‘Yellow Submarine’ came out only two months after its predecessor. Not much time for anything important to have happened in the meantime, which is why I slightly fudged the timeline last post. Right around the release of ‘The BEATLES’ (I’m stuck with it now) a number of significant events further pried the band apart. George Harrison’s soundtrack to the ‘Wonderwall’ album came out three weeks prior to the band’s album; Linda Eastman moved in with Paul; Yoko Ono suffered a miscarriage (the day before ‘The BEATLES’ was released); John and Yoko released their first album of “unfinished music”, better known as ‘Two Virgins’, and it’s getting a paragraph all to itself.
‘Unfinished Music, vol.1: Two Virgins’ is Lennon and Ono’s preparatory sketch for Revolution 9 stretched over two sides of an LP. Notorious as much for its cover as it is for its self-indulgent racket, it features tape loops, found noises, snippets of actual music and both artists talking mostly gibberish throughout. It’s purported to be essentially a recording of the first night they spent together, and was released – not on any mainstream label – to howls of outrage from people who objected to the photograph of the pair of them in the bare scud on the cover. It didn’t sell particularly well, and its hardly surprising, but it was the clearest possible indication that Lennon was ready to move on.
In the meantime, United Artists wanted another Beatles film, and the band had no interest in making one. Therefore the logical solution was to make an animated feature with voice actors doing their best impressions of the boys. You can look up the ‘Coronation Street’ connection for yourselves. The only things UA insisted upon were four new songs – the contractual minimum required – and at least one scene of live action. The band were initially enormously reluctant, understandably so if you’ve ever seen the appalling TV cartoons. However, ‘Yellow Submarine’ turned out to be much better than anticipated, and in the end they all participated willingly, even taking part in some of the promotional activities surrounding the release.
If you’ve never seen the film, do yourself a favour and seek it out. It’s of course a product of its time – in fact, given the pace at which the Sixties was evolving, it was if anything a little behind the times when it came out in the middle of 1968 – the message of universal peace and love overcoming the forces of oppression and greed was a little harder to take when seen through a haze of teargas. What it is, however, is a masterpiece of animation and of blending the surreal, psychedelic, colour saturated visuals with the music. It’s at once trippy and childlike, and was a clear influence on several generations of animators to follow – it does the Terry GIlliam thing just around the time the Gilliam himself was starting to play with the same ideas. The trailer gives an idea of what’s on offer:
If the film is a masterpiece, the same cannot be said for the soundtrack album. Released a matter of weeks after ‘The BEATLES’, it was done in the style of the earlier US film soundtracks, with the second side taken up with George Martin’s orchestral doodlings and incidental music. Even the first side leaves us a little short-changed, with only four of the six songs on offer being new, and – let’s face it – none of them in the top rank of Beatles songs. Well, OK, maybe one of them…
‘Only a Northern Song’ features George whining – justifiably, to be fair – about being effectively a hired hand in the songwriting stakes, and does not stick around in the memory for long, although as a fan of Hammond organ in rock music I do love the opening. ‘Hey Bulldog’, contrary to the spirit of the rest of the album, is an absolute corker of a song – the video is worth a watch for the sense of a band, even in the grip of their various animosities, unable to resist the joy of a proper rock song:
‘It’s All Too Much’ is only a little less dreary than Harrison’s other offering, is way too long, and we’ve heard this all before. But it’s still better than ‘All Together Now’, which should really only be experienced in the context of the film, as otherwise you’re forced to accept that McCartney farted out the simplest lyrical and melodic line he could think of, repeated it for two minutes, shrugged and said “that’ll do”.
Side two is pretty bland in truth – all early 20th century romanticism, with snippets of Handel and Bach along with the merest hints of Beatles melodies here and there. Like all but the very best film scores, it makes no sense shorn of the visuals and is basically just a money-making exercise.
I’m struggling here, can you tell?
All in all, this is an awful rip-off of an album; save your money and buy the restored DVD of the film (or even, if you really need a copy of ‘Hey Bulldog’, the ‘Yellow Submarine Songtrack’ which came out a few years back – it contains all the music with the exception of ‘A Day in the Life’ and Martin’s burblings)