The Ballad Of John And Yoko by…The Nerk Twins??
Back in April, 1960, John Lennon and Paul McCartney performed as a duo for the first and only time at a little pub in Berkshire, UK, called The Fox & Hounds. They performed two lunchtime gigs on back to back days, to an audience of about five people, and did so without amps or a microphone. They billed themselves as “The Nerk Twins” and that was the only time they’d perform in public as a duo.
Nine years later, The Nerk Twins reunited on the only Beatles recording to feature just John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It was released May 30, 1969, fifty years ago today.
“The Ballad Of John And Yoko,” written by John about the red tape he and Yoko went through to get married, was recorded in one session in Abbey Road’s Studio Three in April, 1969. John described the song as “an old time ballad…it’s Johnny B Paperback Writer!”
The recording session was held mere days after John had written the song while on honeymoon in Paris and, while he was hot to get into the studio to record the song and get it released, Ringo was unavailable (he was filming “The Magic Christian” with Peter Sellers) and George was on vacation.
No matter, when you’re as talented as the Len-Mac team. John swung by Paul’s house, around the corner from Abbey Road Studios, finished up the song, and the two of them walked over the studio to record the song themselves.
They booked the studio for 2:30pm-12 Midnight, but were so productive that they finished an hour early. Session tapes reveal a very lighthearted, fun atmosphere in the studio, contrary to all the personal and business tensions that were prevalent during The White Album and Let It Be sessions.
Paul and John first laid down a basic track of drums (Paul) and acoustic guitar (John.) Many takes broke down at the exact same spot – right before the three-drum hit and John’s “Made a lightning trip to Vienna..” line – when Paul kept messing up the break. After one take, John said to Paul, “go a bit faster, Ringo,” to which Paul replied, “OK, George.”
John not only wanted the song recorded quickly, he wanted to release it immediately. And so, just six weeks after it was recorded, and while “Get Back” was still #1 on the charts, “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” hit the record stores. It was the first Beatles single to be released in stereo in the US and UK, and the last Beatles single to hit #1 in Britain.
Considering the word “Christ” appears in the song five times, there was the expected bit of controversy. A few dozen radio stations refused to play the song, and a few wouldn’t even put the song on their surveys they’d send out to listeners. The bans had little impact; the song peaked at #8 and sold a million copies in the US alone.
The b-side was George’s rocking “Old Brown Shoe.” Both George and Paul played bass on the track, Paul plays the great jangle piano part, and George cut his vocal in the rear corner of Abbey Road’s Studio 2 to give it a ‘tight’ quality. Ringo’s drums on that song are, in my opinion, one of his best!
As was keeping with Beatles single releases, neither appeared on a proper Beatles album, but did come out on the “Hey Jude” compilation LP in 1970 and, later, “1967-70.”
Here’s the official promo clip for “The Ballad Of John And Yoko,” released May 30, 1969: