Life goes on. . .
Moving on from any kind of grief is never easy, but it’s always easier with some happy music, a sort of sonic spoonful of sugar.
I love this song because it’s both a logical story and complete nonsense. The logical part is the love story of Desmond and Molly. The rest is rather nonsensical, or rather, it slips into nonsense (and a little genderbending) at the end. Maybe nonsense is too strong. Maybe whimsy is a better term. Regardless, there’s nothing but happiness and sunshine in this song. There’s a longstanding rumor that “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” refers to heroin, but I don’t buy it. Heroin is not a happy drug, even if it temporarily makes users feel pretty darn good. And beyond that, what’s with the obsession people have of associating Beatles songs with drugs. Yeah, the Fab Four were recreational users in the 60s, and two of them ended up being recovering addicts. But that doesn’t mean every single song any of them wrote contained some covert reference to drug use. That’s just silly.
So is this song. The story of the romance is pretty conventional, but the descriptions veer toward the aforementioned whimsy. What really makes the silly, whimsical, nonsensical, sunshine-y happiness is the music. It’s pretty much just piano, guitar, bass, and percussion. But the piano is both jaunty and jarring, played with energy by John Lennon. The various percussion instruments (I couldn’t even begin to name which ones) are overlaid to create a chaotically cheerful counterpoint to the bass. It builds a nice atmosphere to the song, busy but friendly like Desmond’s marketplace. The backing vocals sound to me like children, which just adds to the atmosphere. It all meshes together and takes the otherwise normal narrative and turns it into a joyous life. Never mind that a shopkeeper could never afford a “twenty carat golden ring” or that by the end Molly and Desmond have switched roles, as “Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face.”
Of course, there’s the mysterious line at the end, “Well if you want some fun, take Ob-La-Di-La-Da,” which fuels the drug rumors. But I choose not to read it that way (and since it’s a Paul song, it probably doesn’t read that way). The title to me is just nonsense words that mean “relax” or “take it easy.” Life goes on, and it isn’t always good. But sing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and you’ll feel better, too.