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Thursday, March 22, 2012

YELLOW SUBMARINE

In January of 1969, not even two full months after the release of the double album The Beatles, this album surprisingly appeared - surprising not only because of the closeness of the release dates, but because the film Yellow Submarine had been released back in the summer of 1968.  The group had not wanted the soundtrack album to come out months before the double album, fearing that it would hurt sales, yet they were okay with it coming out hard on the heels of the "White Album."  At any rate, they need not have feared the competition from themselves, because Yellow Submarine is far and away the weakest entry in the catalog.

SIDE ONE

Yellow Submarine - The title song is from August of 1966, available as both a single and as a track on the album Revolver.  For my look at this song, see my entry Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine.

Only a Northern Song - The basic track for this Harrison composition was recorded in February of 1967 as George's first offering for Sgt. Pepper.  Final overdubs were added in April of '67 after it was left off of that album.  The song is a throwaway, with the lyrics poking fun at George's junior status in the group and its publishing company, Northern Songs, Ltd.  The Beatles attempted to play the trumpet part themselves.  There is a lovely photo from the April overdub session of manager Brian Epstein smiling as John, Paul and George play around him, probably making a horrific noise.  A glockenspiel was also put to extensive use on the track.  The song is used quite effectively for the most psychedelic sequence in the film.

All Together Now - McCartney's only new song for the soundtrack is this fun singalong number recorded in May of '67.  John plays harmonica and sings lead on the bridge, and everybody in the room joins the chorus.  In Tell Me Why, Tim Riley points out how much discipline is required of the group to keep the gradual acceleration from spiraling out of control.  The song is used twice in the film - once for an animated sequence and at the end with the Beatles themselves.  The group had pretty much kept away from the project until it was nearing completion and they suddenly realized just how good it was.  Only then did they agree to make an onscreen appearance to bring the film to a close.

Hey Bulldog - Lennon's sole contribution was not recorded until February of 1968 while the group was making a promotional film for Lady Madonna.  Instead of miming to that song, they were seen in the studio working on this great little-known rocker.  During the extended fadeout, John and Paul have way too much fun trying to crack each other up.  This song was given to the film so late in the game that its sequence did not even make it into the American prints.  When the film was released on DVD in 1999, not only was the animated sequence restored, but the promotional film was re-edited and broadcast to show the boys really doing Hey Bulldog. 

It's All Too Much - The only Beatle with two new compositions on the album is Harrison, who adds this psychedelic number recorded in May and June of '67 at the De Lane Lea Music Recording Studios to the soundtrack.  The song begins with some Jimi Hendrix-like feedback before settling into a heavy, droning groove that lasts almost seven minutes.  The film only uses a few minutes of it, but still includes a verse not on the album.  Four trumpets and a bass clarinet were overdubbed.

All You Need Is Love - The single from the Summer of Love (also available on the American Magical Mystery Tour LP) closes out side one.  I cover this song in my entry All You Need Is Love b/w Baby, You're a Rich Man.

SIDE TWO

Pepperland
Sea of Time
Sea of Holes
Sea of Monsters
March of the Meanies
Pepperland Laid Waste
Yellow Submarine in Pepperland

All of the above selections were incidental music by George Martin.  Another reason for the delay of the album was that, instead of using the music as it appeared in the film, Martin wanted to rerecord these tracks for disc.  This did not happen until October of 1968 after completion of the "White Album."  As entertaining and inventive as this music is, it was not why most fans bought the record.  The Beatles had been highly critical of the American releases of their early soundtracks - the United Artists version of A Hard Day's Night and the Capitol version of Help! - both of which had intertwined the group's songs with incidental music from those films, yet here they were doing essentially the same thing.  Aside from separating the music on opposite sides of the album, the main difference in this instance is that the group's songs are of a decidedly inferior quality.

When the album was released, it became the only one during their career to not hit number one in both the UK and the US.  It was also criticized for reasons I have stated above.  Mark Lewisohn reports in The Beatles: Recording Sessions that they took the criticism to heart and had a master for an EP prepared in March.  The EP would have played at LP speed and included the four original songs plus a bonus track, the still-unreleased Across the Universe from February of 1968.  For some reason, it was never released.


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