Yellow Submarine - The Beatles

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"Yellow Submarine" - The Beatles (1966)

McCartney remembered that one night he was lying in bed an idea popped in his head to write a children’s song. He purposely used short words in the lyrics of “Yellow Submarine” because he wanted kids to pick it up early and sing along and to make it easy for them to learn the words.

Ringo said:

“It’s simply a children’s song with no hidden meanings. Many people have interpreted it to be a war song, that eventually all the world would be living in yellow submarines. That’s not the case.”

“Yellow Submarine” is a good example of the Beatles’ more traditional harmonic writing. Everything about this song presents an idea of simplicity: the words are immediately intelligible, the rhythms easy to sing, and the melody, with its small range, easy to remember. The pre-recorded sound effects, naval terminology and enthusiasms, and a short passage scored for military band transform a playful if repetitive children’s tune into a sophisticated stylistic pastiche.

The track is an excellent example of how the Beatles manage to elevate gesture over content. While the music can be considered simplistic, this simplicity provides the platform to support the variety of sound-bites overlaid upon it.

Bob Spitz writes in his biography of The Beatles that on the day it was recorded the Beatles discovered in a small room at Abbey Road Studios a trove of noisemaking effects such as chains, ship’s bells, hand bells from wartime, tap dancing mats, whistles, hooters, wind machines, and a thunderstorm machines. They then added a cash register, buckets, a set of bar glasses, and an old metal bath filled with water.

Spitz recounts:

“To simulate the sound of a submarine submerging, John grabbed a straw and began blowing bubbles into a glass. The session concluded with the recording of a thirty-one-second monologue by Ringo, accompanied by the sound of stomping feet, which they achieved by shifting coal around in a cardboard box.”

Beatle scholar Wilfred Mellers claimed that the music had a:

“talismantic function, recalling a Liverpudlian childhood, launching the Beatles on a submarine voyage into the unconscious: out of which their later and greater music was to spring.”

“Yellow Submarine” demonstrates that the Beatles were not just about music but something much larger in scope. The extent to to which the song in engrained into our collective, global memory. This song- along with “All You Need Is Love”- despite its simplicity- contributed more to the Beatle legacy than perhaps many of their more musically sophisticated creations.

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