Octopus’s Garden

Abbey Road album artworkWritten by: Starkey
Recorded: 26, 29 April; 17, 18 July 1969
Producers: George Martin, Chris Thomas
Engineers: Jeff Jarratt, Phil McDonald

Released: 26 September 1969 (UK), 1 October 1969 (US)

Ringo Starr: vocals, drums, percussion, effects
John Lennon: guitar
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass, piano
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar, synthesiser

Available on:
Abbey Road
Anthology 3

Ringo Starr's second composition for The Beatles was written in Sardinia. On 22 August 1968 he temporarily walked out of sessions for the White Album after becoming disenchanted with the increasing tensions within the group. He took his family abroad for a boating holiday, returning to Abbey Road on 5 September.

Abbey Road - The Beatles

I wrote Octopus's Garden in Sardinia. Peter Sellers had lent us his yacht and we went out for the day... I stayed out on deck with [the captain] and we talked about octopuses. He told me that they hang out in their caves and they go around the seabed finding shiny stones and tin cans and bottles to put in front of their cave like a garden. I thought this was fabulous, because at the time I just wanted to be under the sea too. A couple of tokes later with the guitar - and we had Octopus's Garden!
Ringo Starr

The song was first worked on by Starr and George Harrison during the Get Back sessions in January 1969; perhaps Harrison felt a sense of solidarity after feeling that his own compositions were being dismissed as second-rate by Lennon and McCartney.

Octopus's Garden is Ringo's song. It's only the second song Ringo wrote, and it's lovely. Ringo gets bored playing the drums, and at home he plays a bit of piano, but he only knows about three chords. He knows about the same on guitar. I think it's a really great song, because on the surface, it just like a daft kids' song, but the lyrics are great. For me, you know, I find very deep meaning in the lyrics, which Ringo probably doesn't see, but all the thing like 'resting our head on the sea bed' and 'We'll be warm beneath the storm' which is really great, you know. Because it's like this level is a storm, and if you get sort of deep in your consciousness, it's very peaceful. So Ringo's writing his cosmic songs without noticing.
George Harrison, 1969

A composite version of Octopus's Garden, opening with Ringo's vocals superimposed onto the orchestral backing from Good Night, was included on 2006's Love album.

In the studio

Although The Beatles temporarily considered Octopus's Garden as Ringo's vocal spot on what would become the Let It Be album, it wasn't recorded properly until the Abbey Road sessions. On 26 April they recorded 32 takes of the rhythm track, with Starr on drums and guide vocals, McCartney on bass, and Harrison and Lennon on guitars.

The arrangement was in place early on, including the opening guitar runs played by Harrison. Take two of the song, including Ringo's guide vocal, was included on Anthology 3 in 1996.

On 29 April Starr overdubbed his lead vocals, though these were later re-recorded. The song was then left until 17 July, when McCartney added a bass part, he and Harrison contributed backing vocals, and various sound effects were added - including the sound of Starr blowing bubbles into a glass of water.

The song was completed the following day, 18 July, when Ringo finally recorded his lead vocals.

55 responses on “Octopus’s Garden

  1. agtonwerk

    It’s not doubled. George Harrison played his guitar through a Leslie speaker cabinet. It’s working with rotating speakers to create ‘Doppler effect based’ vibrato, tremolo and chorus effects. Leslie speakers were originally built for Hammond organs and look like cupboards without doors and drawers. On ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ John’s vocal was put through a Leslie speaker cabinet.

    1. tom o'connor

      Definitely pentatonic: I think the notes are c, g, a, c, d, e, A, G, e, d, c, d, e, c, g, a, c, d, e, C, A, G, e, c, d, c.

      The song’s chords are easy: C, Am, F, G.

  2. Von Bontee

    I’d presume that Harrison’s main contribution was the guitar flourishes and fills and whatnot. The basic tune’s only four chords, so there’s no reason Ringo couldn’t have come up with that and most of the words on his own.

    1. robert

      The Octopus’s Garden segment in Let It Be is very short and it just seems as though George is helping Ringo sort the song out.

