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Song Of The Week - Yellow Submarine

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OK, Ive had this idea to name a song of the week every week to stimulate some conversation about the particular song, your views about it, whether you like it, what it means to you etc etc.........what do you think ? I will run it...

If you think its a good idea please say so...

My choice for 1st song of the week is;

Yellow Submarine.

I'm perfectly fine with YS, not on many of my playlists but it is on the ipod.  I think it shows their creativity quite well despite the simple tune and subject. 

I listened to it just now (after a long time) and I think it's a nice little song. I kinda enjoy the carnival-esque atmosphere with the silly backing vocals and special effects. What I hate though, is the hype that surrounds it with the pretentious music listeners who give it as an example of why The Beatles will never be "serious" enough to compete with whatever hardcore death metal bands they listen to. Pity they don't realize it's a simple, mindless fun song that doesn't take itself seriously and its composers never expected the listener to do so.

Good idea for a thread, by the way.

Its a perfect vehicle for Ringo actually Ovi, he had to have his one song per album and this was perfect, even his only number 1 with him as singer !!

memories from those involved;

According to Mark Lewisohn’s book “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” the four takes of the rhythm track “had a much longer introduction than was eventually released on disc, with acoustic guitar (John), bass guitar (Paul) and tambourine (George) all preceding Ringo’s drums and the part of the song where the lyrics would come in…The song’s other variation at this stage from what would be released on record was a full, rounded ending.  On record it was faded out.”

The fourth take was deemed the best, although it was necessary to perform a tape reduction in order to free up more tracks for the various overdubs that the song would need.  This tape reduction then became take five.  Onto this, the main vocals of the song were recorded.  “Then Ringo and the others added their vocals,” Geoff explains, “with the tape slightly slowed down so that their voices would sound a little brighter on playback.”  The precise recording speed of these vocals, according to Mark Lewisohn, was 47 ½ cycles.

One final vocal overdub was recorded before the evening was over.  Geoff recounts:  “At a certain point, John decided that the third verse needed some spicing up, so he dashed into the studio and began answering each of Ringo’s sung lines in a silly voice that I further altered to make it sound like he was talking over a ship’s megaphone.”  George Harrison recalls:  “John’s doing the voice that sounds like someone talking down a tube or ship’s funnel as they do in the merchant marine.”  By 1 o’clock the next morning, they could retire for the night knowing that they indeed made some good progress in recording the song, completing the rhythm track along with the lead and harmony vocals.

“After that first night of working on ‘Yellow Submarine,’ the ‘Revolver’ sessions were suspended for nearly a week because of George Martin’s illness,” Geoff relates.  “When we finally returned to the studio, a recovered George was back in the producer’s chair…but, despite his return, that was to be the day the lunatics really took over the asylum!”  This twelve-hour session, on June 1st, 1966, began at 2:30 pm in EMI Studio Two.  John Lennon describes this day by saying:  “We virtually made the track come alive in the studio.”

The first order of business concerned concocting a rather bizarre feature to the song that was eventually dropped entirely.  “Most of that afternoon was spent trying to record a spoken word introduction to ‘Yellow Submarine,’” recounts Geoff.  “Back in 1960, there had been a well-publicized charity walk by a doctor named Barbara Moore from Land’s End to John O’Groats – the two points farthest apart on the British mainland.  John, who often had his head buried in a newspaper when he wasn’t playing guitar or singing, had written a short medieval-sounding poem that somehow tied the walk to the song title, and he was determined to have Ringo recite it, accompanied by the sound of marching feet.”

“I pulled out the old radio trick of shaking coal in a cardboard box to simulate footsteps, and Ringo did his best to emote, deadpan, but the final result was, in a word, boring.  Even though we spent hours and hours putting it together, the whole idea was eventually scrapped.”  Mark Lewisohn adds that it was to be “faded up into the acoustic guitar intro and lasting for as long as 31 seconds.  It consisted of at least four separate superimpositions, dominated by Ringo’s speaking voice but aided and abetted by George, Paul and John all doing likewise, mixed into one mélange.”  John Lennon’s poem included the lines:  “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, we love it!”

