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The Beatles Songs: Octopus's Garden

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The Beatles Songs: Octopus's Garden

The original US sheet music for "Octopus's Garden"

rarebeatles.com

Octopus's Garden

Written by: Ringo Starr (50%), George Harrison (50%)
(credited to Ringo Starr)
Recorded: April 26 and 29, July 17 and 18, 1969 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: April 29, July 18, 1969
Length: 2:48
Takes: 32

Musicians:

John Lennon: backing and harmony vocals, rhythm guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino)
Paul McCartney: backing and harmony vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 400IS), piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand "Mrs. Mills")
George Harrison: backing and harmony vocals, lead guitar (1961 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster)
Ringo Starr: lead vocals, drums (1968 Ludwig Hollywood Maple), drinking straw

Available on: (CDs in bold)
Abbey Road (UK: Apple PCS 7088; US: Apple SO 383; Parlophone CDP 7 46446 2)
The Beatles 1967-1970 (UK: Apple PCSP 718; US: Apple SKBO 3404)

History:

  • Though it was Ringo's signature vocal turn on the Beatles' last album, Abbey Road, the formation of "Octopus's Garden" actually took place over the span of several group projects. Fed up with group infighting and the increasing control of Paul McCartney, who wanted to play drums on "Back In The USSR" when Ringo proved to have trouble with the drum track, Starr left the group on August 22, 1968, taking a family vacation in Sardinia (an Italian island in the Mediterranean). Having secured a boat from comic actor and friend of the band Peter Sellers, Ringo toured the island, but upon asking for "fish and chips" for lunch, was instead served octopus. This intrigued the drummer, and later, he struck up a conversation with a local fisherman, who told him about the habits of octopi. When Ringo learned that the creatures roamed the seabed looking for shiny objects to place around their nests, he was utterly charmed, and began writing the general melody and first verse of "Octopus's Garden."
  • Starr soon returned to the band, and "White Album" sessions resumed. But "Garden" was never fleshed out for that project; rather, it was introduced to the band during the sessions for what was to be the "Get Back" project (which later saw the light of day as the film and album Let It Be). Though it was far from finished, and sported a few dubious lines ("It would be nice / paradise"), George helped Ringo construct a bridge for the song. (Footage of this can be seen in the film and heard in the outtakes.)
  • When the "Get Back" project bottomed out, and the band convened to record their farewell album, "Garden" was selected as Abbey Road's "Ringo track." Again with George's help, it was sculpted into a sort of second cousin to "Yellow Submarine," right down to the watery sound effects. On April 26, 1969, a basic track was laid down consisting of drums, John's guitar (fingerpicked in the style of his acoustic odes "Dear Prudence" and "Julia"), George's countryish lead and intro, which was constructed on the spot, and a guide vocal by Ringo that merely consisted of the first verse repeated three times. Ringo overdubbed his vocal on the 29th, although none of this vocal survives in the final mix.
  • On July 17, backing vocals were added by the other group members, more supporting drum parts were laid down, and Paul added jangle piano to the mix. The final touch was achieved by running the backing vocals of the bridge through a limiter to give them an "underwater" feel, and Ringo for his part blew through a straw into a glass of milk for effect. Starr's lead vocals were redone the next day.

Trivia:

  • Although this is one of the group's simplest songs, especially given the era it was recorded, "Octopus's Garden" struck both Ringo and George as having a deeper meaning: both were unhappy with the inner musical and financial tensions within the group, and lines like "We would be calm / beneath the storm" served as a much-needed fantasy of emotional tranquility during a turbulent time.
  • Oasis, known as huge Beatle fans, have often referred to "Octopus's Garden" on stage and in the studio. Live, lead singer Noel Gallagher has sometimes quoted the song at the end of "Whatever," while the first line of Garden is used in the chorus for "Take Me Away," and the chorus of "Garden" appears during the fade out of "The Masterplan."

Covered by: Reparata, Ofra Harnoy, Jessi Colter, Holly Robinson, Joanie Bartels, Box Of Chocolates, Eugene Chadborne, Original Playboys, Raffi, Waylon Jennings, The Persuasions, String Cheese Incident

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