Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

Originally recorded (as a demo) by Paul McCartney (1968).
Hit versions by The Marmalade (UK #1/NOR #1 1968), The Bedrocks (UK #20 1968), The Spectrum (GER #19 1968), Paul Desmond (MOR #35 1969), Arthur Conley (US #51/R&B #41 1969), The Beatles (AUS #1/JPN #1 1969 |US #49 1976).

From the wiki: “‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ is a song credited to Lennon–McCartney, but written by Paul McCartney. Released by The Beatles on their 1968 album The Beatles (commonly called The White Album), the song was released as a single that same year in many countries – except not in the United Kingdom, nor in the United States until 1976.

“During May 1968, after their return from India, The Beatles gathered at George Harrison’s Esher home, in Surrey, to record demos for their upcoming project. ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ was one of the twenty-seven demos recorded there. Paul performed this demo solo, with only an acoustic guitar but double-tracking his vocal.

“Paul McCartney wrote the song around the time that Highlife and Reggae were beginning to become popular in Britain. The starting lyric, ‘Desmond has a barrow in the market-place,’ was a reference to the first internationally-renowned Jamaican Ska and Reggae performer, Desmond Dekker, who had just had a successful tour of the UK. The tag line ‘ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, bra!’ was an expression used by Nigerian conga player Jimmy Scott-Emuakpor, an acquaintance of McCartney.

“According to studio engineer Geoff Emerick, John Lennon ‘openly and vocally detested’ the song, calling it Paul’s ‘granny music shit.’ Lennon left the studio during a recording of the song (after several days and literally dozens of takes of the song, trying different tempos and styles), then returned while under the influence of marijuana, went immediately to the piano and played the opening chords much louder and faster than before. He claimed that was how the song should be played, and that is the version they ended up using.

“‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ was released on The Beatles on 22 November 1968. The song would not be released as a single in the US until 1976, when it was released with ‘Julia’ as the B-side. In the UK and Norway (where it had not been released as a single by The Beatles), a cover version by The Marmalade made #1. Where the song was released as a single by The Beatles – Austria, Switzerland, Australia and Japan – ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ hit #1.

“The Beatles’ decision not to issue “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” as a single in the UK or the US led to many acts rushing to record the song, in the hope of achieving a hit in those countries. A recording by the Scottish pop band Marmalade, released in late 1968, became the most commercially successful of all the cover versions of songs from The Beatles. It reached #1 on the Record Retailer chart (subsequently the UK Singles Chart) in January 1969, making Marmalade the first Scottish group to top that chart.

“Two other acts achieved hits in Europe with ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’. In 1968, a recording by the Bedrocks, a West Indian band from Leeds, peaked at #20 on the Record Retailer chart. In a discussion at Twickenham Studios in January 1969, McCartney and his girlfriend, Linda Eastman, said they both liked the Bedrocks’ version best out of all the cover versions up to that point, including a single by Arthur Conley that charted in the US on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts. Also in 1968, the Spectrum reached #19 on the German singles chart with their cover.

New Musical Express website editor Luke Lewis has argued that the Beatles recorded ‘a surprising amount of ropy old toss,’ singling out ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ as ‘the least convincing cod-reggae skanking this side of the QI theme tune.'”

The Beatles, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” alternate take (1968):

The Beatles, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (1968):

The Marmalade, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (1968):

The Bedrocks, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (1968):

The Spectrum, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (1968):

Arthur Conley, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (1968):

Paul Desmond, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (1969):

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