Yellow Submarine

Yellow Submarine single artwork - USAWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 26 May, 1 June 1966
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 5 August 1966 (UK), 8 August 1966 (US)

Ringo Starr: vocals, drums
John Lennon: backing vocals, acoustic guitar
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass
George Harrison: backing vocals, tambourine
Mal Evans: backing vocals, bass drum
Neil Aspinall, George Martin, Geoff Emerick, Pattie Harrison, Brian Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Alf Bicknell: backing vocals

Available on:
Revolver
1
Yellow Submarine
Yellow Submarine Songtrack

Released as a double a-side with Eleanor Rigby, Yellow Submarine has become a divisive song among Beatles fans. To many it's a charming singalong for all ages; for others, it's one of the band's weakest moments, and an unnecessary bout of whimsy on the otherwise flawless Revolver.

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I don't actually know where they got the idea for it; I just felt it was a really interesting track for me to do. I'd been doing a lot of covers. At that time I did either covers or something they wrote specifically for me.
Ringo Starr
Anthology

Written by Paul McCartney, Yellow Submarine was always intended to be a children's song. It chimed perfectly with the carefree, nostalgic and childlike attitudes that dominated the burgeoning psychedelic era.

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

Since The Beatles had stopped recording cover versions by 1966, Yellow Submarine was given to Ringo Starr as his vocal contribution to Revolver. It became his first lead vocal on a Beatles single.

I was thinking of it as a song for Ringo, which it eventually turned out to be, so I wrote it as not too rangey in the vocal. I just made up a little tune in my head, then started making a story, sort of an ancient mariner, telling the young kids where he'd lived and how there'd been a place where he had a yellow submarine. It's pretty much my song as I recall, written for Ringo in that little twilight moment. I think John helped out; the lyrics get more and more obscure as it goes on but the chorus, melody and verses are mine. There were funny little grammatical jokes we used to play. It should have been 'Everyone of us has all he needs' but Ringo turned it into 'everyone of us has all we need.' So that became the lyric. It's wrong, but it's great. We used to love that.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

One couplet in the song was suggested by Donovan, whose single Mellow Yellow was released in October 1966. McCartney visited Donovan's apartment in London on 26 May, prior to the recording session for Yellow Submarine.

He played one about a yellow submarine. He said he was missing a line and would I fill it in. I left the room and returned with this: 'Sky of blue and sea of green/In our yellow submarine.' It was nothing really, but he liked it and it stayed in.
Donovan
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Yellow Submarine was the inspiration and basis for The Beatles' fourth film, released in 1968, as well as its accompanying soundtrack album.

In the studio

Recording for Yellow Submarine began on 26 May 1966 at Abbey Road's studio three. The Beatles spent nearly three hours rehearsing the song, before recording four takes of the basic backing track.

They then recorded four takes of the basic backing track, before overdubbing the vocals. Ringo Starr took centre stage, and the other Beatles all contributed backing vocals.

Yellow Submarine is Paul's baby. Donovan helped with the lyrics. I helped with the lyrics, too. We virtually made the track come alive in the studio, but based on Paul's inspiration. Paul's idea, Paul's title. So I count it as a Paul song.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The sound effects which made Yellow Submarine so memorable were overdubbed on 1 June 1966. The group 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.

Everybody at the studio was encouraged to join in the recording. A bath filled with water had chains dragged around inside it; The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones clinked glasses, John Lennon filled a bucket with water and blew bubbles into it, and contributed some memorable vocals to the final verse.

The door to the echo chamber behind studio two was open so he went and sat there, singing all that 'Full speed ahead Mister Captain' stuff at the top of his voice.
Geoff Emerick
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

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.

Session musicians were brought in to play traditional brass instruments. Although their identities remain unknown, they made perhaps the only conventional performances of the 1 June session.

However, the brass band at the end of the second verse - following the line "and the band begins to play" - was a snippet from a 78rpm record, thought to be Le Rêve Passe, a 1906 march by Georges Krier and Charles Helmer.

