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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.