With this complete, it was time for a break.  The Beatles met up with some friends for dinner who also received a special invitation.  Geoff recalls:  “Paul had conceived ‘Yellow Submarine’ as a singalong, and so a few of the band’s friends and significant others had been invited along for the evening session.  By then, everyone was distinctly in a party mood…Following a long dinner break (during which we suspected more than food was being ingested), a raucous group began filtering in, including Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, along with Jagger’s girlfriend Marianne Faithfull and George Harrison’s wife, Patti.  They were all dressed in the finest Carnaby Street outfits, the women in miniskirts and flowing blouses, the men in purple bell-bottoms and fur jackets.”

“Phil (McDonald) and I put up a few ambient microphones around the studio,” Geoff continues, “and I decided to also give everyone a handheld mic on a long lead so they could move around freely – there was no way I was going to try to contain that lot!...The whole marijuana-influenced scene that evening was completely zany, straight out of a Marx Brothers movie.”

Mark Lewisohn explains:  “Just inside the doorway of Studio Two…there is a small room cum cupboard called the trap room which houses a many and varied collection of assorted oddments – everything from a cash till to old hosepipes and a football supporter’s rattle…in 1966 it was full to overflowing with such items.  The Beatles decided to raid it and almost all of the effects on ‘Yellow Submarine’ came from there.”

Geoff remembers:  “The cupboard had everything – chains, ships bells, hand bells from wartime, tap dancing mats, whistles, hooters, wind machines, thunder-storm machines…everything!...The entire EMI collection of percussion instruments and sound effects boxes were strewn all over the studio, with people grabbing bells and whistles and gongs at random.  To simulate the sound of a submerging, John grabbed a straw and began blowing bubbles into a glass – fortunately, I was able to move a mic nearby in time to record it for posterity.”  Because of the inspiration of the moment (and possibly the drugs), John introduced the idea of recording his voice under water, either by singing while gargling (nearly choking in the process), submerging himself into a tank of water (which George Martin talked him out of), or submerging a microphone into a bottle of water (which they tried).  Check out Geoff Emerick’s book “Here, There And Everywhere” for the hilarious details.

The party atmosphere spread to the EMI staff as well, employees John Skinner and Terry Condon joining in on the fun.  “There was a metal bath in the trap room,” explains Skinner, “the type people used to bathe in in front of the fire.  We filled it with water, got some old chains and swirled them around.  It worked really well.  I’m sure no one listening to the song realized what was making the noise.”  Among the other sound effects used on the recording was Brian Jones tapping drinking glasses, the Beatles chauffer Alf Bicknell rattling old chains, and roadie Mal Evans beating a bass drum as they all joined in singing the final chorus.  "I was bashing chains in a bucket of water for sound effects and shuffling sand," Mal Evans recalls.  In fact, according to “The Beatles Recording Sessions,” “Engineer Ken Townsend remembers Mal Evans marching around the studio wearing a huge bass drum on his chest, with everyone else in line behind him, conga-style, singing ‘We all live in a yellow submarine’” after the session was over.

The raucous atmosphere of this recording session was actually simulated during the second verse of the song.  “On the final track, there’s actually that very small party happening,” George Harrison recounts.  “As I seem to remember, there are a few screams and what sounds like a small crowd noise in the background.”  Geoff continues:  “Those background screams during the second verse came from Patti Harrison, which was always ironic to me, considering how quiet she usually was.”

The instrumental section of the song was not filled with an instrument at all but sound effects interspersed with muffled nautical voices performed mostly by John and Paul, reportedly shouted into tin cans.  “When John ran back into the echo chamber (of Studio Two) and ad-libbed his “Captain, captain” routine to the sound of clanking bells and chains,” Geoff recalls, “we were all doubled over with laughter.  The ambience around his voice was just perfect, and that was the way that all those bits happened.  Although the record sounds quite produced, it was actually spur of the moment – John and the others were just out there having a good time.  Somehow it worked, though, despite the chaos.”  According to written sources, other adlib phrases heard in this section of the song include “full speed ahead,” “full stern ahead, Mr. Bosun,” “Aye, Aye, Sir” and “lock the chambers” (or possibly “cut the cable / drop the cable”).

