One Song/Three Versions – The Ballad of John and Yoko

One of the things I really like about music is how you can take a song everyone’s familiar with, shake it up a little, change the tempo, change the instrumentation, harmonies, arrangement, etc., and voila! A brand new song. So I periodically like to list a tune you all know and see how somebody else shakes it up. I’m indebted to my buddy Steve on this one as he discovered the first cover by a band we both love.Β 

Today’s tune is just about the last one you’d think anyone would cover. “The Ballad of John and Yoko” is largely about Lennon and Ono’s attempts to get married in March of 1969. It also details their general weirdness at the time (“Eating chocolate cake in a bag.”)

The story is largely autobiographical and seems to detail the facts as we know them. They got married in Gibraltar because it was British, quiet, friendly. You can read that story here if you are so inclined. This song marked the Beatles’ 17th (and final) number one UK hit.

Given the trouble Lennon had gotten into with his references to Jesus (at least in America, they knew they were pushing it with the “Christ you know it ain’t easy” reference. But by 1969, they were so thoroughly sick of their good boy image that they no longer cared what the world thought about their religious beliefs, their endless groupies, their drug use or anything else. You’d think they were the Rolling Stones!!

It was recorded only a couple of months after their (now well-documented) Get Back/Let it Be session. George was away and Ringo was filming The Magic Christian so it’s only John on vocals and guitar and Paul on bass, drums, piano and backing vocal. George said he didn’t mind not being on the record as the story was none of his business. “Had the song been ‘The Ballad of John, George, and Yoko, then I would have been on it.”

A really catchy tune with a cool lick by John at the end. I know he borrowed it from some old 50s number but it escapes me which one at the moment.

Who could possibly top that? Well, no one really. But what if you took the song and tried to find, well, the doo-wop in it? A while back I wrote about a great a capella group called The Persuasions. The Persuasions were discovered by none other than Frank Zappa who, while disdainful of much music he himself did not create, really loved doo-wop. You can read that post here.

Herewith the Persuasions sing John and Yoko’s tune. I could only find the Spotify version of this from an album called The Persuasions Sing the Beatles. The song choices are a little weird given that of all the tunes they could do, “Octopus’s Garden” is one of them.

Spotify link

Now, we all love a string quartet, don’t we? I used to follow – and once went to see – a band called the Turtle Island String Quartet. They did note-for-note renditions of tunes like Cream’s version of “Crossroads.”

Here we feature the Vitamin String Quartet. Their web page says, “Since the project’s start in 1999, Vitamin String Quartet (VSQ) has helped establish classical crossover as a genuine force in contemporary music while accompanying countless listeners through their workday and late-night study sessions, scoring unforgettable film and TV moments, and helping couples around the world create their perfect wedding playlist.

Across over 300 releases, VSQ have produced cutting-edge string renditions of a highly eclectic mix of artists, erasing boundaries between classical, dance, hip-hop, rock, and pop. From Cardi B to BjΓΆrk, Studio Ghibli to goth metal, VSQ approaches their renditions with respect and care, breathing new life into the music they already love.”

Now you’re all caught up and you may go eat chocolate cake in a bag.

Standing in the dock at Southampton
Trying to get to Holland or France
The man in the mac said, “You’ve got to go back”
You know they didn’t even give us a chance

Christ! You know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They’re gonna crucify me

Finally made the plane into Paris
Honeymooning down by the Seine
Peter Brown called to say
“You can make it OK
You can get married in Gibraltar near Spain”

Christ! You know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They’re gonna crucify me

Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton
Talking in our beds for a week
The newspapers said, say what’re you doing in bed
I said we’re only trying to get us some peace

Christ! You know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They’re gonna crucify me

Saving up your money for a rainy day
Giving all your clothes to charity
Last night the wife said
“Oh boy, when you’re dead you don’t take nothing with you but your soul.” Think!

Made a lightning trip to Vienna
Eating chocolate cake in a bag
The newspapers said
“She’s gone to his head
They look just like two Gurus in a drag”

Christ! You know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They’re gonna crucify me

Caught the early plane back to London
Fifty acorns tied in a sack
The men from the press said “We wish you success
It’s good to have the both of you back”

Christ! You know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They’re gonna crucify me

The way things are going
They’re gonna crucify me

8 thoughts on “One Song/Three Versions – The Ballad of John and Yoko

  1. The looks on their faces says it all. I was never a Yoko fan, and admittedly, never tried to be. After Lennon hooked up with her, I lost interest in his contributions to the band. I watched the recent Get Back series and found it to be a great documentary of the band, and that’s all. They were a band, not the second coming of Christ, or healers of humanity. Just a good rock band with great songs. I have all their albums and one most folks would love to get. Their first album “Introducing the Beatles” on the Veejay label. Sold in UK mostly.

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    1. I could take or leave Yoko. Frankly, the one to blame for allowing her to come to the studio was John. Let’s face it – it was kinda selfish.

      As to their not being gods, yep, that’s exactly what I felt and said in my post on that bio. It really humanized them. Turns out they were just musicians, just guys. Highly gifted ones, but just guys. But it’s the fans who exalted them. As people, we seem to need to put people on a pedestal.

      And I will here let you know that I m wiling to take that Veejay album off your hands as it’s just getting old and musty. One hundred bucks!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well said, Jim. I’ll consider the offer on the album. It’s never been played that I can tell. I bought it at an estate sale 30 years back for a few bucks.

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  2. Pretty enjoyable. It’s hard to get into this a lot though knowing context, as from what I know Yoko Ono is a very unlikeable person. A serviceable Beatles track and that’s it really.

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    1. Well, i think sometimes Yoko gets a hard knock. Maybe somewhat deserved, maybe somewhat not. But, I come neither to praise nor bury her. I find the song catchy, if not exactly the supreme example of their songwriting skill. It is certainly a timepiece that you can only truly understand if you were around at the time. I’m sure future generations will say, huh?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In 1972 I looked at the “Amsterdam Hilton” were John & Yoko spend their Bed Peace in 1969. Anyway, the song is quite catchy, but not very special. At least it didn’t have Yoko singing.

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  3. These are pretty cool renditions, Jim. That acapella rendition is outstanding. As you know, I have a slight obsession with vocals! πŸ™‚

    Frankly, dare I say it as a Beatle nut, I like it better than the original. Then again, “The Ballad of John & Yoko” isn’t necessarily among my favorite Beatles tunes, to begin with. I also sampled some of The Persuasions’ other renditions of Beatles tunes. I think they all sound great, including Octopus’ Garden.

    Vitamin String Quartet also do a commendable job with this as well as the other Beatles tunes they covered.

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    1. I love when I discover radical interpretations. And if anybody could make “Octopus’s Garden” sound good it’s the Persuasions. I’ve been a fan of those guys for a long time.

      I guess I somewhat stand alone on this song. It’s really one of my favorite Lennon tunes. I like how he tells the story and the song is catchy. It’s a real snapshot of an era. Maybe a bit of nostalgia for me as I remember that and the bed-in in Canada quite well. People visited them and he famously got in a tiff with cartoonist AL Capp.

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