Much like cosmic structures, The Beatles got so massive toward the end of the 1960s that it was only a matter of time before they collapsed. Most successful bands will usually have one key creative driver and occasionally two. As for The Beatles, they had John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who remain the most successful songwriting partnership of all time to this day. However, as the band entered their more spiritual and avant-garde phase of the late 1960s, George Harrison became increasingly revered as a songwriter and grew frustrated with his limited contribution allowance. Even Ringo Starr, who usually remained free of the songwriting process, began to show true potential.
Of the entire Beatles back-catalogue, Starr only contributed two solo songwriting credits. His first solo songwriting contribution came in 1968 with ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, which appeared on the group’s eponymous (“White”) album. Starr’s most famous Beatles contribution, however, came a year later with the release of Abbey Road.
“‘Octopus’s Garden’ is Ringo’s song,” Harrison once said. “It’s only the second song Ringo has ever written, mind you, and it’s lovely… I suppose Ringo is writing cosmic songs these days without even realising it.”
Starr’s ‘Octopus’s Garden’ was considered a worthy addition to the album, which is considered by many as one of The Beatles’ finest. While some fans and critics behold the song with harsh criticism, it’s certainly more listenable than the likes of ‘Maxwell Silver Hammer’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’, and equally as harmless.
The lyrics depict a psychedelic image of The Beatles meeting an octopus in his garden in the shade beneath the waves. Starr’s imagined scene is, of course, a far cry from anything that would ordinarily occur in the real world. Octopuses aren’t known for being hospitable to singing and dancing strangers, but the lyrics were triggered by real-life events.
Earlier this year, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Starr revealed how he came up with the idea for ‘Octopus’s Garden’. He explained that it all started when he borrowed Peter Sellers’ yacht for a family holiday in Sardinia.
“Two things happened,” the drummer began. “One was the nanny we had with us was carrying Jason [who] was a little kid and she — we were just climbing over rocks and then she stopped, and she said ‘take the baby…’ so I took my son and I said, ‘well what’s going on,’ and there was an octopus wrapped around her leg.”
Later, Starr smoked a joint, and they had octopus and chips for lunch (presumably not the one stuck to the nanny’s leg). In a conversation with the Captain, Starr learned about how octopuses collect tins and pretty rocks to make little gardens underwater.
Inspired, presumably with a dropped jaw and bloodshot eyes, Starr began writing some lyrics with his guitar. “Well, when you’re stoned, that’s the best idea,” the drummer said, receiving applause from the audience. “And so, I did start because I had my guitar there, and I played three chords, so everything’s in three chords.”
Listen to Ringo Starr’s ‘Octopus’s Garden’ below.