The chaos was controlled, however, by someone who was experienced in how to do it well.  “George Martin had made his name producing comedy records with The Goons and Peter Sellers,” explains Barry Miles in “Many Years From Now,’ “and sound effects were one of his specialties.”

There was one technical mishap that occurred while putting together the sound effect section of the song, this concerning the answering voices in the final verse that John had recorded during the first recording session for the song.  Geoff explains:  “The verse begins, “As we live / a life of ease,” but you don’t actually hear John’s voice until the third and fourth lines.  In fact, I had recorded him repeating the first two lines also, but a few days later, Phil McDonald accidentally erased the beginning of them – one of the few times his usually accurate drop-in skills failed him.  From his station in the machine room, he got on the intercom and let George and me know of his gaffe while the Beatles were out of earshot.  I could hear the distress in his voice and could sympathize – almost every assistant had made a similar mistake at one time or another.”

“John realized the line was gone the next time we played the multitrack – nothing ever got by him – and he wasn’t too happy about it, but rather than pin the blame on Phil, George and I quickly concocted a story about needing the track for one of the overdubs.  We all tended to close ranks and protect one another at times like that, and I know that Phil was very relieved that he didn’t have to face John’s wrath.”  In actuality, John’s first line “as we live” is what was accidentally recorded over, the second line “a life of ease” wasn’t, this appearing in the released mono mix.

Another interesting feature of the song that appeared during this session was the brass band that is introduced by Ringo at the end of the second verse with the words:  “And the band begins to play.”  While the “Recording Sessions” book attributes this to “outside session musicians,” Geoff Emerick has quite another story.

“Throughout the day, George Martin and I had been overdubbing various nautical sounds (like waves in the second verse) from sound effects records in the EMI library.  That same library was to be put to good use later that night, when it came time to add a solo to the song.  By then, everyone was too knackered – or stoned – to give much attention to the two-bar gap that had been left for a solo, and with the enormous amount of time that had already been spent on the track, George Martin wasn’t about to begin the long process of having George Harrison strap on a guitar and laboriously come up with a part.”

“Instead, someone – probably Paul – came up with the idea of using a brass band.  There was, of course, no way that a band could be booked to come in on such short notice, and in any event, George Martin probably wouldn’t have allocated budget to hire them, not for such a short section.  So instead, he came up with an ingenious solution – one that, with the passage of time, he has apparently forgotten.”

“Phil McDonald was duly dispatched to fetch some records of Sousa marches, and after auditioning several of them, George Martin and Paul finally identified one that was suitable – it was in the same key as ‘Yellow Submarine’ and seemed to fit well enough.  The problem here was one of copyright; in British law, if you used more than a few seconds of a recording on a commercial release, you had to get permission from the song’s publisher and then pay a negotiable royalty.”

“George wasn’t about to do either, so he told me to record the section on a clean piece of two-track tape and then chop it into pieces, toss the pieces into the air, and splice them back together.  The end result should have been random, but, somehow, when I pieced it back together, it came back nearly the same way it had been in the first place!  No one could believe their ears; we were all thoroughly amazed.  But by this point, it was very late at night and we were running out of time – and patience – so George had me simply swap over two of the pieces and we flew it into the multitrack master, being careful to fade it out quickly.  That’s why the solo is so brief, and that’s why it sounds almost musical, but not quite.  At least it’s unrecognizable enough that EMI was never sued by the original copyright holder of the song.”  According to the Ian MacDonald’s book “Revolution In The Head,” the recording was most likely a 78rpm record of “Le Reve Passé,” a composition by Georges Krier and Charles Helmer from 1906.

With this accomplished, and with the motley crew of visitors filed out of the studio, the recording of “Yellow Submarine” was complete, being 2:30 am the following morning and only mixing to be done to get it to its completed state.

The first mono mix, described by Mark Lewisohn as a “rough remix,” was performed on June 2nd, 1966, the day after the recording was complete.  This was created by George Martin, Geoff Emerick and Phil McDonald in the control room of EMI Studio Two directly after the group spent the day recording George Harrison’s “I Want To Tell You.”  Although this mix never saw the light of day, we can assume that it contained the spoken work introduction they labored over the previous day.

