The ‘Yellow Submarine’ album is a curious entry in the Beatles official catalogue. It came about because the Beatles were contractually obliged to write four original songs for the animated film of the same name. The band were busy recording the White album at the time and not much bothered about doing it, so decided to keep the recording of the four songs completely separate to the other sessions. Thus, what was produced was slightly half-assed in nature but some bits of charm still shine through.
The film was released in July 1968, but the soundtrack was not released until January 1969, so not to clash with the white album’s release. The Beatles did not give much attention to the film, but warmed to it once they saw the excellent finished product.
The soundtrack is probably the least important official release of the Beatles career, containing two old songs, four new songs and the rest is instrumental music for the film that the Beatles did no work on.
I’ve always been a big fan of Ringo songs on Beatles’ albums so it’s really nice to see that a film was based around one of them. He deserved some recognition because, other than his drumming which is greatly underrated, his songs always added something to an album. His voice always has a friendly warmth to it and ‘Yellow Submarine’ is really his defining number. I said before in a previous review that only the Beatles could pull a song like this off – a Rolling Stones or Jimi Hendrix version (despite how much I love those guys) would probably sound terrible. This is definitely a Beatles’ song through and through with its quirky nature and laddish drunken sing-along mentality, making it as charming now as it was 50 years ago.
Other than the title track, the other previously released song is ‘All You Need is Love’, which is the perfect song to accompany the joyous animation of the film. If you wanted one song to distil the Beatles’ message of peace and define the ideals of the swinging sixties it would be this song. Filled with nothing but goodness, it’s the feel-good songs of all feel-good songs.
Of the new songs, they maybe don’t fit the theme as well; and are slightly inconsistent. Harrison’s ‘Only A Northern Song’ is a trippy but ultimately jokey and slightly incoherent number. It’s about Harrison feeling slightly aggrieved about not getting enough credit for his writing and royalties for the output the Beatles’ were producing. The song is a bit lazy, but then in many ways that is the point. Harrison is basically saying ‘why bother?’ when the credit for his work isn’t being given. Everyone likes a good moan once in awhile I suppose.
Jumping back to the more upbeat, ‘All Together Now’ is a classic sing-along back and forth around the guitar style song in which everyone is drunk and singing loudly. So it makes perfect sense that it would become a popular chant around football terraces during games in England at the time. It’s throwaway for sure but still has a fun, rousing quality to it and from experience can easily get stuck in the head for days afterwards (and is absolutely the perfect song to dance like an idiot to).
But by far the highlight of the new material is ‘Hey Bulldog’, a number with a really dirty baseline played expertly by McCartney that is one of the Beatles’ heaviest sounding songs. The lyrics complement the number wonderfully with Lennon given it a full loud vocal before it deteriotes into barking and wailing and screaming.
It’s a fun weird song that has the slight ham radio comedy skit feel about it at the end, and more the better for it- a sort of far more coherent version of their mid-60s Christmas records condensed into one pure rock song.
The last of the original Beatles’ songs is ‘It’s All Too Much’ which is another Harrison-penned song. It seems to be his attempt to write a rock n roll song about LSD. The result is almost a dance song with a strong drum beat and distorted guitar strings intertwining to feel like a skyward gazing 90s psychedelic dance record. I think it’s better than ‘Only a Northern Song’ (Harrison was always better when upbeat and slightly spiritualised) and this has a slight rousing gospel feel to it somehow, which always makes me happily bounce my head along to as it plays.
The rest of the album is filled up with instrumental music for the film, which had little involvment from the Beatles themselves. Instead we have producer George Martin arranging a musical score of a 42 piece orchestra. It’s nice that George Martin, a crucial element in the Beatles success, gets his moment in the spotlight but it is mostly just soundtrack music.
The two stand-outs are ‘Pepperland’ and ‘March of the Meanies’. ‘Pepperland’ has some pretty lovely violin and pianos moments throughout, really using a large orchestra feel to its full power. It has that sound of a big opening credit song to a 1950s big budget musical. ‘March of the Meanies’ on the other hand has this brilliant urgent threat feel to it, a real ‘enter bad-guy’ song for a film that works really well. It really isn’t that far removed from the dark side music in Star Wars.
The ‘Sea of Time’, ‘Sea of Holes’ and ‘Sea of Monsters’ are mostly disposable pieces with incidental music interwoven to react to what is happening in the movie. It’s an easy listen but rarely gives anything too memorable that you’d hum an hour later.
The album closes with more dread music in ‘Pepperland Laid Waste’ which is equally disposable, and then ends with a reworked orchestral version of the ‘Yellow Submarine’, which is actually very pretty piece that is removed enough from the original to be worth your time (but lacks the Ringo charm a bit).
This is the least essential album in any Beatles’ collection, but worth a listen on Youtube. Only ‘All Together Now’ and ‘Hey Bulldog’ are likely to get heavy rotation on an iPod, because both are brilliant, but I also liked the trippy good-natured ‘It’s All Too Much.’
Finally giving Sir George Martin the spotlight is a fantastic tribute to his importance as a part of the Beatles, but I think his album of reworked Beatles songs featuring Jim Carrey singing ‘I am the Walrus’, Goldie Hawn singing a jazzy sexy ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and Robin Williams doing ‘Come Together’ is far more an essential purchase.
Six and a half out of ten and one billion parodies