The Beatles' Revelatory White Album Demos: A Complete Guide

We delve deep into the 1968 home recordings that planted the seeds for the band's classic self-titled double LP

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"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"

Given McCartney's predilection for upbeat melodies, it's only natural that the sunny island sounds of early reggae and ska made a major impact on him in 1968. He decided to try his hand at the style, noodling on a bouncy tune during the Beatles' meditation studies in Rishikesh. "I remember walking down a little jungle path with my guitar to get to the village from the camp," he recalled during an interview for the Anthology. "I was playing 'Desmond has a barrow in the market place ...'" It's unknown whether the Desmond name checked was in fact reggae pioneer Desmond Dekker, but the song's title has a definitive inspiration – the Nigerian conga player known as Jimmy Scott, famous in the London R&B scene for backing Georgie Fame and visiting stars like Stevie Wonder. "He was a great friend of mine," McCartney remembered in 1986. "In the Sixties we used to meet in a lot of clubs and spent many a happy hour chatting until closing time. He had a great positive attitude to life." One of Scott's favorite phrases was "Ob-la-di, ob-la-da," a Yoruba expression meaning, "Life goes on." McCartney borrowed the saying, writing Scott a check for his troubles.

The demo of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" cut at Kinfauns retains more reggae flavor than the pub piano sing-along that made it to record. Despite the acoustic instrumentation, McCartney brings the percussive elements to the fore, beating the back of his guitar like a makeshift bongo, rattling a tambourine, and vocalizing a hearty "chick-a-boom, chick-a-boom" on the bridge. He throws himself headlong into the lyrics, laying on a thick Jamaican accent that had faded by the final recording. The "If you want some fun, sing 'Ob-la-di bla-da'" outro has yet to be added to the mix, and the song tumbles to a halt with descending nonsense syllables. For all of McCartney's vitality, the double-tracked vocals occasionally veer badly out of sync, creating brief moments of "Revolution 9"–like aural chaos, but overall the early sketch is sincerely charming.

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