Sep 06

MARMALADE – “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”

FT + Popular28 comments • 8,931 views

#263, 4th January 1969


The link between bouncy music-hall and Jamaican pop would create whole careers for some people, though Paul McCartney didn’t get the mix right. The crucial ingredients he’s missing are wit and bite – there’s no reason that good-time party music needs to be sappy too, and this mushy game of happy families is just that, in original or Marmalade form. He hadn’t quite lost the common touch as a writer – this would have been an easy chart-topper for the Beatles too, if they’d put aside squabbling long enough – and the Marmalade version probably improves on its source by moving even further away from mock-ska and into safer knees-up territory. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that this is a singalong too far.



  1. 1
    Tom on 4 Sep 2006 #

    And into 1969 we go!

    A lazy write-up for a barely less lazy record :)

  2. 2
    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 4 Sep 2006 #

    i loved this song as a kid (8 i guess and wholly unaware of ska real or fake); i remember dancing unselfconsciously to it at my sister’s 6th bday party: i was singing along robustly and suddenly realised i was bein LARFED AT by 6-yr-old girls!! just as i wz singing the words “life goes on — BRA!”

    (oddly enuff i think the girl doin the larfin was called PARIS!!) (my sister’s memorable character-summary from around this same date: “She’s called PARIS, she tells lies, and she wan me at the races”)

  3. 3
    Doctor Mod on 4 Sep 2006 #

    Considering that the so-called White Album had just been released at the time, I have to ask what possible reason could there be for this recording in the first place? (But it got to be number one, so someone–a lot of someones–must have found some “reason” for it.)

    Even though I’ve been told (by friends and enemies alike) that I am capable of sarcasm that can peel the paint off the wall when I so choose, I must admit that I can’t say anything about this that Tanya hasn’t already said so much better than I can possibly say it. Especially the bit about the “skank” (or the lack thereof).

    (In other words, go to the link on the right.)

  4. 4
    Daniel_Rf on 5 Sep 2006 #

    “Life goes on” is such a weird hook to give to a song that’s supposed to be happy and idyllic; I wonder how much that adds to the air of forced jollity. He might as well have chosen “mustn’t grumble”.

    Mildy interesting comparsions to be drawn with Chuck Berry’s (awesome) “You Never Can Tell”, as far as songs about marital bliss centered around platitudes in the chorus go.

    And I’m going to be That Guy and note that Marmalade have Lesser Known Recordings that are Really Great. Well, “I See The Rain”, anyway.

  5. 5
    Daniel_Rf on 5 Sep 2006 #

    Oh and hey Doctor Mod, re: why this even exists, I had some vague memories that Marmalade were signed to Apple at the time. Searching AMG reveals this not to have been the case, but:

    “Disaster struck (though no one thought it disaster at the time) with their late 1968 single version of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” It was publisher Dick James who offered them the Beatles song ahead of the issue of The Beatles (aka The White Album). Marmalade cut the song not even knowing that it was a Lennon-McCartney composition.”

  6. 6
    Doctor Casino on 5 Sep 2006 #

    I haven’t much to add besides seconding the love for “I See The Rain,” which is absolutely splendid, one of the best guitar sounds/riffs to come out of England, ever. “Obla-Di” has certainly never been my favorite Beatles song, it’s simply too repetitive in a way that unfortunately presages other McCartney winkers, including the superior “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and “Silly Love Songs.”

    The cliche is that the Beatles needed each other to restrain their worst impulses, but I also think they needed each other to simply flesh out their weaker songs. “Obla-Di” simply begs for a change in texture somewhere, to not be QUITE SO JOLLY (lyrically, vocally, instrumentally) for just forty seconds or so. If John could have been arsed to do some work on it and Paul would have let him, perhaps Marmalade might have only reached number two with their cover, but the song would probably stand the test of time much better…

  7. 7
    jeff w on 5 Sep 2006 #

    Does the Marmalade version include the tranny switcheroo in the lyric that you get in The Beatles’ take? It’s years since I’ve heard it.

  8. 8
    Doctor Mod on 5 Sep 2006 #

    Ah, yes–the gender-role reversal thing. Macca says he just got the lyrics confused in the studio. Am I the only one who finds the explanation a bit disingenuous?

  9. 9
    intothefireuk on 6 Sep 2006 #

    I actually thought it was just a means to get Oh bloody (ob-bla-di) on the radio (wtf does it mean otherwise ?). I had no idea from listening to Marmalades version that it was related to ska/reggae ! Yet another kids sing-a-long at Xmas time. Kiddie oriented music seems to dominate the chart at Xmas for the next few years (69 The Archies/Rolf – 70 Clive Dunn – 71 Bennie Hill – 72 Little Jimmy) until we are all saved by Slade (depending on your POV of course).


  10. 10
    Chris Brown on 10 Sep 2006 #

    The Beatles claim to have got the phrase from a Jamaican friend of theirs (who IIRC was later shot by the immigration authorities). That doesn’t rule out him having based it on the swear words though.

    I actually saw a copy of the 45 in a charity shop a couple of days ago and thought of buying it for research. I didn’t, obviously. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any other Marmalade.

