‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’: Beatles Plagiarism Controversy

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” by the Beatles has divided fans and critics alike since it was first released in 1968. Some listeners feel that the song is a fun foray into Jamaican music. Others feel that it’s one of the kitschiest songs that the Beatles ever wrote. The controversy surrounding the song extended beyond that; Paul McCartney was accused of plagiarizing the song’s lyrics.

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‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’: Origin and Meaning

According to AllMusic, Jimmy Scott was a Nigerian congo player who worked with both Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones at the height of their fame. In the 1960s, Scott became acquainted with Paul McCartney. During this time, Scott had a band called the Ob-la-di Ob-la-da Band. The band’s name came from the Yoruba phrase “ob-la-di ob-la-da,” which translates to “life goes on.”

The Beatles | Ron Howard/Redferns

Scott’s use of the phrase inspired Paul McCartney to write “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Although the Beatles were an essential part of the 1960’s counterculture, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” celebrates traditional domestic bliss.

The track is a ska song about a singer named Molly who falls in love with a man named Desmond Jones that she meets in the marketplace; the two get married and have children as Molly continues her musical career. Spin claims that Desmond Jones’ name is a reference to Desmond Dekker, a ska and reggae musician whose work influenced the song.

‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’: Plagiarism Controversy

After the song was recorded, Scott came to believe that he deserved a co-writers’ credit for introducing Paul to the phrase “ob-la-di ob-la-da.” Paul disagreed; he felt that since Scott did not coin the phrase, Scott did not deserve a writing credit on the song.

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" is one of the Beatles' most derided songs. A musician accused Paul McCartney of plagiarizing the song.
Paul McCartney | Andrew Maclear/Redferns

A short while after, Scott was thrown in jail for failing to pay alimony. McCartney agreed to pay for Scott’s legal bills under the condition that he would no longer pursue a co-writers’ credit on “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Scott would go on to join a punk rock band called Bad Manners. He died in 1986.

‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’: John Lennon and Others Hated the Song

John Lennon | Michael Putland/Getty Images

Perhaps, in retrospect, Scott wouldn’t have wanted a co-writers’ credit. In 2004, the BBC reported that a Mars poll of 1000 people selected “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” as the worst song ever written. The poll’s list of the worst songs ever included Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and 5ive’s cover of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

The poll’s findings mirror John Lennon’s feelings about the song. Spin reported that John Lennon disliked the song when he first heard it. Midway through its recording, John left the studio in frustration. He then smoked cannabis and returned to the studio. When he returned, he decided he liked the song. Ultimate Classic Rock said that John later dismissed the song as “granny s ***.”

George Harrison disliked the song as well. He criticized it in another song from The White Album, “Savoy Truffle,” which features the lyrics “You know that what you eat you are/But what is sweet now, turns so sour/We all know Ob-La-Di-Bla-Da/But can you show me, where you are?”