Worst Beatles Song Ever?: ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ (1969)

John Lennon and Paul McCartney recorded “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” a bluesy retelling of Lennon’s marriage to Yoko Ono, between 2:30 and 9 p.m. on April 14, 1969 — and released it later that May. Was it, in fact, the worst Beatles song ever?

It seems that people have a fascination with lists these days. And why not? Short bits of easily digestible info are the equivalent of convenience store snacks for the mind.

I’m okay with that, unless you live exclusively on junk food. And just as many people have their preferred snacks, so it goes with lists; often people read only the items that they themselves would’ve chosen, either as reinforcement of their own belief, or perhaps reinforcement of their own ingenuity. Yes indeed, sometimes we’re all just so darn smart.

Well, this list is short. It only has one song on it, and my choice is possibly one with which you would agree, but due to the sheer numbers of songs in the Beatles’ catalog it’s more than likely you won’t. Whatever, I can live with it.

Why bother picking the Beatles’ worst song, you might ask? Anyone who knows me well knows I prefer to avoid opening the proverbial can o’ worms if I can help it, especially the can that’s only opened by bad mouthing somebody. But I would suggest the Beatles are a different case: the fact is, compared to many other bands, they released very few clunkers in their career. I mean, can you name a song that’s unimportant in their catalog, or one that if it hadn’t been released might’ve changed the history of rock music? Sure, you can: It’s just the song selection is not very large.

So, the way I see it, picking the worst song is a bit of a tribute to their high standards. And the other thing to notice is this: Even their worst song might actually be better than most other songs by other artists. But that’s an article for another day.

One last thing: I left a couple of obvious choices out of the running: “Revolution 9,” which is more a sound collage than a song, and “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” which is more a novelty tune than a serious attempt at a song. In any case, here’s my choice for the winner of the title Worst Beatles’ Song Ever … (the envelope, please) … Ah, yes: “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”

What’s wrong with that perfectly nice song, you might ask?

Well, first, it’s so self referential; it’s basically a guy singing about HIMSELF and his wife and how interesting their life is. More interesting than yours, anyways. The audience doesn’t need to be reminded they’re listening to a celebrity’s opinion. A good song should be universal enough for the fans to identify with it on some level. This isn’t universal: it’s personal. Secondly, the music is played in a blues style format, every chord change is trite and predictable. I just expect more at this point in the Beatles’ career. Or more passion.

Finally, there’s only John Lennon and Paul McCartney on this cut — no appearance by George Harrison or Ringo Starr. And yes, there are other cuts where there’s only one, two or three out of the Fab Four, but they’re much better songs for the two reasons cited above.

There’s other reasons, but three make a pretty short list all by themselves. I’d be willing to change my mind if there was enough evidence to warrant that, but I’m pretty sure “The Ballad of John and Yoko” just was never that good a song in the first place, a wet noodle of a song standing beside its much bigger and stronger siblings.

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito spends most of his day keeping the wolves from the door. When he's not occupied with this pastime, he's interested in all things rock and roll -- which may or may not have died back in the late 1950s, the late 1970s, or the early '90s, depending on who you believe. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • David Pierpoint

    Worst Beatles song ever: Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, hands down.

    • mc2mc5

      Oh yes–ruins Abbey Road!

  • fragmeister12

    Revolution 9, Mr Moonlight, 12 Bar Original – surely they are all worse. Self referential – Yer Blues, We Can Work It Out, I’m Looking Through You.. The worst thing about The Ballad Of John And Yoko is the tune. The best thing are the lyrics. They are the most worked out of any 1969 Lennon song.

  • Antonella Francesca

    It is one of my favorite Beatles songs for the same two reasons.

  • petesh

    Oh, no. Worst Beatles single of 1969, I grant you (Get Back and Something were quite good, really). In the argument for worst Beatles self-penned UK single of the 1960s, I suppose, maybe. But worst song? What about the ones they didn’t even bother to record? (One and One Is Two?) And frevvinsake, didn’t Desmond have a sodding barrow in the wretched marketplace?

  • Shawna

    Oh please. “The Ballad of John and Yoko” is a rollicking little fun song, and I love the fact that Paul decided to put aside his antipathy towards Yoko long enough to help his old buddy and pal out with this song. Shows what real affection they had for each other. And are you honestly telling me that “Wild Honey Pie” and any of George’s lugubrious Indian ragas are better?!?

  • Good God

    JC Mosquito is quite obviously a moron.

  • Roberta Davis

    Christ you know it ain’t easy….writing all those great Beatle songs.

  • Tim Goldich

    No way, “the Ballad of John and Yoko” is an ever enjoyable little rocker. I don’t mind that the lyrics are like journal entries, it was a cool and unique concept cleverly realized. And musically, I think it’s a near perfect performance of a near perfect R&R groove! No, as I figure it, there’s far better choices for worst Beatle song.

  • Randy Anderson

    Silly. Half of Paul’s contributions to Abbey Road are much more deserving of the goat horns.

  • ArthurFrayne

    Has the author of this piece never heard “Obla di, obla da?” Not only the worst Beatles song, but in a battle for worst song ever with “We Built this City”.

  • Robert Karma

    I rather like the “Ballad of John & Yoko” because it was like getting a musical postcard from Lennon about what they had been up to recently. John felt a lot of excitement over his relationship with Yoko and this love would be the predominate force for the rest of his life. Kudos to Paul for sitting in with John to get this song recorded as fast as possible for release as a single. Since every fan has a different take on their music it is hard to agree on what constitutes the “worst” song in the oeuvre. If I had to pick I would list Mr. Moonlight as being annoying with the organ sound which I tend to avoid. Another song I tend to skip is Michelle. It’s not the music but rather the treacle of the lyrics that Paul takes too far. So two songs out of hundreds that I skip over by the Beatles. This is an enviable record for any major band.

  • Randell

    The Beatles had some good songs, some great songs, but also just as many crap songs. FACT.
    I’m so over the hype and unrealistic bubble groupthink that the Beatles were infallible and were absolute perfection. They could (AND DID) stink the place up as much as any other band. Before or since. FACT.

    • Paul Jones

      Clearly OPINION.