Mellow Yellow

Album: Mellow Yellow (1966)
Charted: 8 2
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  • In an interview with the June 18, 2011 edition of the NME, Donovan was asked what the song was actually about. He replied: "Quite a few things. Being mellow, laid-back, chilled out. 'They call me Mellow Yellow, I'm the guy who can calm you down.' [John] Lennon and I used to look in the back of newspapers and pull out funny things and they'd end up in songs. So it's about being cool, laid-back, and also the electrical bananas that were appearing on the scene - which were ladies vibrators."
  • Donovan set out to capture the mellow vibe of the '60s with this song, adding what he called "cool, groovy phrases." These phrases were interpreted in ways he never imagined, as people came up with lots of ideas as to what the song meant. Most of these interpretations concerned drugs, but there were even rumors that the song was about abortion.
  • There is certainly a drug influence on this song, but it's about much more than that. In his Songfacts interview, Donovan said: "To be 'mellow' is to be cool, to be laid back, but it doesn't have to be with a smoke. It can be through meditation. And it was meditation that became more serious for The Beatles and me, and presenting that in our music."
  • Paul McCartney appears somewhere on this track, but it's not clear where. He was rumored to be the whispering voice saying "quite rightly," but that was Donovan. McCartney dropped by the session and was captured on tape saying "Mellow Yellow" and doing some cheering. His voice is likely somewhere in the mix at the end of the song amid the revelry.

    Donovan had recently helped out McCartney on another "Yellow" song: He provided the "sky of blue, sea of green" line in "Yellow Submarine." Both songs hit #2 US in 1966.
  • When this song came out in 1966, there was a widespread rumor that it was about getting high on banana skins. The idea was that you scraped the fibers off of a banana skin and cooked them over a low fire. This was supposed to release the hallucinogenic qualities. Of course, it was never true! >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Victor - Boston, MA
  • Asked by the NME in 1967 why this song did so well in America, Donovan said it had to do with driving. "A great many of the discs are heard on car radios, and if the music is not sympathetic to the driver, one push of the button and he's on another station," he said. "You can almost change gear in time to 'Mellow Yellow.'"
  • This was used in a popular 1999 commercial for The Gap titled "Everybody in Cords," promoting their corduroy pants, which come in shades of saffron and yellow. It was also used in a 1987 commercial for a product called Butter It, which is a "liquid butter alternative." In that one, the song was altered, with the line "quite rightly" changed to "just butter it."

    Donovan pushed to get his songs in as many commercials as he could, since it was great exposure for them and a nice source of income. How he felt about a liquid butter alternative was immaterial.
  • In 1979, the Coca-Cola Company introduced a new soda called Mello Yello designed to compete with the Pepsi product Mountain Dew. This song wasn't used in the advertising, as oddly, it was marketed as "the world's fastest soft drink," not a "mello" one.

    In our interview with Donovan, he said: "The story goes that they could use the title, but they didn't have to use the song. So I didn't mind. And they didn't want the song. But then it didn't sell, so maybe they should have used the song after all."

