The Beatles song that incurred the “wrath” of John Lennon

Throughout their eight years of recorded output, The Beatles encountered and elicited dramatic cultural transition with shockwaves felt on a global scale. The most significant changes began midway through the 1960s. This new page turned at a time when the Fab Four were increasingly entranced by hallucinogens and spiritual teachings of the East.

After the transitional 1965 album Rubber Soul, The Beatles took on experimentalism with optimal zeal as they began to piece together the 1966 masterpiece Revolver. The album was almost void of the simple love ditties of yore, instead making way for a host of strange characters, including ‘Dr. Robert’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, Father McKenzie and the colourful crew on board the ‘Yellow Submarine’.

In its most adventurous moment, Revolver bows out to the groundbreaking ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, a song written primarily by John Lennon that uses reversed tape loops. Combined with George Harrison’s Indian instrumentation on ‘Love You To’, Revolver was truly a landmark album of the decade – nay, the century.

Some fans insist on positing ‘Yellow Submarine’ on par with these historic tracks, but I, for one, could never get on board with it. Alas, the garish hippie shanty prevails as one of The Beatles’ best-known hits, a true staple of the local pub singalong.

As it transpires, the song was born from fittingly jubilant studio sessions, but things turned sour when Lennon realised the engineer, Phil McDonald, had accidentally erased one of his vocal tracks.

“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,” audio engineer Geoff Emerick remembered in his book Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles. “The verse begins, ‘And we live/ A life of ease,’ but you don’t actually hear John’s voice until the third and fourth lines.”

Continuing, Emerick revealed that Lennon had recorded the first two lines, but McDonald accidentally removed them. “From his station in the machine room, [Phil McDonald] got on the intercom and let George [Martin] and me know of his gaffe while the Beatles were out of earshot,” Emerick wrote.

Emerick added: “I could hear the distress in his voice and could sympathise — almost every assistant had made a similar mistake at one time or another. John realised the line was gone the next time we played the multitrack — nothing ever got by him — and he wasn’t too happy about it…”

Infamously, Lennon had a somewhat volatile temper, so Emerick and Martin concocted a cunning plan to protect McDonald. “[R]ather than pin the blame on Phil, George and I quickly concocted a story about needing the track for one of the overdubs,” Emerick wrote. “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.”

Listen to The Beatles’ ‘Yellow Submarine’ below.

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