First off, I have to protest the egregious punctuation in the song’s title. “Octopus’ Garden,” please!
Okay, now that I’m off that soapbox, what’s to say about this song?
The song is credited to Richard Starkey (aka Ringo Starr), and according to George Harrison this was only the second song Ringo ever wrote! In 1981, Ringo talked about writing the song:
I wrote “Octopus’s Garden” in Sardinia. Peter Sellers had lent us his yacht and we went out for the day… I stayed out on deck with the captain and we talked about octopuses. He told me that they hang out in their caves and they go around the seabed finding shiny stones and tin cans and bottles to put in front of their cave like a garden. I thought this was fabulous, because at the time I just wanted to be under the sea too. A couple of tokes later with the guitar – and we had Octopus’s Garden
Why did Ringo want to be “under the sea, too”? Well, he took the trip in the midst of the recording of the White Album, as he felt he needed a break from the fractious nature of the Beatles at the time. So bad feelings led to the a joyous experience and song. There’s probably a parable or koan in there.
In the film Let It Be, there is a scene where George is helping Ringo work out some chord changes, but Ringo is given full writing credit. George was one of Ringo’s biggest boosters, perhaps because they could relate to the long shadow cast by their band’s primary songwriters.
Back in 1969, George had this to say about his bandmate and his song:
Ringo gets bored playing the drums, and at home he plays a bit of piano, but he only knows about three chords. He knows about the same on guitar. I think it’s a really great song, because on the surface, it’s just like a daft kids’ song, but the lyrics are great. For me, you know, I find very deep meaning in the lyrics, which Ringo probably doesn’t see, but all the thing like ‘resting our head on the sea bed’ and ‘We’ll be warm beneath the storm’ which is really great, you know. Because it’s like this level is a storm, and if you get sort of deep in your consciousness, it’s very peaceful. So Ringo’s writing his cosmic songs without noticing.
Do octopi really make gardens? I’ve heard that they do, but I’ve never seen one. Apparently their homes are not decorated with shiny stones, but rather littered with the detritus of the mollusks that served as meals.
Don’t know anything else about the song but I have heard some amazing stories about octopi.
Here is a fascinating magazine story about establishing a relationship with an octopus at the New England Aquarium from Orion Magazine.
A volunteer at the NE Aquarium told us how smart the octopus is. At one point, the Aquarium was missing fish from its tanks and suspecting a thief, installed a nighttime videocamera. What the camera found was the octopus getting out of its own tank, and attacking and eating fish from other tanks before returning home!
The animals are so smart that to stimulate them, they encase their meals in multiple locked boxes, forcing the octopi to solve puzzles to get to their food. (There’s more about this in that Orion article.)
The most amazing video (well, besides the octopus on land [love the Minnesotan accent at 1:19]) is the octopus vs. shark:
Any guesses as to what happens when a sea lion meets an octopus?
Wait, this is supposed to be a music blog. Sorry. Back to “Octopus’s Garden”:
Not the most effective mashup ever, but since we mentioned Blondie (back here), I thought I’d link to “Glass Octopus” (Heart of… , … Garden). The backing vocals at 1:38 are nice.
And here’s a link to a parody video with lyrics about Ringo wanting to contribute more to the band.