The song Paul McCartney wrote to annoy John Lennon

John Lennon and Paul McCartney were an unstoppable songwriting force. Over the course of their partnership, around 180 songs were credited to the Beatles duo, including many number ones. Their long-standing collaborative relationship is remembered as one of the most commercially lucrative and critically acclaimed in music history, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing behind the scenes.

Lennon and McCartney first met in the late 1950s while in their late teens. After McCartney joined Lennon’s band, The Quarrymen, the two embarked upon a sonic partnership that would change music forever. Their chemistry was unmatched, spawning Beatles hits like ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Let It Be’ as well as songs for the Rolling Stones and Cilla Black. Still, the two occasionally disagreed in the studio.

On one occasion, as recalled by studio engineer Geoff Emerick in Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, McCartney used ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ to irritate his songwriting partner. Featuring on their 1968 self-titled record, more commonly known as the White Album, ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ was a track McCartney had penned inspired by ska.

As Emerick recalled it, Lennon “openly and vocally detested” the track – he even dubbed it “more of Paul’s ‘granny music shit’.” Despite Lennon’s distaste for the song, McCartney insisted they repeatedly re-recorded the track until it was just right: “Paul was something of a perfectionist by this point”.

Emerick suggests that McCartney’s persistence may have stemmed from his resentment towards the behaviour of his songwriting partner, noting: “He also had to have been upset about the way John had been acting. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps that had something to do with why he was so fussy about the recording of the song – maybe he did that just to annoy John, just to teach him a lesson.”

A few nights later, Emerick recalls, McCartney announced that he wanted to “scrap everything that had been done so far and start the song again from scratch”. This led Lennon to go “ballistic”. He said: “Ranting and raving, he headed out the door with Yoko trailing closely behind, and we thought that we’d seen the last of him that evening.”

Against Emerick’s expectations, Lennon returned with a declaration that he was “fucking stoned” and took over the piano from McCartney. This seemed like the final straw: “A very upset Paul got right in Lennon’s face. For a moment, I thought fists might fly.”

Still, he gave in to Lennon’s wishes: “‘Okay, then, John,’ he said in short, clipped words, staring his deranged bandmate straight in the eye, ‘Let’s do it your way.’ As angry as he was, I think that deep down inside Paul was flattered that his longtime collaborator had given the song any thought at all… even though he had clearly done so while getting out of his skull.”

Unfortunately for McCartney, ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ caused far more trouble than it was worth. Despite his incessant re-recording of the track and its popularity, it was never released as a single and is often referred to as one of their worst songs.

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