I have been working on a short list of dates on which to try to crash a Beatles recording session once the time machine is functional. That day when they were working on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” with the tape loops running all around every part of the studio, is on there; so is Wednesday, June 1, 1966. (The mechanics of how to do it are going to be tricky, as there was no shortage of fans trying to crash Beatles sessions; but there’s plenty of time to figure that out. Maybe I’ll just distract the security people with my iPhone?)

In today’s session The Beatles, their entourage, and friends including Brian Jones and Marianne Faithfull recorded vocal and sound-effects overdubs for “Yellow Submarine.” It sounds like they had a hell of a lot of fun. Here’s Ian McDonald, author of Revolution in the Head:

Directed by George Martin, whose experience as a producer of comedy records now came into its own, they raided Abbey Road’s “trap room” for its trove of noise-making implements, including chains, whistles, hooters, hoses, handbells, and an old tin bath. In his element, Lennon filled a bucket with water and blew bubbles in it while the group’s chauffeur Alf Bicknell rattled chains in the bath and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones clinked glasses. (Other effects appear to have been obtained from records, including an uncredited snippet of a brass band.) For the central section, Lennon and McCartney went into the studio’s echo chamber to yell meaningless nauticalisms, Lennon remaining there to repeat Starr’s lines, Goon-style, throughout the final verse.

The party atmosphere comes through in the finished product, which McDonald declares “impossible to dislike.” I’m not sure that’s exactly true. As Mark Lewisohn notes,

There are today two views of “Yellow Submarine,” as there were in 1966. It’s either a weak Salvation Army band style singalong or a clever and contagious piece of pop music guaranteed to please the kids, the grannies and plenty others besides.

I personally tend toward the latter view, though I’ll concede the “YS” has the ability to irritate if heard in the wrong way, at the wrong time, or in the wrong state of mind. Then again, what doesn’t?

There’s also the question of whether or not “Yellow Submarine” was a drug song. Of course, at this point in history every Beatles song was on some level a drug song. Paul McCartney was aware of this: “I knew ‘Yellow Submarine’ would get connotations,” he said. “But it really was a children’s song.”

After Revolver was released in August, according to Steve Turner’s A Hard Day’s Write,

The rumour quickly spread that the yellow submarine was a veiled reference to drugs. In New York, Nembutal capsules started to be to be known as “yellow submarines.” Paul denied the allegations and said that the only submarine he knew that you could eat was a sugary sweet that he’d come across in Greece while on holiday.

This gives me a mental image of some New York hippie hunched over his turntable trying to extract deep meanings from “Yellow Submarine.” “Man, like, check out what they’re saying. They’re saying that we all live in a yellow submarine. Can you dig it?”

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