The Beatles’ last number one is a rum do. Knocked out quickly with half the band absent it’s a postcard from Lennon and Ono’s ’68-’69 peace tour, turning on the repeated chorus suggestion that “the way things are going / They’re gonna crucify me”.
The background to this imminent martyrdom includes:
- Honeymoon in Paris
- Marriage in Gibraltar (“near Spain”!!)
- Staying in bed for a week
- Pillow-talk with new wife on spiritual matters
- Stopover in Vienna to eat cake
- Warm reception on return from British press
Set against this we have a certain amount of interested cynicism from other pressmen and some difficulty getting a boat in verse one. Even so it’s fair to say Jesus had a harder time of it.
It’s very hard to know whether to take “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” at face value. On the one hand, his Plastic Ono Band work around this time suggests Lennon was taking himself very seriously indeed. On the other, the verse-chorus discrepancy on “Ballad” is so ridiculous that it’s difficult not to see some last bit of impishness at work.
In the end it doesn’t really matter: the track rattles along fiercely enough, and its modicum of verve and venom probably make it a better back-to-Beatle-basics contender than “Get Back”, but there’s nothing – especially 35 years later – to pull a listener back to a glorified MySpace posting. The fact that it got to No.1 at all probably underlined Lennon’s point that the Beatles were something he (and the others) needed to break away from.