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 EMI’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 in 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.

It has been speculated that the brass band at the end of the second verse — following the line “and the band begins to play” — was a sampled snippet from a 78rpm record, thought to be ‘Le Rêve Passe’, a 1906 march by Georges Krier and Charles Helmer. However, close analysis of the records does not bear this out, and it appears more likely that the two-bar section was performed by the session musicians.

A spoken word introduction was also attempted, which had Starr’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.