.
Additionally, the then-current Spanish government objected to the song due to its statement that Gibraltar was "near Spain" (rather than being part of Spain; the status of Gibraltar being a hot issue between the UK government and Franco's dictatorship at the time). This caused it to be dropped from the track lists of Beatles Again.
* John Lennon - lead vocals, lead guitars, acoustic guitar, percussion
* Paul McCartney - drums, bass guitar, maracas, piano, backing vocals
B-side: "Old Brown Shoe"
Released: 30 May 1969 (UK), 4 June 1969 (U.S.)
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, 14 April 1969
Label: Apple Records
Producer: George Martin