So eager was John to get his new song down on tape, he actually showed up at Abbey Road for today’s session “spot on time,” says Geoff Emerick. In general, punctuality was not among Mr. Lennon’s many fine qualities.

This session was unusual in a lot of ways; for one thing it was strictly a two-man operation, with John singing and playing guitar, and Paul serving as the rhythm section. (Ringo was on the set of The Magic Christian that day, while George was apparently out house-hunting.)

For another, this song was a rare late-60s Lennon song with lucid, easily comprehensible lyrics; it’s pretty much a straightforward account of his and Yoko’s lives over the preceding few weeks, including:

  • Standing in the dock at Southampton, trying to get to Holland or France
  • Honeymooning down by the Seine
  • Talking in our beds for a week
  • Eating chocolate cake in a bag
  • The early plane back to London

John even name-checks longtime Beatle employee Peter Brown — who “called to say ‘You can make it OK, you can get married in Gibraltar near Spain’” — as well as a certain famous carpenter:

Christ you know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They’re going to crucify me1

It might seem a bit grandiose for John to compare his rock-star problems to the crucifixion, but his tongue was firmly in cheek here. He knew that the same people who got worked up about the idea of The Beatles being more popular than Jesus would lose their minds over this one, and he lived to provoke. Predictably, some radio stations in the US refused to play it; the Spanish government of Francisco Franco (not yet still dead) also objected, but for political reasons — Gibraltar was disputed territory, and Franco apparently thought that John’s lyrics somehow endorsed the British position.

On the whole “The Ballad of John and Yoko” seems to have been blessed by some of the rapidly dwindling supply of Beatle magic. For this one day at least, John and Paul managed to rekindle some of the spark that had made their partnership so special. According to Emerick, “they reverted to being two old school chums, all the nastiness of recent months swept under the rug and replaced by the sheer joy of making music together.” He adds, “It was a great session, one of those magic times when everything goes right and nothing goes wrong. The whole record was completed in just a few hours, from start to finish, including the mix.”

Had The Beatles worked this way during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions, they could have finished an album in two weeks. Alas, such harmonious efficiency was the exception, not the rule. But this one good day was enough to convince Geoff Emerick to quit his job at EMI and rejoin Team Beatles. Sucker.