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.