John Lennon was never blessed with a filter capable of holding back his true opinions when it came to analysing his own output. Not one to sugarcoat his feelings, whatever thought that entered into Lennon’s mind he would disclose, and there wasn’t a more vocal critic of The Beatles than himself. Characteristically, Lennon used his creative powers when disregarding their creations, once overlooking one Paul McCartney song as “granny shit”.
While McCartney and Lennon enjoyed prolific similarities from a songwriting perspective on many levels, they also had contrasting skill sets, which is why the duo complimented each other so fluently. There were plentiful songs that McCartney would write for The Beatles that appeared impossible to imagine coming from the pen of Lennon, and vice versa.
‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ is unequivocally a McCartney construction, in every sense. The track doesn’t take itself too seriously and boasts a nursery rhyme element which adds further to its playful credentials. Despite being a song that can raise a smile from even the most cold-blooded soul, Lennon struggled to connect to the material.
Speaking about the creative process behind ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, McCartney reminisced in the Anthology: “I had a friend called Jimmy Scott who was a Nigerian conga player, who I used to meet in the clubs in London. He had a few expressions, one of which was, ‘Ob la di ob la da, life goes on, bra’.
“I used to love this expression,” he continued. “He sounded like a philosopher to me. He was a great guy anyway and I said to him, ‘I really like that expression and I’m thinking of using it,’ and I sent him a cheque in recognition of that fact later because even though I had written the whole song and he didn’t help me, it was his expression”.
McCartney also admitted the storytelling nature of the feel-good track is “very me”, before detailing further and adding: “It’s a fantasy about a couple of people who don’t really exist, Desmond and Molly. I’m keen on names too. Desmond is a very Caribbean name”.
However, ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ crossed the line into more syrupy territory, an area that Lennon would usually attempt to avoid at all costs. For Lennon, the song showcased a side of The Beatles that he didn’t appreciate. Reflecting years later, Lennon would label the track “granny shit”, and he even stormed out of the studio during the recording.
“John went ballistic,” Geoff Emerick wrote in Here, There, and Everywhere. “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. But a few hours later he stormed back into the studio, clearly in a highly altered state of mind”.
However, McCartney maintains that Lennon did like the song despite all the evidence which suggests the opposite. In 2018, he appeared on The Howard Stern Show and looked befuddled when the radio host brought up John’s contempt for ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, which Macca flat out denied. Perhaps secretly, Lennon admired the “granny shit” element of Paul’s songwriting after all.