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

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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

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

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.
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.

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 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.