The Beatles

The Ballad of John and Yoko

Song Review by

No Beatles single could be said to be obscure, but "The Ballad of John and Yoko" is among their lesser-celebrated singles, despite its dependable high quality. There are a few reasons for that: it was issued while their previous 45, the number one single "Get Back," was still on the charts; it would not be part of a non-compilation Beatles album; and, in the United States, its air play was curtailed due to the lyrical reference to Christ. In fact, it only reached number eight in the States, although it made in the U.K. Why was it released so quickly in the wake of "Get Back"? Because it's about John Lennon and Yoko Ono's March 1969 marriage and honeymoon, and Lennon was determined to get it released as soon as possible, particularly since much of that honeymoon had been devoted to promoting world peace at their "Bed-In" in Amsterdam. As such, "The Ballad of John and Yoko" is almost like a newspaper story set to music, consisting of Lennon's witty recounting of real-life events. (Paul McCartney, incidentally, did help Lennon complete the song, although the pair were for the most part writing entirely on their own by 1969.) Like many of the songs from the Beatles' early 1969 Let It Be sessions, such as "Get Back," "The Ballad of John and Yoko" has an updated 1950s rock & roll feel, albeit with the kind of ambitious lyrics that would have never been heard on an actual 1950s rock & roll record. The melody and arrangement is greatly aided by Mexican-like ascending and descending guitar strums in the chorus, as well as excellent high McCartney harmonies throughout. At this point, Lennon was a most controversial public figure, due to his volatile sociopolitical statements and his increasingly bizarre artistic endeavors with Yoko Ono. "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (not really a ballad, incidentally; it's pretty brisk in tempo) succeeds as entertaining music because Lennon tells the story of their recent events in a likable, breezy fashion, without ever descending into bitterness or hostility, although the couple was the target of much criticism during this era. There's also a neat sexual pun when he sings about him and his new wife trying to get them some peace: By doing their "Bed-In," they were in a sense getting themselves sexual "piece" and promoting world "peace" at once, although they didn't actually have sex in front of the media during the event. Lennon could not resist emphatically exclaiming the word Christ in frustration during the chorus, when he noted that all of this brouhaha wasn't easy, and was in fact setting himself up for crucifixion (though in all likelihood, he probably used words much stronger than "Christ" when complaining about this situation in real life). As mentioned, this was not universally well received in the U.S., where only three years earlier Lennon had invoked considerable outrage with a comment claiming the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. The "Christ" exclamations resulted in air play restrictions that probably kept it from rising higher in the charts (sometimes the offending word was even blipped out on the radio). Because Lennon was in such a hurry to record and release the song, only two Beatles, McCartney (who plays the drums) and Lennon, appear on the single, an indication of how by 1969 the group was not as strong a unit as they had been throughout most of their career. Now get ready for a little-known factoid about the final instrumental tag, in which the guitars play a descending line like serenaders in a Mexican restaurant. The melody of that line is virtually identical to the closing riff of a pop tune that the Beatles had covered for the BBC in 1963. And what was the name of that tune? "The Honeymoon Song" (now available on The Beatles Live at the BBC). Thus, the song, about John and Yoko's honeymoon, ends with a musical quote from another tune called "The Honeymoon Song." That's an inside joke that very few listeners picked up in 1969, and in fact very few have picked up on since.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Hey Jude 1970 Capitol / Universal 2:59
1967-1970 1973 Apple Records 3:01
Past Masters, Vol. 2 1988 Capitol / EMI Records 3:00
Past Masters 1988 Apple Records / Capitol 2:59
The Ballad of John & Yoko/Old Brown Shoe 1990 Capitol
No Image 1992 Toshiba EMI 0:00
CD Singles Collection 1993 Capitol 3:00
The Ultimate Box Set 1995 Capitol 3:00
1 2000
Capitol 2:59
As It Happened: The Classic Interviews 2000 Enlightenment 2:27
The U.S. vs. John Lennon 2006 Capitol / EMI Records 2:57
The Beatles: Stereo Box Set 2009 Capitol 2:59
1962-1970 2010 EMI / Parlophone 3:01
The U.S. Albums 2014 Capitol / Universal 2:59