The Beatles Songs: "Yellow Submarine"

The history of this classic Beatles song

The original US 45 sleeve for "Yellow Submarine".

Yellow Submarine

Written by: Paul McCartney (90%), John Lennon (10%) (credited as Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: May 26th, 1966 (Studio 3, Abbey Road Studios, London, England), June 1st, 1966 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: June 2-3, 1966; June 22, 1966
Length: 2:46
Takes: 5


John Lennon: harmony vocals, rhythm guitar (1964 Gibson J160E)
Paul McCartney: harmony and background vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S), rhythm guitar (1964 Epiphone FT-79 "Texan")
George Harrison: harmony vocals, tambourine
Ringo Starr: lead vocals, drums (Ludwig), maracas
Mal Evans: bass drum, backing vocals
Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall, George Martin, Geoff Emerick, Patti Harrison, Brian Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Alf Bicknell, John Skinner, Terry Condon: backing vocals

First released: August 5, 1966 (UK: Parlophone R5493), August 8, 1966 (US: Capitol 5715)

Available on: (CDs in bold)

Revolver, (UK: Parlophone PMC 7009, US: Capitol (S)T 2576, Parlophone CDP 7 46441 2)
Yellow Submarine, (UK: Apple PMC 7070, PCS 7070; US: Apple SW 153, Parlophone CDP 46445 2, "Songtrack": Capitol/Apple CDP 7243 5 21481 2 7)
The Beatles 1962-1966, (UK: Apple PCSP 717, US: Apple SKBO 3403, Apple CDP 0777 7 97036 2 3)
The Beatles 1, (Apple CDP 7243 5 299702 2)

Highest chart position: US: 2 (August 20, 1966), UK: 1 (four weeks beginning August 18, 1966)


Written by Paul one night in the summer of 1966 while lying in bed and thinking of making a children's song, "Yellow Submarine" was almost immediately assigned to Ringo for lead vocals, since he fans universally considered him the most lovable group member. To that end, Paul purposefully kept the words and the melody simple. A deceptively simple song, it tells the story of a group of sailors and their idyllic life in the ship of the title.

Folk singer Donovan, with whom McCartney had just begun a friendship, suggested the "sky of blue and sea of green" lyric; John Lennon helped put some slight (and unknown) finishing lyrical touches. In keeping with the original children's story theme, the original recording featured a spoken intro by Ringo, which was discarded on June 3.

The single's sonic effects -- recorded in a separate session on June 1 -- were created in a variety of ways. John blew bubbles through a straw and into a pan of water; Paul and John talked through cans to give the impression of submarine chatter; John spoke through the back of his Vox amp in order to sing along with the final verse; John Skinner and Terry Condon of Abbey Road Studios swirled chains in a bathtub to create the "ocean," and the session's invited musical guests, in addition to singing along with the chorus, created a "party" atmosphere around it all. Finally, engineer Geoff Emerick came up with a recording of a brass band in the EMI vaults and subtly altered it to obscure its source. (This can be heard after the line "and the band begins to play"; it has possibly been identified as a recording of Georges Krier and Charles Helmer's 1906 composition "Le Reve Passe.")

This is generally considered the "a-side" of the Beatles "Yellow Submarine" / "Eleanor Rigby" single, although only Capitol designated it as such, simply because of the order on the front of the 45 sleeve and how the single was stocked. (In the UK, both sides of the single charted as one, which was common practice.)

  • More of a homage to the group than an actual Beatles film, the animated film Yellow Submarine, which premiered in 1969, was based in part on this song, which is featured in the opening credits. Although the Beatles helped produce this film, they only appear in a cameo near the end. Nevertheless, it remains a fan and critical favorite.
  • There are some variations in the mix on this single, more prominent than on some other Beatles releases. Specifically, the repetition of lines in the last verse by John starts a bit earlier in stereo ("life of ease") than the original mono ("every one of us"). A reduction of stereo into mono was also done in 1969 for the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.
  • The Beatles had taken to creating video clips for their previous two singles, but when no such promotional short was forthcoming for this song, several outlets including BBC's Top Of The Pops simply went ahead and made their own featuring stock footage -- much like YouTube users do today.
  • This was the first Beatles song to create public rumors about a hidden drug culture subtext; supposedly the title referred to yellow Nembutol (Darvon) capsules, which, since they were depressants or "downers," were called "submarines." However, it's generally believed that the association came about after the release of the single. McCartney denies any connection.
  • The fact that this song missed the Number One spot in America is sometimes attributed to certain controversies swirling around the group at the time, namely, the appearance of the "Butcher Cover" (June 15), and John's infamous "Bigger Than Jesus" comment (July 31). However, this seems speculative at best, since the song did make it to Number Two, and was beat out by the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love," arguably an equally deserving song.
  • This was an early source of clues for some "Paul is Dead" enthusiasts, who claimed that a "Yellow Submarine" was a coffin sailing under a "sky of blue" in a "sea of green" grass. However, since this single's release predates the accepted "crash date" of November 9, 1966, most serious PIDers don't consider it canon.
Covered by: Black Dyke Mills Band, The Charles River Valley Boys, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Hit Crew, Kidz Bop, Leningrad Cowboys, Enoch Light, George Martin, Mrs. Miller, Raffi, Sebadoh, Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band