Comments: 40

  • Heros Journey from Medford OregonThe lyric is "I'm just mad about Fontaine". Fontaine is of French origin and can be a boy or girl's name. When you were mad about someone in the sixties, it meant madly in love or had a crush on them. The lyric is consistent in that the first verse he's mad about a girl named Saffron and the second verse he's mad about a girl named Fontaine. It's like Austin Powers and his women!
  • AnonymousDina thats right did not know 14 its sounded so unclear
  • John W from LondonSaffron was the daughter of British blues musician Alexis Korner; Saffron "Sappho" Gillet Korner. Donovan got his first exposure at Alexis korner's blues nights in Highgate, London and often stayed with the family.
  • Fahkir from RealitySo, none of these comments or questions (questionable), mention who the F is Saffron? Fix that!
  • Blacktaff from Cardiff Uk Maybe, while the Rolling Stones were blatantly singing about Valium as being " mothers little yellow helpers " Donovan was just being more mellow on the same subject..... Maybe?
  • Przgzr from Zagreb, HrI can confirm Lyz' and Steve's comments, this version has not only been played on concerts but one of these concerts has been recorded and I have heard this version several times on the radio. However, I don't remember I've had a chance to hear it in 2000's, obviously due to modern political correctness.
  • Dina from CaliforniaI just found out that saffron is an aphrodisiac, then it dawned on me that this song is more about sex than drugs. Saffron - aphrodisiac, Electrical banana - vibrator, Fourteen - fourteen year old girls, mellow yellow - the color of saffron and bananas, and him being mellow maybe.
  • George from Vancouver, CanadaIt appears as if Georgie Fame sang this & made a hit of it before Donovan, on UK Blues chart.
  • Dell from St Louis, IdPut me down as someone who has listened closely to this song and agrees that the person whooping it up in the middle of the song (1) doesn't sound like Donovan and yes, now that you mention it, (2) does sound like Paul McCartney.
  • Dell from St Louis, IdI think the controversial line goes "I'm just mad about FONTINE."
    Fontine is defined as a "pale yellow" cheese on Wiktionary. Goes well with the "mad about saffron [a yellow spice]" line.
    I'm pretty sure the person who said the word is "fourteen" is having us on.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 5th 1967, Senator Bobby with Senator McKinley's covered version of "Mellow Yellow" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart for a one week stay at position #99...
    Senator Bobby was Bill Minkin and Senator McKinley was Dennis Wholey...
    Bill Minkin appeared in two Robert De Niro movies, "Taxi Driver" (1976) and "The King of Comedy" (1982).
  • Jim from Glasgle, BotswanaIn a John Paul Jones interview, he recalled that everybody hated his arrangement. Right up until Sir Paul heard it and loved it. After that, everybody thought it was great!
  • Paul from Montgomery , AlThere's not always a deep meaning in songs. Tommy James and the Shondells wrote "Crimson and Clover" because he liked the way the two words sounded together. In the 60's there was a high performance version of a Barracuda called a " Cuda" this was the only model in the car line available in a new color called Saffron yellow, it was all the rage! Maybe impressive enough to right a song about. I think it was a kind of yellow green color. A lot of colors were available in dyes at the time and not available in paint and visa – reversa, the technology wasn't there yet. So when you saw something new like this it had a wow factor that we no longer see in the color.
    Hay, what does saffron yellow look like? Well it's kind of mellow man…. far out! .
    I'm still waiting to see a true "Chartreuse" spray paint.
    Also if you ever eat yellow rice it is flavored and colored with saffron.
  • Sara from Silver Spring, MdPaul McCartney does not sing background but can be heard during the instrumental parts.
  • Ryan from Bridgewater, NjI read an interview with Donovan in the 60's probably in Hit Parader magazine. He recounted that during the recording Paul shouted out "Mellow Yellow" and that it is audible on the record. He seemed somewhat baffled as to why Paul would do such a thing. There is a lot of other shouting noise during parts of the record that he didn't say anything about.
  • Steven from Billings, MtMy coffee shop in Amsterdam that I went to was called the "Cafe Mellow Yellow". This was summer of 2008.
  • Sara from Silver Spring, Md"Electrical banana" is referring to a vibrator that was sent through the mail.
    Donovan originally wrote this as a singalong at parties.
  • Mark from Seattle, WaDonovan came to Seattle in mid 90's and during a live radio interview he said McCartney was in the building during recording of this song but is not a part of it what so whisper phrases or cheers at the end. It was a rumor some studio people began when they both walked out of the building together.
  • Neal from Fayetteville, Nc, NcThere was also reported that Ringo was the drummer on this track. It's possible. The drumming style, especially on the triplets just before the song goes back to the verse sounds like Ringo.

    Herb Alpert had nothing to do with "Uncle Albert". The flugelhorn (not trumpet) solo lines are played by Marvin Stamn, a famous jazz trumpet player
  • Thomas from Somerville, AlGood song, good singer, good acid.
  • Steve from Binghamton, NyI was in New York when the song came out. Lyz is correct. The 45 version had the lyrics "I'm just mad about 14-year old girls and their just mad about me" as the lyrics. Most stations refused or stopped playing it and the 45 was re-released with "I'm just mad about 14 and she's just mad about me". This little fact has been swept under the rug over the years.

    In fact, lists the lyrics as "I'm just mad about Frontine". Who the heck is Frontine? They need to get the wax out of their ears.
  • Pinback from Chambersburg, PaMellow Yellow is the name of the electric dildo used by a fourteen year old girl named Saffron.
  • Mark from Oklahoma City, OkDONOVAN was a big deal, he propeled american music as all brittish music did. all the music from that period meleld into what we here now. or used to hear, there will,(SAD TO SAY) never be times like tht agin, the frr spirit of that time are gone.BUT they got us where we are today,music wish we are better off.peace wise humans will never get it a few of us do but the all mighty dollar keeps mosy people from the enjoyment of life. i like mime and i thake artist like DONOVAN, for that.
  • Nady from Adelaide, AustraliaDidnt big Paul McCartney do the whispering bits in this song??? hahaha this was the Caramello Koala song: "They call me Caramello...koalaaaa" heh heh
  • Layla from Dc, Dchehe

