When Geoff Emerick published Here, There and Everywhere (2006) about his time working for The Beatles, fans of the Fab Four had cause to celebrate. Previously, if you wanted to hear from the inner circle at Beatles sessions, you had to go to the bone-dry All You Need Is Ears (1979) by producer George Martin.
Emerick didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Between anecdotes of close-mic’ing violin players and piecing together “Strawberry Field Forever” from two separate recordings, Emerick told a few unforgettable tales featuring Beatles at one another’s throats.
One of those stories revolved around the 1968 sessions for “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” In Emerick’s recollection, John Lennon got sick of the Paul McCartney-penned track shortly after the sessions began. (John referred to it as more of “Paul’s granny music sh*t,” Emerick wrote in Here, There and Everywhere.)
According to Emerick, John and Paul nearly fought after the sessions dragged on (including a remake of the song). But Paul remembered those White Album days differently. In a 2018 chat with Howard Stern, he maintained that John actually liked the song.
Paul McCartney said John Lennon was actually a fan of ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’
If you stop by The Howard Stern Show, you know Stern is going to ask about some type of controversy. Fifty years after the White Album sessions, Stern did what he could with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” “John didn’t like this song,” he said to Paul in a 2018 interview. “Am I correct?”
As he’s done on many occasions, Paul downplayed what amounts to a half-century-old disagreement. “Who says?” he shot back at Howard. “John did like that song.” “He liked it?” Stern asked again. “Yeah, I think so,” Paul replied. Then he launched into a story of the song’s origins.
In Paul’s telling, John didn’t walk out mid-session and return high as a kite before banging out the piano introduction. (Emerick had remembered it that way.) Instead, Paul simply recalled John arriving late to a session and contributing the piano part without incident.
“Isn’t that great when someone comes in with a fresh set of ears and just goes, ‘I got it’?” Stern asked. “Yeah, that was really a great little memory,” Paul replied. However, it wasn’t just Emerick’s word against Paul’s. At least one other person remembered John (and others) getting frustrated when cutting “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
Another engineer recalled John being ‘really aggravated’ at the ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ sessions
Richard Lush, second engineer to Emerick at Abbey Road in those days, also remembered John having more than enough of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” after the early sessions. “Lennon came to the session really stoned, totally out of it on something or other,” Lush said in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions.
“He went straight to the piano and smashed the keys with an almighty amount of volume, twice the speed of how they’d done it before, and said, ‘This is it! Come on!’ He was really aggravated.” John wasn’t the only one. As Paul continued tinkering with the track, he tested the patience of Martin in the booth.
In an episode that shocked Emerick (who quit working with The Beatles the following day), Paul screamed at Martin after the producer suggested Paul sing it a different way. According to Emerick, Paul told Martin he should “f*cking come down here and sing it” himself.
As for John’s take on the song, you could also point to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’s” single release in foreign markets. If John had backed it, chances are the track would have gone out as a U.K. and U.S. single as well. That never happened.