Based on many conversations I've had and readings of articles and books that I've done over the years, it seems that "The Ballad of John and Yoko" is a relatively divisive song within the Beatles catalog, and particularly among their singles, when it comes to the degree to which people enjoy it. I've seen it dismissed as a throwback at a point when the band had moved beyond such simple genres, a throwaway put together quickly at John's insistence and reflective of that genesis, or simply one of their weaker singles. It's the one song my younger daughter skips on "The Beatles 1" CD. Others list it among the essential Beatle tracks.
For this Beatle and Lennon fanatic, though, it's always been at the top of my favorites list - once listed as my favorite Beatle track of all, and never, ever out of my personal top three Beatles tracks. With it's lilting calypso feel, "Don't Be Cruel" bassline and incomperable Lennon vocal, it's my idea of a perfect record. As a bonus, it's just John and Paul - and this at a point in their lives when they were supposedly at each other's throats.
However, one thing the song never seemed to be, in my view, was a likely candidate for remakes. Like certain tracks from the Plastic Ono Band album, it seems just too central to its creator's life for there to be an effective version by someone else. So when I became acquainted, in fairly quick succession, with three cover versions of the song, varying in style and entertainment level, I thought I'd share them here. Effectively avoiding that personal lyrical connection, two are instrumentals, and one is in another language, and that one seems to have re-written the lyrics.
The first one I heard, and by far the least appealing one, is by The Percy Faith Strings. If nothing else, it's worth a listen for the sheer looking-at-a-car-crash factor:
Next up, a version which came along with a bunch of other material in a massive download gift from a friend. It did not arrive with a group name attached to it (no doubt someone out there will know who this is), but this almost undoubtably comes from one of the myriad copycat groups that sprang up in the second half of the '60's, in the wake of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. It's peppy enough and mildly enjoyable, within that TJB format, if more than a bit unoriginal.
Finally, the version that has quickly become my second favorite version of the song, by a group identified as Los Rockin' Devils. I find this endless entertaining - it's got just enough of the sound of the original to capture some of the magic of that record, while bringing it's own feel to the party as well. And I have retained just enough of my Spanish to know that the lyrics can't possibly be following the story of the original, at least not verse by verse. If anyone out there wants to translate it, I'd be much obliged.