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“Mellow Yellow” by Donovan is the most beloved 1960s song with the word “yellow” in the title that wasn’t released by The Beatles. During an interview, the “Atlantis” singer opined that his catalog was a lot more diverse than The Beatles’, to the point where he sounded like a completely different artist from song to song. Donovan also said something about his background made him similar to George Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney. While “Mellow Yellow” might be one of the most unusual hits of the period, it wouldn’t be the same without a little help from Paul.

Donovan said ‘Mellow Yellow’ and ‘Barabajagal’ were more original than any Beatles songs

During a 2016 interview with Best Classic Bands, a reporter asked Donovan why “Mellow Yellow” was so different from the rest of his catalog. “Why were they all so different?” he replied. “I displayed more of the painterly, the artist mode, although George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Ronnie Wood, and Charlie Watts all could paint. We all went to art school. This was a talent.

“‘Mellow Yellow’ is a color, of course, and the whole idea of not doing the same single again and again, to me, was that when you heard a Beatles single you would know that’s The Beatles,” he said. “When you heard a Donovan single, you said, ‘Who the hell’s that?’ Especially ‘Barabajagal.'” “Barabajagal,” with its hard rock riffs and nonsensical lyrics, is Donovan’s most peculiar hit.

Donovan compared himself to Pablo Picasso

Donovan also commented on the avant-garde nature of “Mellow Yellow.” “‘Mellow Yellow’ was off the wall for a lot of people but a lot of painters in the modern world don’t repeat themselves,” he said. “They make one thing. Picasso would make one statement. Maybe he’d do a few sketches beforehand but after he made that statement, he was not really interested anymore in that. I’m like a painter in that sense.”

Donovan noted how much his sound had evolved by the time he released “Mellow Yellow.” He said his early classics, like “Universal Soldier,” “Catch the Wind,” and “Colours,” could be classified as folk songs. Each of those tracks is very distinct from the psychedelic groove of “Mellow Yellow.”


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The Beatles’ Paul McCartney added his own touch to ‘Mellow Yellow’

Even if “Mellow Yellow” is more cutting-edge than anything The Beatles ever released (and you’d be hard-pressed to find a classic rock fan who felt that way), it’s still true that Paul helped put the song together. During a 2008 interview with Goldmine, Donovan said Paul added a clap and a giggle to “Mellow Yellow.” That’s the sort of cute touch that would become a trademark for Paul.

That collaboration was just par for the course for Donovan, who had a habit of crossing paths with other 1960s icons. For example, he appeared in Bob Dylan’s documentary Don’t Look Back. He also helped write one of the lyrics of The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and worked on Mary Hopkin’s Post Card. In addition, members of Led Zeppelin played on “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”

Whether it upstaged The Beatles or not, Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow” stands as a testament to the expansive nature of 1960s pop.