The released mono mix was created the following day, June 3rd, 1966, also in the control room of EMI Studio Two by the same EMI staff.  Five mono mixes were made on this day, presumably the fifth being the released version for the mono album and single.  The decision was definitely made at this point to scrap the spoken word introduction since it didn’t appear on record.  They did decide to begin the song with John’s acoustic guitar and Ringo’s vocals coming in at the same time, and they were careful to fade down the sound effects at the end of the instrumental section so as not to hinder Ringo’s vocal line “As we live a life of ease” at the start of the final verse.  They were also careful to fade it back up quickly enough to hear John’s answering line for “life of ease.”

They took two stabs at the stereo mix on June 22nd, 1966 in the control room of EMI Studio Three, Martin, Emerick and 2nd engineer Jerry Boys presiding.  The second stereo mix appears to have been the keeper, the decision being made to silence John’s opening guitar chord, leaving Ringo to vocalize the words “In the” a cappella at the beginning of the song.  Less care was given regarding the sound effects track at the end of the instrumental section this time around, them leaving it up somewhat longer to slightly infringe upon Ringo’s line “As we live a life of ease.”  Then, they forgot to turn it back up again to hear the beginnings of John’s humorous answering vocals, it finally coming in quietly on the line “every one of us” and then gradually increasing in volume through the rest of the verse.

As for the stereo placement of the elements, all the lead and harmony vocals are completely in the right channel while the rhythm track is entirely in the left channel.  The various sound effects and nautical voices, as well as John’s answering lines in the final verse, are basically centered in the mix.

Sometime in 1995, George Martin and Geoff Emerick re-entered EMI Studios (now Abbey Road Studios) to assemble a new version of the song to highlight elements not appearing in the standard mixes of 1966.  Since the sound effects and voices recorded on June 1st, 1966 were only faded up sporadically during the initial mixing stages, this mix brought more of them to the fore and at a higher level.  Also tacked on to the beginning of this mix is a good portion of the spoken word introduction that was never released before.  Surprisingly, it didn’t make the cut for the “Anthology 2” album but was included on the CD single for “Real Love” in 1996.

In 1999, a newly re-mastered mix was put together at Abbey Road Studios by Peter Cobbin, Paul Hicks, Mirek Stiles and Allan Rouse for the album “Yellow Submarine Songtrack.”  This vibrant stereo mix also eliminates John’s opening guitar chord but restores his answering line “life of ease” at the beginning of the final verse.  All of the vocals are now centered in the mix to give a good balance.

A few live recordings of “Yellow Submarine” were made through the years that appeared on albums by Ringo Starr.  On July 13th, 1992, a recording of the song was made that appeared on the album “Live From Montreux.”  June 25th, 1995 was the date of recording for his album “Ringo Starr And His Third All-Starr Band-Volume One.”  Another live recording was made on October 22nd, 2001 which ended up on the albums “King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Ringo & His New All-Starr Band,” “Extended Versions,” and “Ringo Starr And Friends.”  July 4th, 2003 saw a recording of the song that appeared on his “Tour 2003” album, and his performance on June 24th, 2005 at the Genessee Theatre in Waukegan, Illinois made it on the album “Live At Soundstage.”  His performance of the song in Uncasville, Connecticut on July 16th, 2006 appeared on the album “Live 2006,” while his Los Angeles performance on August 2nd, 2008 came out on the album “Live At The Greek Theatre.”


Song Structure and Style

The group once again veers ever more comfortably into the use of a chorus, something they didn’t use much of throughout their earlier career.  The format used here becomes ‘verse/ verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus/ verse (instrumental)/ verse/ chorus/ chorus’ (or aababaabb).

A slightly out-of-key vocal from Ringo starts the song off without any instrumental accompaniment (unless you’re listening to the mono mix).  An introductory vocal pick up like this one has been used at times by the group, “All My Loving,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “It Won’t Be Long” are a few that readily come to mind.  The actual downbeat of the first eight-measure verse begins on the word “town” with John on guitar and Paul (subtly) on bass with George rattling a tambourine throughout the verse.  Ringo comes in with some strategic bass drum beats to add some seasoning from the fifth measure on.

