Sardinia is the lesser-known island off the coast of Italy, Sicily being the greater known. However, it was off the coast of the lesser and not the greater where Ringo Starr was inspired to begin penning the lyrics to his second and most popular contribution to any Beatles album: "Octopus’s Garden" (his first, "Don’t Pass Me By," appeared on the Double LP commonly known as The White Album
The Beatles had a reputation for insinuating double meanings in their lyrics; Starr was no different. These meanings run the gamut from extremely tame to extremely wild. It has been speculated that "Octopus’s Garden" is an abstract reference to a vagina: We would be warm, below the storm; In our little hideaway beneath the waves.
Additionally, the line Oh, what joy for every girl and boy, knowing they're happy and they're safe,
have led people to believe the song is a children’s tune.
The story goes…
Ringo, having been invited on a cruise by his friend Peter Sellers, sat down to eat while floating off the coast of the island, and rather than getting the fish and chips he’d ordered, the yacht’s chef prepared and served squid, instead. Peter, ever the comedian, launched into a tongue-in-cheek lecture about how octopi hover along the ocean floor, picking up rocks, coral, and other shiny objects to collect inside their "gardens."
With George Harrison’s help, Ringo completed composition of the song back at Abbey Road Studios and the final recorded version ended up on the Beatles last LP, Abbey Road
. Prior to writing both "Octopus’s Garden" and "Don’t Pass Me By," Ringo had contributed lead vocals to at least one cut on seven of the Beatles preceding eleven albums (not A Hard Day’s Night
or Magical Mystery Tour
). He sings:
"Yellow Submarine" – Revolver
"With a Little Help from my Friends" – Sgt. Pepper's
"I Wanna Be Your Man" – With the Beatles
"Boys" – Please Please Me
"Matchbox" – 45 rpm single (no album)
"Honey Don’t" – Beatles For Sale
"Act Naturally" – Help!
"What Goes On" – Rubber Soul
"Good Night" – The White Album
The reason why Ringo sang so few songs for the Fab Four is his unique voice. His vocal personality is one of the most identifiable in popular music history. In fact, his voice was so specific that Lennon and McCartney wrote songs with him in mind for lead vocals. The melody lines were tailored for Starr’s limited baritone range.
While Harrison had developed the reputation within the band, and the public, as the quiet one – McCartney was the cute one and Lennon was the funny one – Starr’s personality came out in odd and interesting ways. He had a crazy idiosyncrasy of saying common idioms wrong or backwards. These minuscule mistakes became known as Ringoisms and often inspired his other bandmates’ song writing.
McCartney commented, “Ringo would do these little malapropisms. He would say things slightly wrong, like people do, but his were always wonderful; very lyrical… they were sort of magic.” When Starr was at his best, he could contribute additional lyrics to the other Beatles’ compositions, as well. For instance, the line in "Eleanor Rigby," …darning his socks in a night when there’s nobody there
” is attributed to him.
In addition to his moonlighting as a singer and songwriter, Starr, as most people are aware, played drums for the biggest band in history, having scored the gig after replacing Pete Best (the first Beatles’ drummer). Originally, fans booed the change and demanded Best return. However, after just a couple years, Starr had endeared himself to fans so much that they wrote thousands of pieces of fan mail to him, demanding that he sing some songs for himself.
Was it the enthusiasm of the fans that first prompted Lennon and McCartney to give Ringo a chance behind the microphone? We’ll never know. But one thing’s for certain: Starr’s handful of songs have become classics in their own right over the past 50 years. Covers for many of his songs have popped up, including Jim Henson’s Muppets who, on Sesame Street
, performed their own version of "Octopus’s Garden." Whatever Starr’s true (or double) meaning for the song, one thing can be assured: it’s a jovial frolic of a tune to be enjoyed by young and old throughout the ages.
So, after all that, what did
Ringo Starr think about his squid? “It was okay. A bit rubbery and tasted like chicken.”
~ Justin Novelli
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