  11. 11
    anatol_merklich on 12 Sep 2006 #

    (#263, 4th January 1969)

    These dates are of the “week ending” type right? That means this = number one at my birth, o no!

  12. 12
    Doctor Mod on 13 Sep 2006 #

    Actually, Marmalade’s “Reflections of My Life” was a minor hit Stateside. I actually bought a copy of the single when it came out.

  13. 13
    Marcello Carlin on 13 Sep 2006 #

    Subsequently covered, of course, by Kevin Rowland on his criminally unavailable lost masterpiece My Beauty.

  14. 14
    Oh No It's Dadaismus on 13 Sep 2006 #

    seconding the love for “I See The Rain,” which is absolutely splendid, one of the best guitar sounds/riffs to come out of England, ever


  15. 15
    Jersey on 4 Dec 2006 #


  16. 16
    Matthew on 16 Jan 2009 #

    This unending parade of Beatles concoctions, covers and curios is my idea of pop hell. Are you sure that “Fire” by Crazy World of Arthur Brown doesn’t just have a ridiculously long, complicated coda?

  17. 17
    Waldo on 26 Oct 2009 #

    As with The Overlanders three years previously, Marmalade dip into the next Beatles album and take one of its weaker tracks to the top of the charts. It’s hard to equate this with “Reflections Of My Life” or “Rainbow”, both occupying higher drawers than OLDOLD or even the lightweight “Cousin Norman” which top-tenned also. Even so, it’s a singalong pure and simple and even though it’s nonesense, it’s fun nonesense.

    As has been mentioned, this Scottish group had no idea that the song was courtesy of Macca and would be appearing on the new album “The Beatles”. This would have worked the other way for thousands of Beatles fans too, who having picked up the new album noticed OLDOLD on it… “Why the hell have they recorded that?!” Agree that “Silver Hammer” was a lot better. It was also far more Waldoesque in its design.

  18. 18
    Lazarus on 20 Jan 2013 #

    Another vote, here, for “Reflections of my Life”, an awesome record which seems to be gaining in stature all the time. The clip on Youtube, with Dean Ford in a red suit, has well over five miilion views, so clearly it’s struck a chord. “The world is a bad place, a sad place, a terrible place to live, but I don’t wanna die” – forget yer Altamont – that, for me, is the sound of the Sixties party crashing down. And I have a soft spot for that slightly-too-loud, biscuit-tin drumming. Of ‘Ob-la-Di’ I have nothing to say, except that I think I have it on a 45 by the Beatles – an American import I suppose?

  19. 19
    mark g on 20 Jan 2013 #

    I think so. Does it have ‘Helter Skelter’ on t’other side? That’d make it the single from the “Rock and Roll” album (we got Back in the USSR)

  20. 20
    wichita lineman on 21 Jan 2013 #

    In 1968, Jamaica coupled Ob La Di Ob La Da with Sexy Sadie; Sweden chose Back In The USSR; most countries seemed to stick While My Guitar Gently Weeps on the b-side. All a lot more intriguing and enjoyable than Ob La Di…

    As for the Marmalade, their b-side Chains is also much better than the a-side, an early example of the hibernian/west coast harmony sound that later gave them hits with Rainbow and Cousin Norman. Being 1968 though, Chains is most reminiscent of Hackney soft-rockers the Honeybus. Crosby Stills and Nash were still a few months off releasing their first record.

  21. 21
    Lazarus on 21 Jan 2013 #

    It has ‘Julia’ on the other side actually – that’s what I bought it for. It’s on a Capitol label, number 4347. It’s not immediately apparent which is the A side but I assume thet ‘Ob-la-di’ is, as the better-known song.

  22. 22
    wichita lineman on 21 Jan 2013 #

    Yes it was, that’s the 1976 US single, a no.49 hit – pretty odd pairing if it was to promote Rock & Roll Music, but I can’t think why else it came out.

  23. 23
    Mark G on 21 Jan 2013 #

    Ah, it was “Got to get you into my life” which had “Helter Skelter” on the b-side to promote the R&R Music album.

  24. 24
    tm on 18 Feb 2013 #

    “That song put me off reggae for years” – my Dad on Ob-La-Di, yesterday!

  25. 25
    lonepilgrim on 3 Jan 2017 #

    I remember that this used to pop up on a kids TV programme of the time (whose name I’ve forgotten) which was a cheap compendium of US cartoons and pop songs linked by animated drawings of a computer. I liked the song then but don’t have time for it now.

  26. 26
    Lazarus on 2 Jan 2019 #

    The Reaper makes an early swoop in 2019 – 50 years almost to the day after this topped the chart, it’s farewell to Dean Ford.

  27. 27
    23 Daves on 4 May 2021 #

    Only just noticed that this spent one week at number one, then fell to number three to let The Scaffold have another week at the top, then back up to number one again the following week… I doubt another single has ever done that.

    I can barely be bothered to talk about OLDOLD but if anyone reading this hasn’t heard Marmalade’s “I See The Rain” yet, they should dive in immediately. I’ve got a compilation of theirs which pulls together their best early moments, and it’s always a pleasure to listen to.

  28. 28
    Gareth Parker on 7 Jun 2021 #

    Marmalade did their best with a turkey of a song. A generous 4/10 here.

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