      The evolution of this song is one I’d love to know more about – especially the middle section (“I’d ask my friends to come and see . . “) which sounds very John.

      Hearing it on the remasters shows what an incredible song this really is – never getting it’s due honor.

      What it shows me overall was that during Abbey Road every one gave 100% to every song.

      Octopus’ sonic textures are nothing short of amazing.

      1. nelson

        The current Guitar World Magazine article on the Beatles. It states the bubbling effect was achieved by running the track through a compressor triggered by a pulsing signal from the Moog low-frequency oscillator. The magazine had some interesting other observations on other Beatles songs on how they were recorded

    1. Jeff

      I could swear I heard an old interview with John Lennon where he stated that he sang on Octopus’ Garden. He said something along the lines of “you can tell who wrote or helped develop a Beatle song by listening to who sings on it; we all sing on Octupus’ Garden,..so” – giving an impression that they all helped Ringo write the song, and therefore all sang. Is this accurate?

  3. Mean_Mr_Mustard

    Ringo’s second composition on record and, once again, it ISN’T the weakest song on the album! Who’d of thought? (the weakest song on the White Album being “Wild Honey Pie” and on Abbey Road “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”).

  4. 48569

    George helped a little with this song perhaps, but the same happened with many others Beatles song: would you say that Eleanor Rigby was a “Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr” composition? This is the same. Anyway, George´s contribution to this song is amazing, his guitar playing is epic.

  5. Shadow50

    Harrison’s intro to this song shows his appreciation and influence of and for Chet Atkins, the sound and style mimics some of Chet’s work. Sakes! He even played a Gretch Chet Atkins style guitar. What a great job for a great song!

  6. Jimbo

    Love the bit in Let It Be when George is helping Ringo out – plays some chords; and that gets you back to thur, he says after basically writing the bridge heh heh.

    There’s also something of a party atmosphere. John tokes up and thumps the tubs. George strums. George Martin joins in with a brass band impression!

    And then Paul enters.

    You can almost read the thought bubbles…

  7. Rigby's quartet

    Well there are three of them in backing vocals, so when they join Ringo on “I’d like to be…” you could say this is the first and only Beatles 4 part harmony! Am I right in this? Okay, I’ll give you Yellow Submarine but that song is mostly unison oriented. What a great song, Octopus’s. George is flat out terrific.

  8. Leonard Meyer

    Joe, I always thought John contributed backing vocals to this song but he is not credited as doing so. Am I wrong? if so, do you think Paul was purposely imitating John’s voice?

  9. aaradman

    Check out the finale of Dimitri Shostakovitch’s Jazz Suite #2. It’s hard to believe that this tune wasn’t the basis of Octopus’s Garden.

    1. Emilio Zonszein

      It’s interesting. The chords sound similar indeed. Mr Starkey should be proud. Shostakovich being one of the greatest composers of all time!…..

  10. Emilio Zonszein

    I remember when I was little. We couldn’t tell who played what. Sometimes it was even hard to know who wrote or even sang the lead vocal in this or that song.
    That was part of the magic.
    Because they were four you see? The Beatles!
    The four-headed monster…

  11. Elias

    Hi! I think this is one of the best songs on Abbey Road, which of course makes it one of the best Beatle songs ever. I simply love Ringo’s tunes and his solo albums, and I agree that George gave his best for his friend effort. By the way can any of you enlarge on the tv re recording of Octopus’s graden? I’ve recently discovered it and I like it a lot of course. What was that musicians unions ban? Is that the reason Ringo had to re record it? The other 3 wouldn’t show up on the special? Who are the musicians who re recorded it?

  12. Billy Shears

    Great song. Too bad it was not ready for Yellow Submarine. It would have been a perfect fit. – also in that movie / album it would have been one of the highlights – especially with Ringo singing. On Abbey Road, the closing chords are a great lead in to Lennon’s “I want you (she’s so heavy)”. – silly and innocent taking us into dark and moody.

  13. John Leper

    John didn’t sing. Strangely.
    It sounds like Paul’s imitating John again on the higher harmony. Not sure if he sings during the bubbly solo and afterwards though.

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