272. The Beatles – The Ballad of John and Yoko (1969)

The Beatles went to number 1 for the 17th and final time with John Lennon’s The Ballad of John and Yoko. It was a sure a sign as any that the Fab Four were about to split up, and yet it proved that Lennon and McCartney were still able to put aside their differences and work together.

Lennon and Yoko Ono had married in Gibraltar, Spain on 20 March that year. Soon after Lennon wrote The Ballad of John and Yoko as a kind of travelogue set to a Chuck Berry sound, covering the wedding, the honeymoon in Paris, and their first bed-in a few days later at the Amsterdam Hilton.

An excited and impatient Lennon visited McCartney at home on 14 April, three days after Get Back had been released, in the hope of getting the song finished. Surprisingly, not only did they finish writing it, they went to Abbey Road that afternoon with producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick (for the first time since he’d walked out of sessions for The Beatles) and recorded it, without George Harrison (who was on holiday) or Ringo Starr (he was filming The Magic Christian). The Ballad of John and Yoko was done and dusted by 9.30pm.

Lennon sang lead, played lead and rhythm guitar, and made percussion sounds by slapping the back of an acoustic guitar. McCartney provided some excellent harmony vocals, bass, drums, piano and maracas. Appreciating the irony of being the only two band members involved, Barry Miles noted in Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now (1997) the following exchange: Lennon (on guitar): ‘Go a bit faster, Ringo!’ McCartney (on drums): ‘OK, George!’

After months of torturous misery during the Get Back sessions, how come the duo were able to knock up a single so quickly? The fact they were two down simplified matters obviously, but McCartney was probably so relieved that Lennon was enthusiastic for the first time in a fair while, he was bound to jump at the chance, even if the lyrics made it plain that Lennon was growing apart from The Beatles. He may also have known that Lennon was likely to go ahead and record it anyway with somebody else, and he was determined to keep the band together despite the tensions.

The Ballad of John and Yoko is a real oddity in The Beatles’ catalogue. With it’s self-centered lyrics, you could easily call this the start of Lennon’s solo career really. I find it a real shame that, after all my blogs on such classic material, this is the final Beatles song I get to write about for this blog. I mean, it’s only half the band! Let It Be would have been a far more appropriate way to end the number 1s of the greatest band of all time.

Unlike many though, I’m not here to bury it. It’s not a bad song, and it’s not my least favourite Beatles single. I think I prefer it to Get Back, because it has more energy. Ironically, it’s McCartney who shines here. His rhythm track has real punch to it, and I’ve always enjoyed his drumming (I’m certainly not knocking Starr though). And I really like the final verse when he joins Lennon to sing. I admire the chutzpah of Lennon to write a chorus which mocks the whole ‘Bigger than Jesus’ scandal of 1966 too. It showed how far music had come in three years, and the Beatles led the way for most of that time (having said that, many radio stations would either censor the song or refuse to even play it).

Maybe in a way it is an appropriate song to end on, with the Fab Four’s chief songwriters working together so closely again. Those days had been few and far between for some time, and sadly, there weren’t any more to come.

This single, backed with George Harrison’s superior Old Brown Shoe, was rush-released on 30 May, and was their first single to be in stereo only. Due to Lennon wanting the song to be topical, this meant the unusual approach of releasing it while previous single Get Back was still at number 1. Tommy Roe’s Dizzy knocked that from the top, but was only there for a week before The Ballad of John and Yoko hit number 1.

And here’s where the story of the world’s greatest band ends. Except obviously, it wasn’t over yet. The group had already agreed on McCartney’s suggestion to make another album, and sessions were under way. The Ballad of John and Yoko‘s success proved there was still fuel in the tank, and George Martin was glad to be back on board providing they went back to earlier methods of recording. In other words, stop the bickering of the past year. And they all got on much better… for a while, anyway. McCartney and Martin were keen on a long medley and Lennon wasn’t. Lennon didn’t bother turning up for sessions for Harrison songs either.

Before Abbey Road had been completed he released his first ‘solo’ single (as the Plastic Ono Band), the famous anti-war anthem Give Peace a Chance. Nothing was ever said, but there was a general feeling among all involved that Abbey Road would be their final work together.

McCartney had become the odd man out earlier that year after the other three had voted tough American businessman Allen Klein as their new manager, which put a huge strain on the band in addition to their other issues. On 20 September, six days before the release of one of their best albums, Lennon announced he was leaving and John, Paul, George and Ringo never recorded as a unit again.

Something/Come Together would have been a perfect number 1 single in October, but demand had been so high for its parent album, it missed out. One last song, Harrison’s I Me Mine, was completed minus Lennon in January 1970. This was done to make it part of the salvaged Get Back sessions, now to feature in a film and LP called Let It Be. Klein handed over the tapes to Phil Spector, who had recently produced Instant Karma! for Lennon. Smothering many of the songs with lush orchestral sounds, including Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road, McCartney was not amused, and beat Lennon to the punch by publicly announcing he had quit, the week before the release of McCartney, his first solo album, on 10 April.

The full story of the demise of The Beatles makes for a riveting but depressing read, and I recommend Pete Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money: The Battle for the Soul of The Beatles (2009) if you want to know more.

