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Music Friday: Exactly 50 Years Ago, Desmond of ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ Bought a 20-Carat Golden Ring

July 13, 2018

Exactly 50 years ago this week, Paul McCartney and the Beatles were in a London recording studio bickering about “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” a song from the Beatles’ White Album that features Desmond Jones taking a trolley to a jewelry store to buy a “20-carat golden ring.” But more on that later.

As the Beatles experimented with their first reggae-inspired song, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” became a production nightmare. The band couldn’t agree on the tempo or style that would work best. They spent a great deal of time recording and overdubbing, but after 60 takes, the band members were exhausted and the song still wasn’t right. McCartney continued to make adjustments on his own, while the rest of the Beatles — George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon — took a break and continued to listen to McCartney’s tweaks that seemed to be going nowhere.

Finally, a frustrated Lennon stormed back into the studio, pushed McCartney aside at the piano and banged out the opening chords of a louder, faster version. That rendition became the fourth track of Side 1 of The Beatles (also known as The White Album), a classic work that would spend 155 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart and sell more than 9.5 million copies in the U.S. alone.

In the part of the song directly associated with our Music Friday theme, McCartney writes about a pushcart vendor named Desmond Jones, who visits a jewelry store to buy a “20-carat golden ring” for Molly, a singer in a band.

Here we wonder out loud if McCartney might have intended to write karat with a “k” instead of carat with a “c.” With a “c,” McCartney was referring to a 20-carat gem in a gold setting. With a “k,” he would be describing a simpler ring — perhaps without a precious stone — made of 20-karat gold.

McCartney became familiar with the phrase “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on” through an acquaintance, Jimmy Scott-Emuakpor, a Nigerian conga player. Scott filed suit against McCartney claiming he deserved a writer’s credit for the lyric, but Scott and McCartney came to terms out of court and the case was dropped.

Beatles Trivia: In the second verse, McCartney mistakenly sang, “Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face.” Clearly, it was intended to be “Molly,” but McCartney and the Beatles decided to leave it in.

The Beatles went on to become what many agree is the greatest and most influential act of the rock era. The Beatles are the best-selling band in history, with 178 million certified records in the U.S. and 800 million physical and digital albums worldwide.

We invite you to enjoy the audio track of the Beatles performing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” The lyrics are below if you’d like to sing along…

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Performed by The Beatles.

Desmond has a barrow in the market place,
Molly is the singer in a band.
Desmond says to Molly, “Girl, I like your face,”
And Molly says this as she takes him by the hand:

Obladi, Oblada, life goes on, bra,
Lala how their life goes on.
Obladi, Oblada, life goes on, bra,
Lala how their life goes on.

Desmond takes a trolley to the jeweler’s store,
Buys a twenty carat golden ring.
Takes it back to Molly waiting at the door,
And as he gives it to her she begins to sing:

Obladi, Oblada, life goes on, bra,
Lala how their life goes on.
Obladi, Oblada, life goes on, bra,
Lala how their life goes on.

In a couple of years,
They have built a home sweet home.
With a couple of kids running in the yard
Of Desmond and Molly Jones.

Happy ever after in the market place,
Desmond lets the children lend a hand.
Molly stays at home and does her pretty face,
and in the evening she still sings it with the band.

Obladi, Oblada, life goes on, bra,
Lala how their life goes on.
Obladi, Oblada, life goes on, bra,
Lala how their life goes on.

In a couple of years,
They have built a home sweet home.
With a couple of kids running in the yard
of Desmond and Molly Jones.

Happy ever after in the market place,
Molly lets the children lend a hand.
Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face,
And in the evening she’s a singer with the band.

Obladi, Oblada, life goes on, bra,
Lala how their life goes on.
Obladi, Oblada, life goes on, bra,
Lala how their life goes on.

And if you want some fun, take obladiblada.

Credit: Image by Parlophone Music Sweden [CC BY 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.