In the town where I was born
Lived a man who sailed to sea
And he told us of his life
In the land of submarines.
"So we sailed on to the sun
Till we found the sea of green
And we lived beneath the waves
In our yellow submarine."
We all live in a yellow submarine,
a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine. (2x)
And our friends are all aboard.
Many more of them live next door.
And the band begins to play...
[Full speed ahead, Mr. Barkley, full speed ahead!
Full speed over here, sir!
All together! All together!
Aye, aye, sir, fire!
And we live a life of ease.
Every one of us has all we need--
Sky of blue and sea of green
In our yellow submarine. (Haha!)
Yellow Submarine was the first single released by the Beatles after the Bible Belt banned the group’s records in August 1966 because Lennon had proclaimed the Beatles more popular than Jesus. Perhaps the group released the single to try and win audiences back by appearing charming and harmless. Nevertheless there was quite a bit of reaction from the press as to Yellow Submarine’s secret drug messages. The ban in the American South perhaps explains why this single backed with Eleanor Rigby didn’t make it to the top of the charts. However, the song lives on. Rolling Stone magazine joked that Yellow Submarine continues to “the gateway drug that turns little children into Beatles fans, with that cheery singalong chorus.”
Perhaps Yellow Submarine, written as a singalong for Ringo, concerns "the color of our dreams" as suggested in Tomorrow Never Knows. Though it shares in the community song form of Bob Dylan's Rainy Day Women, it would begin its own fashion that would be indicative of the psychedelic era, a fascination with color in the lyrics. Yellow had a particularly good run, as Yellow Submarine was a few months thereafter followed by another hit, Donovan's Mellow Yellow. Later Jimi Hendrix in his laundry list of colors for Bold as Love, would state "In this case, my yellow is not so mellow; in fact I'm tryin to say it's frightened like me." But at this point, when it was recorded in June 1966 and released in August of that year, the yellow in Submarine is sunny, even if submerged in the unconscious. An innocence, that soon would depart from psychedelic culture, frames the "color of our dreams" like a child's fantasy, perfect, as it turned out, for cartoons.
It should be noted here that the Beatles produced a series of children's tunes, though outside this purview of psychedelic music: Bungalow Bill (Lennon 1968), Altogether Now (Lennon & McCartney 1968) and Octopus's Garden (Starr 1969) come to mind. McCartney did a late psychedelic children's tune, Uncle Albert, in 1970. Donovan also produced a several children's songs, as did the Incredible String Band in the psychedelic genre.
Another exceptional feature of Yellow Submarine is its fully realized use of sound effects. Caroline No had introduced a train whistle and dogs barking to produce the first formal closing of a pop album. On the top of the charts was a hit that used traffic noises and a pneumatic drill to suggest an urban landscape in the break of the Lovin Spoonful's Summer in the City. But the Beatles used sound effects in Yellow Submarine not only to create ambience, but in order to advance the narrative. In the third lyric quatrain, after the band begins to play a brass band seems to take up the fourth unspoken line. A voice-over provides a dramatic effect first introduced in the recent Byrd's album cut The Lear Jet Song, but the Beatles have produced an ongoing narrative with the voice-over rather than the Byrd's static image of weightless flight. John Lennon would use the voice-over effect again, suggesting a radio station in the background, in his I Am the Walrus. Paul McCartney would use very similar voice over effects for his Uncle Albert.
Whereas Tomorrow Never Knows drones in the deep unconscious, the world spirit, Yellow Submarine exhibits the blurring of contexts that occurs when nodding off. The ancient mariner begins by telling the singer a story, but the pastness of the events quickly subside into an eternal now that includes the singer and the listener. As we live a life of ease / Every one of us has all we need closes the song by including its listeners. In the psychedelic experience, McCartney seems to say, we experience the self-sufficiency and freedom of a sailor. And rather than a military ship, the submarine seems to transform itself into a luxury liner, as we overhear what seems to be the clinking of glassware and china plates during a formal banquet with "all our friends" on board.