What’s Up with Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow”? [Lyric Detective]


“They call me Mellow Yellow” — whether you heard this hook in a Cadbury’s commercial, a Gap ad, or your parents have been diehard Donovan fans since the ’60s, you’ve probably wondered what in the heck it means. Let’s ask James Joyce, shall we? Please turn to page 604 of Ulysses (at least it is my copy) Chapter 17, where Leopold Bloom’s wife gets the “mellow yellow” treatment: “He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.”

OK, not so helpful. Moving on. Some suppose the phrase refers to dried banana skins, which were smoked — but not for daily-recommended amounts of potassium like you might think. Others believe “Mellow Yellow” refers to a type of LSD manufactured by Owlsey Stanley (an underground LSD cook) from the ’60s. The phrase can also be heard in the Hendrix tune “Axis: Bold as Love” (“My yellow in this case is not so mellow”) and in Zappa’s “Absolutely Free” (“The dreams as they live them are all/mellow yellow”).

Donovan told Rolling Stone that the phrase refers to a vibrator (“an electrical banana”). Miami-based musician Rachel Goodrich prefers to think of the phrase as a psychedelic, shakin’ moon-beam that radiates from eyeballs. Download her ukulele-happy version for free here.