Despite many highly lucrative offers over the years, The Beatles never did reform. It’s likely they would have had Lennon not been murdered in 1980, with relations between he and McCartney thawing. The closest we got was the Anthology project of the mid-90s, and the singles Free As a Bird (1995) and Real Love (1996), where the remaining trio worked on Lennon demos provided by Ono. Although not up to the standard of their previous work, they’re decent enough tunes, and I still can’t believe neither made it to number 1. I guess the world had moved on. A bit.

A new romantic comedy, Yesterday, imagines a world in which they never existed. Pop would probably still have moved on from the doldrums of the early-60s, but it could never have become quite so innovative, so witty, so joyous and so magical without them. Nobody had, has, or ever will have the alchemy of the Fab Four.

The Beatles. 17 number 1 singles. They changed everything.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (11 June-1 July)

Births:

Graphic artist Simon Taylor – 22 June

Meanwhile…

14 June: Burmese the horse was ridden by the Queen for the first time at Trooping the Colour, a role she held until 1986.

21 June: BBC One transmitted fly-on-the-wall documentary The Royal Family, made by the BBC and ITV to celebrate the investiture of Prince Charles on 1 July. It gave an insight into the Windsors that could only have been imagined previously. Viewing figures topped 30,600,500, but some worried that the overexposure could damage the throne, and the Queen pulled it off air in 1972. Only clips have been seen on TV since then.
Earlier that day, Patrick Troughton made his last regular appearance in Doctor Who. Banished to Earth by the Time Lords in the final episode of The War Games, it was also the final black and white episode of the sci-fi series.

24 June: After the referendum in Rhodesia had voted in favour of becoming a Republic, the Governor of Southern Rhodesia, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, left Government House. This severed the last diplomatic relationship with the UK.

73. The Everly Brothers with Orchestra conducted by Archie Bleyer – All I Have to Do is Dream/Claudette (1958)

everly-brothers-bw.jpg

The first of four number 1s for the country-influenced rock’n’roll duo in this country, and the best-selling single of 1958. All I Have to Do is Dream/Claudette enjoyed a seven-week run at the top of the charts and established The Everly Brothers as one of the biggest and most influential acts of the next few years.

Isaac Donald ‘Don’ Everly was born in Brownie, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky on 1 February 1937, and Phillip Jason ‘Phil’ Everly arrived on 19 January 1939 in Chicago, Illinois.

Born into a musical family, their father Ike was a guitarist and mother Margaret a singer. They sang as the Everly Family on the radio in the mid-1940s, with the boys known as ‘Little Donny’ and ‘Baby Boy Phil’. In 1955 the brothers moved to Nashville, Tennessee. By this point, their musical prowess already had an important fan – family friend Chet Atkins, a record producer and songwriter.

Atkins used his contacts to get Don and Phil a record deal, and their first single, Bye Bye Love (covered by Simon & Garfunkel as the last track on Bridge Over Troubled Water in 1970) was a smash-hit, selling over a million and reaching number six over here.

They continued to work with its songwriters, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (Bryant’s solo work, Hey Joe, performed by Frankie Laine, had been a UK number 1 in 1953), releasing Wake Up Little Susie, which reached number 2, before working on All I Have to Do is Dream, which was by Boudleaux alone, and allegedly written in only 15 minutes.

Opening with the lush jangle of Chet Atkins on guitar, All I Have to Do is Dream begins straight away with that memorable chorus, a trick later used by ABBA and Stock, Aitken & Waterman to pull the listener in. If that jangle doesn’t grab you (and if it doesn’t, what’s wrong with you?), the vocals will. Don and Phil’s unique harmonies still sound sublime today. The only misfire is the dated, corny lyric:

‘Only trouble is, gee whiz,
I’m dreamin’ my life away’

Fortunately before you have time to dwell on that too much you’re back into the chorus. This is the sound of the Everly Brothers and Boudleaux Bryant at their best. According to Phil, the acetate featuring Boudleaux on vocals would have been a hit anyway, such was the beauty of the song. Maybe so, but it’s his and brother Don’s voices, and Atkins’ guitar work, that make All I Have to Do is Dream a classic.

The other song, Claudette, hasn’t aged as well, but it’s a decent enough uptempo acoustic track, written by Roy Orbison and named after his first wife. As a B-side, however, it would certainly have been better than average, and as it helped propel ‘The Big O’ to success and helped buy him a cadillac, then it’s alright by me.

The Everly Brothers tied at number 1 for their first week with Vic Damone’s On the Street Where You Live, but went on to spend most of the summer at the top.

Written by:
All I Have to Do is Dream: Boudleaux Bryant/Claudette: Roy Orbison 

Producer: Archie Bleyer

Weeks at number 1: 7 (4 July-21 August)*BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Comedian Jennifer Saunders – 6 July
Singer-songwriter Kate Bush – 30 July
Athlete Daley Thompson – 30 July
Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson – 7 August
Labour MP Rosie Winterton – 10 August
Singer Feargal Sharkey – 13 August
Politician Philip Dunne – 14 August 

Deaths:

Campaigner Margaret Haig Thomas, 2nd Viscountess Rhondda – 20 July 

Meanwhile…

10 July: The first parking meters were installed.

18-26 July: The British Empire and Commonwealth Games were held in Cardiff.

26 July: The Queen gave her eldest son Charles the customary title of Prince of Wales, and the presentation of débutantes to the royal court were abolished.

1 August: Carry On Sergeant, the first of the Carry On films, premiered. Different in tone from the bawdy humour that was to come, it featured Bob Monkhouse and the first star of Doctor Who, William Hartnell.