A spoken word introduction was also attempted, which had Ringo's voice over the sound of marching feet: "And we will march to free the day, to see them gathered there, from Land O'Groats to John O'Green; from Stepney to Utrecht, to see a Yellow Submarine."

The Land O'Groats to John O'Green bit might have come about because there was a doctor, Barbara Moore I think her name was, who had walked from Land's End to John O'Groats for charity. Everyone was talking about her then. As for the sound of marching feet, they did that by putting coal in a cardboard box and sliding it from side to side.
Geoff Emerick
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Although The Beatles spent much time arranging and recording the passage, it was discarded for unknown reasons. It was eventually released in 1996, as part of a new mix of Yellow Submarine included on the Real Love single.

Chart success

Yellow Submarine was released as a double a-side single with Eleanor Rigby, on the same day as Revolver.

In the United Kingdom it was released on 5 August 1966, and five days later entered the chart at number two. It rose to the top spot a week later, where it remained for four weeks.

Yellow Submarine spent 13 weeks in the chart. The single later won an Ivor Novello Award for the highest certified sales of any single issued in the UK in 1966.

In the US it fared less well upon its 8 August release. It spent six weeks in the top 40 after charting at number 11 on 10 September. The single peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and Cashbox charts.

The controversy over the 'butcher cover' and John Lennon's "more popular than Jesus" comments are believed to have contributed to the failure to reach number one in all US charts. However, it sold 1,200,000 copies in four weeks.

26 responses on “Yellow Submarine

  1. Martin Anguiano

    Um…yeah, Yellow Submarine, totally my fave movie; Songtrack kicks major ass!(first CD I ever bought). Oh yeah, my comment was that Yellow Submarine was actually The Beatles’ fourth film. Magical Mystery Tour being the third was aired ’round Christmas time ’67 meanwhile “The Sub” didn’t see the light of day til november ’68; Nearly a year after! just thought I’d let you know.

  2. Vonbontee

    The weakest song on “Revolver” is still a great addition due to that album’s what-the-hell, try-anything approach. With so many great songs, they could afford to include a silly one for goofy, lovable Ringo to sing. To think of this sharing 45rpm vinyl with “Eleanor Rigby” blows my mind! (I wish they’d released the mix with the Ringo recitation and wackier sound fx.)

  3. Mucker

    Y/S is not a “weak” song at all. It’s simple in thought, but listen to all the sounds thrown in…very rich, no “Computer Generated Effects”. My friend’s grandson is 4 and knows all the words. Children and adults all over the world know and sing this song joyfully.
    Would you have a 4 yo singing this with his family or gangsta rapping? To paraphrase Paul’s opinion on editing down the White Album: It’s the Beatles’ [Yellow Submarine] ! Sod off!

    1. robert

      It’s one thing to say it’s “a weak song” and quite another to say “it’s the weakest song on Revolver”. The weakest song on Revolver would be most albums’ strongest song. I would love to have written that weak song.

  4. mjb

    Everett’s take:

    The basic tracks contain John’s Jumbo, George’s tambourine, Ringo’s drums and Paul’s bass – all heard left. Ringo’s vocal and all four Beatles singing backing vocals are all heard right.

    The instruments were recorded a half-step higher and vocals a half-step lower than now heard.

    Tape reduction made room for the “Goon” type sound effects. A raid of the Studio Two trap room allowed for two additional and separately taped tracks – sometimes combined together and sometimes split. Heard are George swirling water in a metal bathtub (beginning at 0:18); Rolling Stones Brian Jones clinking glasses, supplying party chatter and playing the ocarina; John blowing bubbles in a bucket through a straw and shouting off-mike in the echo chamber; studio staff rattling chains in a metal tub and ship’s bells; and a manic John mocking Ringo’s every measure the second time through in to a hand-held mike plugged into a Vox guitar amp.

