“Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles
“Yellow Submarine” is a song that was released on 5 August 1966, through Parlophone (and Capitol), as part of The Beatles’ album that came out that same day called “Revolver”. This project, as with virtually every studio LP the Fab Four has put out, proved to be a multi-platinum hit across the pond, in addition to being a UK Albums Chart Topper.
“Yellow Submarine”, which was issued as a single, contributed significantly to that success and can be considered one of The Beatles’ all-around greatest hits.
“YELLOW SUBMARINE” IS A HIT
This track served as a double A-side alongside another Beatles’ classic, “Eleanor Rigby“. But “Yellow Submarine” was more successful on its own. It not only was a number one hit in a dozen countries, including of course the United Kingdom but it also achieved the number 1 spot on the US Cash Box Top 100.
And it charted in about 20 nations overall – a pretty amazing feat for the 1960s especially – and in the process peaked at number two on the Billboard US Hot 100.
It has been speculated that the reason it didn’t top the Hot 100 as well is because at the time The Beatles were concurrently dealing with the backlash of John Lennon putting forth that they were “more popular than Jesus”.
The year following its release, “Yellow Submarine” also won the prestigious Ivor Novello Award. It was given this award particularly for accomplishing the feat of achieving the “highest certified sales of any A-side in 1966”. It has also been certified platinum by the RIAA and gold in the UK and Canada.
This song was composed by the songwriting team of Paul McCartney alongside his co-Beatles’ frontman, if you will, John Lennon. The Beatles, in actuality, was somewhat of a short-lived group, only being around for decade, and so was their collaborative history between these two musical titans. In other words, this pair penned many, if not most of the Fab Four’s biggest hits.
Paul McCartney of course went on to have just about as decorated a career as a musician that one can dream of. And one of his most-recent studio albums, “McCartney III”, just came out in 2020, 40 years after the death of John Lennon, who was murdered at the age of 40 on the streets of New York.
But given that The Beatles basically ushered in the era of pop music, and Lennon was one of the main creative forces behind their success, he has endured, in memory and accomplishment, as a legend in the game nonetheless.
Also interesting to note, even though he isn’t a credited writer of this piece, is that Donovan, a singer who was pretty hot stuff himself during the late 1960s, did make a small lyrical contribution of “Yellow Submarine”.
Meanwhile this track was produced by the late George Martin (1926-2016), who may not be as popular as the Fab Four proper but was considered ‘a Fifth Beatle’. He was a behind-the-scenes’ man who was instrumental to the group’s massive success.
THE TEAM BEHIND “YELLOW SUBMARINE”
A number of other notable figures also participated in laying down this track. That list includes Pattie Boyd and Marianne Faithfull serving as backup vocalists. Both are celebrities in their own rights.
The former was a model and the latter a musician, though at the time, their fame was largely attributable to romantic associations. That is to say when “Yellow Submarine” was dropped, Boyd was married to George Harrison and Faithfull was the main squeeze of Mick Jagger (of the Rolling Stones). And speaking of the Rolling Stones, also involved in this recording was the band’s original frontman, Brian Jones (1942-1969), who played the ocarina.
The aforenoted George Harrison (1943-2001), who plays tambourine on this song as well as serving other roles, was of course The Beatles’ lead guitarist. So that means the only member of the Fab Four we haven’t mentioned thus far is Ringo Starr, who under normal circumstances is the group’s drummer but, unconventionally in the case of “Yellow Submarine”, acted as lead vocalist.
“YELLOW SUBMARINE”, THE ALBUM
Here’s an interesting fact. The Beatles, during their time together, got around to dropping 12 studio albums in their homeland of the United Kingdom. All of them, except for one, ended up being UK Albums Chart toppers. And the one that didn’t make it, rather peaking at number 3 on the list, was 1969’s “Yellow Submarine”, which was named after and also features this song.
“YELLOW SUBMARINE”, THE CARTOON
This track also proved successful enough to spawn its own full-length carton, as assembled by United Artists alongside King Features Syndicate and released in 1968. Said project was graced by a number of Beatles’ songs, but for the most part the Fab Four themselves were not directly involved, with their caricatures for instance being voiced by professional actors.
REVISIONS & OTHER VERSIONS
This song originally had a spoken-word/poem intro, which was also rendered by Ringo Starr (though written by John Lennon) which didn’t make the final cut. Also, there is a demo whereas Lennon actually acts as the lead vocalist of “Yellow Submarine”. That rendition can be found on the reissue of “Revolver” that came out in 2022.
As we have pointed out in the past, when you look at old pics of The Beatles, the band seems to have this preppy air to them, coming off as the type of pop acts our parents would have been proud to say they one followed. But in reality, the Fab Four were very much in tune with the countercultural, psychedelic and antiwar sentiments which, to some extent, dominated the 1970s.
In fact they were apparently so much so, at least in the eyes of the general public, that they could drop a song about a completely different topic and reveal its meaning to the world. But still, people would think that said song is about something deeper, such as drugs or war.
And so is the case with “Yellow Submarine”. The Beatles may have been the most-popular music act in the world during the era this song was released, but even at the peak of their fame they weren’t afraid to buck convention and try something new.
So at the time that this track was recorded for instance, the crew was into a notable degree of studio experiment. And they also went all out in terms of creating DIY sound effects for this outing.
And yes, Paul and John did take risks lyrically, but in an opposite sort of way, in a manner of speaking. That is to say that wording-wise, they set out to make this piece simpler than the norm. Or as explained in Macca’s own words, “Yellow Submarine” represents his and Lennon’s attempt “to write a children’s song”.
“Along those lines, his inspiration for the title came from a type of frozen-fruit goody that was sold in Greece called a “submarine”, which came in yellow varieties.”
There may have been other influences also. And we do know that “Revolver” as a whole was influenced by another type of experimentation, if you will, in that the Fab Four was partaking of the mind-altering substance known as LSD.
But honestly, looking back at these lyrics now, coupled with the knowledge that McCartney forthrightly described this piece as “a fun… children’s song”, it really is hard to interpret it otherwise. For instance, the wording is very simple, like a nursery rhyme.
Furthermore, they also read a bit fantastical, as with a fairytale. And it is plain to see that what the vocalist is idealizing is something along the lines of himself and the listeners alike enjoying “a life of ease” in sort of an ideological dream world, which the titular “yellow submarine”, as housing more so than a vehicle actually, is depicted as representing.
“We all live in a yellow submarine
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine“
But at the same time, it’s also understandable, to a degree, how some listeners may have understood the song otherwise. After all, the likes of nursery rhymes tend to be penned by professional children’s authors, of which Lennon-McCartney was not. As such, a child may have a hard time putting together what for instance Ringo means when he puts forth that “we all live in a yellow submarine”.
Children’s songs tend to be colorful or what have you but not necessarily such that there’s symbolism embedded therein.
So at the end of the day, you have to give The Beatles credit for at least trying. And as far as the mainstream music industry goes, this has to be just about the most-successful children’s song in history.
So it actually profited the Fab Four that the adult audience – for whatever respective reasons – refused to accept this as child’s play. In other words, if they did, it is very likely that “Yellow Submarine” would not have proven as successful as it went on to become.