When was it recorded? May 26 & Jun. 1, 1966
When was it first released, and on which album? Aug. 5, 1966 on “Revolver”
Who wrote it? McCartney (with noteworthy contribution from Donovan & Lennon)
Have I heard this song before? YES
What my research dug up:
This is it! The moment I have been waiting for since I started this blog!
“I remember lying in bed one night, in that moment before you’re falling asleep – that little twilight moment when a silly idea comes into your head – and thinking of ‘Yellow Submarine’: ‘We all live in a yellow submarine…’ I quite like children’s things; I like children’s minds and imagination. So it didn’t seem uncool to me to have a pretty surreal idea that was also a children’s idea. I thought also, with Ringo being so good with children – a knockabout uncle type – it might not be a bad idea for him to have a children’s song, rather than a very serious song. He wasn’t that keen on singing.” — Paul McCartney (Anthology)
According to Wikipedia, “The song began as being about different colored submarines, but evolved to include only a yellow one.” Scottish musician Donovan added the lyrical couplet “Sky of blue and sea of green/In our yellow submarine,” which he called “nothing special” in Many Years From Now, but Paul enjoyed the line and left it in. (Coincidentally, Donovan released the single “Mellow Yellow” in October 1966.) I’m not sure which lines John contributed, but both he and Paul claim he wrote some of the lyrics.
The Beatles spent three hours rehearing “Yellow Submarine” in the studio on May 26, 1966 before recording four takes of the rhythm track. Afterwards, Ringo recorded his lead vocals and the other three contributed backing vocals.
Then came the sound effects. Quoth Rolling Stone, “George Martin drew on his experience as a producer of comedy records for Beyond the Fringe and The Goon Show, providing an array of zany sound effects to create the nautical atmosphere. Lennon blew bubbles, while he and McCartney shouted out orders to the faux submarine crew (‘Full speed ahead!’) through a filter. A few friends even came by the studio to help out with sound effects, including Marianne Faithfull and the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones.”
On Jun. 1, the Beatles and their cohorts “raided Abbey Road’s ‘trap room’; a small area, little more than a cupboard, which housed whistles, bells, chains and a huge number of other sources for sound effects” (Beatles Bible). “A huge number of other sources” being:
- Tap dancing mats
- A tin bath filled with water (in which the chains were dragged)
- Wind and thunderstorm machines
- A cash register
- Tin cans (though which Paul & John talked to create the ”captains orders”)
Session musicians also performed, “mak[ing] perhaps the only conventional performances of the 1 June session” (Beatles Bible). They weren’t the ones who performed the blast of brass after the line “and the band begins to play,” though. Geoff Emerick found a recording and edited it to be unrecognizable. General consensus seems to be that it’s a recording of Georges Krier & Charles Helmer’s “Le Rêve Passe” from 1906.
But wait, there’s more! Both Ringo and John took stepping out of the recording room to yell their lines that were later looped in. Finally, according to the Beatles Bible, “One of the more memorable moments was The Beatles’ assistant Mal Evans marching around the studio with a bass drum strapped to his chest, leading the band, plus George Martin, Neil Aspinall, Marianne Faithfull, Pattie Harrison and others, into the raucous choruses.” Phew!
As Alan Pollack noted, “The deployment of the sound effects here would be cute enough no matter where they came from, but that the fact that the Beatles themselves took the trouble to synthesize and participate in them adds value. It’s also worth recalling just what an attention-grabbing curve ball this song appeared to be in context of its initial release. …Try to imagine ‘Yellow Submarine’ as the first or second song of a no-name group.”
A spoken-word introduction was originally part of “Yellow Submarine” but got scrapped during mixing for reasons unknown. It was restored for a mix of the song featured on 1996’s “Real Love” single.
I think it’s much more effective with the ‘cold open,’ though that could just be because it’s what I know and love.
“Yellow Submarine” was released as a single the same day as the “Revolver” album. It was the first official Beatles single to feature Ringo on lead vocals.
“Yellow Submarine” peaked at #1 in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and the UK. The single also charted in the Top Five in Finland, Italy, and the US (where it reached #2). Despite not reaching #1 there, “Yellow Submarine” sold over one million copies in four weeks in the US and earned the Beatles their 21st Gold Record (beating the record set by their idol, Elvis Presley). The single’s 13-week run on the UK charts won it the Ivor Novello Award “for the highest certified sales of any single issued in the UK in 1966” (BB).
Additionally (not to be Captain Obvious), “Yellow Submarine” inspired the Beatle’s 1968 animated film. Don’t believe the hype about a separate, official music video though – it doesn’t exist and never has.
According to Rolling Stone, “Yellow Submarine” also played a hand in Ringo’s writing of “Octopus’ Garden,” which the magazine called an “unofficial sequel.”
Rolling Stone also dubbed “Yellow Submarine” “the gateway drug that turns little children into Beatle fans, with that cheery sing-along chorus.” If you’ve read my bio, you know I can’t argue with sentiment in the least. I do have to wonder if I hold the song in such high estimation simply because it’s what I grew up with, but based on the reactions of most listeners (barring insane theorists) I think I also enjoy “Yellow Submarine” because it’s enjoyable. (Bombshell, I know.) It’s a fun song, no matter where you are or how old you are. Plus it puts a smile on my face knowing they had as much fun recording the song.