    All who were not working the controls, including the Beatles, George Martin, Geoff Emerick, Mal, Neil, Alf Bicknell, Brian Jones, Patti Harrison and Marianne Faithfull joined in the final chorus.

  5. Nelson

    I know some people might consider this a slight song but actually it’s pretty innovative. The use of ambient sounds by way of musique concrete in creating this sound collage on “Yellow Submarine”. The Beatles seem to have ambient sounds on this record “Tomorrow Never Knows” uses seagull sounds created from sped-up tape loops. Pretty innovative stuff.

    1. vonbontee

      Oh, I agree! One of my favourite aspects of “Revolver” is the assortment of differing musical textures throughtout – strings, horns, Indian instrumentation – and the tape loops of “Tomorrow Never Knows” are definitely part of that, and so are the musique concrete effects of “Submarine” – particularly the earlier mix, with the recited Ringo intro and the greater abundance of sounds throughout. Have you heard that one?

    1. Joe Post author

      I’ve heard claims that he says Mr Baker, Mr Barclay, Mr Boatswain and Mr Captain. For what it’s worth I think you’re correct – the clearest mix, with the words panned to one side of the stereo spectrum, is on the Read Love single.

      Not all of us in the UK are seafaring BTW ;)

  6. Ken

    I always thought that the title was derived from the fact that a fat joint in yellow rolling paper (Bambu?) somewhat resembles a tiny submarine, at least when one has smoked another previously.

  7. Aldo

    Hi everybody, could someone tell me who repeat the verses in funny voice at the final of the song:
    As we live a life of ease(life of ease)
    Every one of us(every one of us) has all we need,(has all we need)
    Sky of blue,(sky of blue) and sea green,(sea of green)
    In our yellow(In our yellow) submarine.(submarine) ( Haha! )

  8. John

    It’s a nice simple song; its a bit of fun and the band clearly had a great time recording it. I think you need songs like this on Beatles records; it portrays their sense of humour and reminds everyone they’re not taking themselves too seriously.

  9. Colin

    I’ve only just heard the remixed version on the Real Love CD for the first time. The ‘Land O’Groats’ intro is very clumsily edited : is that really how it was meant to be?

  10. John Pool

    Could anybody tell me what the final (spoken) words of the lyrics are? It has always sounded to me like a man shouting something in Dutch: “Wat zijn de berichten?” [“What are the messages”]. Then somebody else seems to answer “Uitzeilen, uitzeilen” [“Set sail, set sail”]

    TIA — John (Dutch)

  11. S. B. Fields

    Summer camp in Maine in late August of 1966…
    I’m a 16 yr old counselor-in-training…
    Every cabin has a couple of transistor radios…
    We only listen to WBZ from Boston…
    I’m out in the middle of the lake teaching a ten year old how to sail a sunfish…
    The BZ jockey spins the new Beatles single …
    In a rousing rush of joy, our buddies back on land are belting out the chorus, “We all live in a yellow submarine” …
    It bounds out of the woods from our camp, crossing our bow…
    The kid and I, in the doldrums, sail limp, dangling our feet, we laugh and sing too…
    Then, an amazing audio wave washes us from the stern…
    In a group response, an ethereal echo, also singing the chorus, is wafting out to greet us…
    It is flowing from the girls’ camp on the other shore…
    Chilling and warming to remember this…natural stereo…with the speakers separated by a mile of open water…
    Radio, and the Beatles, were the uniting glue for us all…
    ———————————————————————–
    I hope you appreciate the above recollection. In case it isn’t obvious, the “chilling” part of it was that because we were closer to the boys’ camp, than the girls’ side, the sound of the female “choir” was just a beat later.

    Both populations were hearing their radios at the same moment, but the singing reached us at slightly different moments. From our position, we heard it as a boisterous guy-chant being chased by an angelic echo. I know this site is visited by a lot of music recording aficionados (is it ok to call you “geeks”?). It would be fantastic if someone could figure out how to replicate the effect, a capella, then we can all truly live a life of ease, and every one of us will have all we need.

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