The second eight-measure verse begins immediately with Ringo pounding the bass drum on even quarter notes while wave sound effects permeate the recording to create the atmosphere of the story being told.  The word “submarine” appears to be clipped off prematurely in the eighth measure, possibly the result of an early punch in for the harmony vocals that enter shortly after in the first chorus.

The chorus is also eight measures long and is characterized by the childlike sing-a-long nature of the four-note melody line harmonized by all four Beatles.  Ringo here begins a steady 4/4 drum beat for the first time with heavy snare-drum accents.  The wave sound effects are also still prominent in the mix.

The eight-measure third verse is formatted similarly although it contains some differences in the arrangement and structure.  More notably, a crowd noise prominently appears to verify the line “and our friends are all aboard,” with Patti (Boyd) Harrison’s shrieking coming through loud and clear.  To accentuate the lyric “and the band begins to play,” the found Sousa march fills the gap they left in the seventh and eighth measures of the verse.  If you listen carefully to John’s rhythm guitar in the rhythm track, he continues to play the chord changes heard in the other verses during those measures, but since the brass band recording is strictly in the key of G major, the impression is that those measures were meant to break the usual chord pattern of the other verses.  This, of course, just happened to work out that way.

Many writers, such as Ian MacDonald in “Revolution In The Head,” have noted the uncanny similarities here with Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (aka “Everybody Must Get Stoned”), not only because of the similar slow shuffle beat but the laughing party atmosphere and the brass band.  Being the huge Dylan fans that The Beatles were, they could very well have had this in mind when putting the arrangement together, feasibly so since this Dylan single was just released the month before and no doubt got due attention from John and Paul.

As the brass band recording quickly fades into the distance, a second eight-measure chorus is heard which is identical in form to the first with the addition of Ringo tapping his drumsticks to the beat on the harmony vocal track.  This is followed by the instrumental verse which is not filled with a solo instrument at all but an elaborate set of sound effects (live as well as from the EMI library) and submarine crew voices, which appropriately paint a vivid picture to accompany the storyline.

The fourth and final verse now appears which peel away all of the atmospheric sounds to reveal Ringo completing his story on top of the simple acoustic-based rhythm track.  Lennon adds some exciting comic relief by repeating most of the lead singer’s lines as if over the subs’ squawk box, ending with an enthusiastic “a-ha” just after hearing Ringo sing what sounds like the word “slubmarine.”

What follows is the true pay-off, or climax, of the song, this being a twice-repeated reprise of the chorus with a pounding bass drum played on all quarter notes but not starting until the second measure of the first chorus.  On top of this is a rousing, predominantly male, choir of singers belting out the hypnotic and repetitious lines of the chorus mostly in unison.  The song fades just as the final measure of the second chorus is complete.  The overall first impression to the listener was probably one of shock but amusement.  Nobody had ever heard The Beatles like this before!

Ringo, of course, takes center stage on this cut, his sometimes off-key vocals only adding to the charm of the song.  With him coming in on the top of most “favorite Beatle” lists in America, young fans in the states were undoubtedly pleased to finally have a Ringo lead vocal track that was of a quality to do him justice – one that was suited perfectly with his persona.  And while his drumming was relatively simple therein, it suited the feel of the song appropriately.

John chunks away at rhythm guitar all through the song, this being the only actual thread holding the framework of the song in place instrumentally.  His harmony vocals, and especially his comedic vocal touches, show he was well involved and enthused with this “Paul song,” as he described it.  Paul uncharacteristically takes somewhat of a backseat in the proceedings, playing a subdued bass guitar in the rhythm track while adding to the harmonies as well as the voices and sound effects in the instrumental section.  George is the least involved Beatles, the tambourine being the only instrument he plays, although his presence is indeed felt in the harmony work and probably with the occasional sound effect.

It gets a bad rap for the most part, but I like it. A psychedelic kids song. Not many bands can pull that off.


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