    my bf calls my mellow yellow
  • Jona from Los Angeles, CaLOL my aunti told me that she tried some mellow yellow way back in the days...and trust me, it was a long way from dried banana peels. lol
  • Ralph from Chicago, Ilthinkin this song about de spice Safron ;)-~
  • Kristen from Beloit, WiFirst of all, ditto to your comment Andrew, I totally agree! Secondly, and not to sound like a smart-ass or anything, but ironically, I was just reading an article about Donovan and the Beatles online and I was curious as to what the meaning was behind some of Donovan's songs, so here I am! The article I read said that: "A second million-seller, Mellow Yellow, soared to No. 2 with vocal help from Paul McCartney. That same year, the Beatles hit with Yellow Submarine, to which Donovan, McCartney's friend and neighbor, contributed the lyric, "Sky of blue and sea of green." Here's the link to the article if anyone is interested: You can't really hear Paul's voice on the song however as he is only providing some of the background vocals, etc..., but if you listen carefully to the song from about 2:12-2:20 during the interlude you can hear him say the word "yellow" at 2:17 and some other sounds in the background. If you listen to a lot of Paul's music, and more importantly are a fan of his, then you'll be able to pick out his voice! Well, anyways, good song!
  • Lou from Scranton, PaURBAN MYTH ALERT!!!! Paul McCartney doesn't sing on the song. It's all Donovan.
  • Pygmy from Boston, MaThe song Mellow Yellow refers to a type of LSD manufactured by Owsley, an underground chemist, the first to produce large quantities of pure LSD from 1966 thru 1967. "Mellow Yellow" is heard in other songs such as Hendrix song "Axis Bold as Love" & in Zappa's song "Absolutely free', both tunes came out in 1967.
  • Andrew from Birmingham, United StatesThis song is CRAZY good. I just wish that oldies stations of stuff this early were still more common in Alabama than this. The earliest we can get around here is "Uncle Albert" tied with "Admiral Halsey". Even that one isn't played too often. Neither is "Listen to What the Man Says". DJ's, you've gotta start playing Donovan and Paul McCartney hits!! Oldies and Rock stations just aren't complete without them!!
  • Lyz from Pickering, CanadaI'm not sure how true this is, but apparently Donovan originally wanted the lyric "I'm just mad about 14" to be "I'm just mad about 14-year old girls" but the studio wouldn't let him. my unlce saw him play live once and that's how he sang it.
  • Leslie from Windsor, CtIt has been rumored that Donovan's friend Paul McCartney whispers the "quite rightly" part of "Mellow Yellow", but this is actually whispered by Donovan. It is possible that Paul was in the studio crowd heard cheering at the end of the song but it has been contested whether or not Paul was there at all.It is rumored that the song "Mellow Yellow" is about smoking dried banana skins, which was believed to be a hallucinogenic drug in the 1960s, but this rumor has since been debunked. According to Donovan's notes accompanying the album "Donovan's Greatest Hits" the rumor that one could get high from smoking dried banana skins was started by Country Joe McDonald in 1966, and happened to occur three weeks before "Mellow Yellow" was released as a single. Thus, the misconception of the song's meaning soon followed its release.

  • Leslie from Windsor, CtOn 24 October 1966 Epic released the rollicking, brass-laden single "Mellow Yellow", arranged by John Paul Jones and purportedly featuring Paul McCartney on uncredited backing vocals. It was rumoured that the phrase "electrical banana" referred to the practice of smoking banana peels to get high. The phrase has also been considered to be a coded reference to a vibrator. Another line in the song that has caused speculation about its meaning is "I'm just mad about Fourteen", and in one live version, he sings, "I'm just mad about fourteen year old girls; they're mad about me." The song became Donovan's signature tune.
  • Mike from Pickering, CanadaThe song's title actually refers to the fact that Donovan had suffered from liver disease in the winter of 1966 and had become severely jaundiced.
  • Mady from Ft. Lauderdale, FlDonovan himself denied that the song was about smoking banana or drugs, but about something a bit more graphic: a yellow dildo.

    The assinine comment that Donovan has no musical talent is totally way off. If you listen to Donovan, you don't hear Dylan so much, but the beginings of a new sound of folk, psychedelic rock setting in the possible influence to Nick Drake & even Led Zeppelin. And Herb Alpert had nothing to do with "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" either.
  • John from Northern, NjWhen the song came out I was 5, but by 14 I knew what the song was about. I am surpised they allowed it on the radio.

    Back in the mid 60's kids liked raiding their mom's drug cabinet to get high.

    Song is about a 14 year old girl named saffron who loves to get high on a popular barbituate of the time that was colored yellow. I tried something similar in my teens and with a little wine, your fingers vibrate like your electric, hence electrical banana.
  • Adam from Greenfield, InIs the banana-hallucogenic rumor true. Because if it is this song is definitely about it... The "electric banana" and the "born high forever to fly"... I am usually one that beleives that very few songs are about drugs, but who are we kidding, it was a huge influence.
  • Scott from Chicago, IlDonovan was kinda like England's answer to Dylan,
    but without the songwriting or musical talent.
    Actually, he pretty much just looked the part,
    sort of like how fabian looked like elvis. THis
    is also the beginning of paul mccartneys' "silly
    period"...You can almost hear Uncle albert/admiral halsley if you listen carefully
    enough. ANd it sure sounds like herb alpert on trumpet!
  • Brandon from Seattle, WaPaul McCartney sung background vocal on "Mellow Yellow", which as thank-you for the song being inspired by the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and Donovan's background vocal on the song, of which Donovan came up with the line, "Sky of blue, sea of green." Because of Donovan being a part of "Yellow Submarine", Donovan went with the Beatles to their retreat to India in the year of 1967.
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