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"Yellow Submarine" (song)

Categories: Beatles songs

Beatles "Yellow Submarine" EP picture sleeve from Spain
Groovy cover for a belting little Revolver
"Yellow Submarine" was Uncle Ringo's only vocal lead on a British Beatles 45 — and is one of their most pervading themes, if primary school music classes are anything to go by. My mum and dad claim that it was the first song I ever joined in with on the radio. Not the coolest of musical debuts, perhaps, but hell: I was only three at the time (though I still can't resist playing air trombone for the marching band break...)

Launched alongside Revolver as a double-A with "Eleanor Rigby" on both sides of "the sea of green", its kiddie singalong simplicity masks the true complexity of the composition. Nothing on that album was really as straightforward as it might have sounded. Most of the nautical sound-effects were thrown in by all and sundry, using whatever they could find lying round the studio (and the bathroom!) while the military band and other naval noises were comandeered by George Martin from EMI's library collection: "Pirates, Pirates!"

There's also more than a hint of psychedelia in the lyrics, as they "sailed on to the sun". John had previously described how George H's house turned into a big submarine during their first LSD trip the previous year, after being spiked by 'the wicked dentist'. That perspective was kicked in still further when the song became the title-track of the acid-tinged animated movie a couple of years later. GM's orchestral take was a stand-out part of his score, also.

Paul was mainly responsible for the writing, yet another indication his desire to appeal to all audiences — children, in this case. Lennon and Donovan also threw in a few lines during the voyage, and their friends were all aboard for the lets-all-party chorus — reputedly including Pattie Harrison, Brian Jones and Marianne Faithfull, along with the band's faithful roadies Mal, who banged the big-bass drum (with no sleeve credit this time, though his contribution was certainly greater than his keyboard part on Rubber Soul's "You Won't See Me") and Neil (who was probably behind the baffles rolling the spliffs...).

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