In the Shade: The True(ish) Story Behind The Beatles’ “Octopus’s Garden”!

Octopus's Garden
Octopus's Garden
Atwood Magazine uncovers the deeper truths and hidden meanings behind The Beatles’ timeless Abbey Road classic “Octopus’s Garden,” and asks that burning question: What was Ringo Starr really singing about 52 years ago?
Stream: “Octopus’s Garden” – The Beatles

It’s the buoyant aquatic jam on Abbey Road: Ringo Starr’s final contribution to The Beatles’ oeuvre, an upbeat and cheerful dedication to cephalopod habitats and love without bounds that gently rises and falls with cascading guitars and charming melodies. It’s been covered by The Muppets three times, it has its own children’s book (written by Starr himself and published in 2014), and in (500) Days of Summer, Zooey Deschanel’s character Summer Finn calls it “the greatest Beatles song ever.”

Simply put, “Octopus’s Garden” is ubiquitous: One of The Beatles’ most iconic, if not also one of their most unique contributions to the modern songbook.

But what inspired this unabridged underwater immersion into the mysterious and oft unforgiving sea world? What sparked The Beatles’ unfiltered embrace of octopedal life? To find out, Atwood Magazine‘s investigative team dove deep into the hazy annals of the late 1960s – and what we discovered may shock you.

This is In the Shade: The True(ish) Story Behind The Beatles’ “Octopus’s Garden”!

Abbey Road - The Beatles
Abbey Road – The Beatles
I’d like to be under the sea
in an octopus’s garden in the shade,
He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been,
in his octopus’s garden in the shade.
I’d ask my friends to come and see
an octopus’s garden with me.
I’d like to be under the sea
in an octopus’s garden in the shade.

Released in September 1969, Abbey Road is often regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. The Beatles’ eleventh studio album and their final set of recordings together seamlessly blends blues, rock, and pop elements into an eclectic seventeen-track array, spanning “Come Together” through “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” on Side One and “Here Comes the Sun,” “Because,” and a 16-minute medley of songs (sometimes referred to as the “Abbey Road Suite”) on Side Two.

As Side One’s fifth track, “Octopus’s Garden” slides in-between the soul-stirring Paul McCartney composition “Oh! Darling” and John Lennon’s slow-burning blues upheaval “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” offering a moment of levity and respite in a relatively intense environment. Opening with a feverish guitar riff that ricochets its way up, only to simmer back down in a joyful groove, the song submerges its audience in a world of playful, easy wonder. Ringo’s second and final solo composition for The Beatles finds him sweetly weaving a dreamlike tale of rest and relaxation “in our little hide-a-way beneath the waves.”

Octopus's Garden, The Book by Ringo Starr
Octopus’s Garden, The Book by Ringo Starr
We would be warm below the storm
in our little hide-a-way beneath the waves.
Resting our head on the sea bed
in an octopus’s garden near a cave.
We would sing and dance around
because we know we can’t be found.
I’d like to be under the sea
in an octopus’s garden in the shade.

But what is Ringo Starr really singing about when he says he’d “like to be under the sea in an octopus’s garden in the shade”? Is it fantastical imagery, or something more sinister: The retelling of a shipwreck tragedy, perhaps, or an urgent call for mankind to escape to oceanic respite? Are The Beatles calling us into the water, because the land is no longer safe for us?

Is it possible that Ringo Starr and The Beatles knew about global warming and climate change in 1969, and that “Octopus’s Garden” was their way of warning the masses?

Sure, “Octopus’s Garden” is as peaceful and fun-loving as they come – “there’s no way this song has some kind of ulterior motive or hidden agenda,” the naysayers will say. But it’s exactly this kind of melodic mirage that would make a perfect hiding place for The Beatles to embed a deeper message: One that used its catchy lines and timeless lyrics to spread awareness of Earth’s impending doom, and our need to find shelter in a watery abyss.

Multiple sources cite a boat trip with comedian Peter Sellers in Sardinia as the song’s origin. Starr supposedly ordered fish and chips for lunch, and received a helping of squid instead – which led to a length discussion with the boat’s captain about how octopuses (yes, the plural of “octopus” is, in fact, “octopuses”) will scour the sea bed for rocks, stones, and other objects they use to build gardens.

A likely story, or a ruse?

The Sellers story fits the narrative, but do the timelines really add up? The next time you’re listening to “Octopus’s Garden,” take a moment to really listen to those words: There’s much more to this song than meets the eye.

The Beatles’ surviving members Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney did not respond to requests for comment. Unfortunately, most octopuses have between a one and five-year lifespan, so no aquatic creatures alive in the 1960s have survived to tell their side of the story.

The mystery of “Octopus’s Garden” lives on, but at least we’re now asking the question: What was Ringo Starr really singing about?

We would shout and swim about
the coral that lies beneath the waves.

Oh what joy for every girl and boy
knowing they’re happy and they’re safe.

We would be so happy, you and me,
no one there to tell us what to do,

I’d like to be under the sea
in an octopus’s garden with you.

Meanwhile, Ringo Starr recently released the five-track Zoom-In EP on March 19, featuring the single “Zoom In Zoom Out.” “Zoom in to get a new perspective, zoom out to see we’re all connected,” he soars in an effervescent chorus. “The distant star is reachable.” There’s clearly something else going on here, and we’ve got our investigators on the case. For now, we’ll leave you, dear reader, to mull over the song’s most prominent and resounding lyric: “Love is what it’s all about.”

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Stream: “Zoom In Zoom Out” – Ringo Starr

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Abbey Road - The Beatles

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? The Beatles © Iain MacMillan, 1969
art © The Beatles

Abbey Road

an album by The Beatles

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