Yellow Submarine is the Beatles album – and yes it is a proper album – that nobody ever talks about. This is quite possibly because only one side of it is actually by The Beatles – and all but four of those toe-tapping Beatle numbers had been previously been very very widely heard elsewhere – and the other side is George Martin’s orchestral score from the animated feature length collision of mind-hurting psychedelic graphics and humour-denting puns that owed as much to the sixties satire boom as it did to the far-out influence of far-out hallucinogenic prophecies that gave this soundtrack album both its name and its reason to exist in the first place. It isn’t difficult to see why the sort of fans who believe that The Beatles existed independently of the rest of the sixties in its entirety and indeed all of time and space full stop might elect to ignore this particular entry in their discography, nor indeed the sort of listeners who rely on columns in The Observer about how Davina McCall and the 118 running men have spoiled ‘pure pop’ or something to inform them that we all like The White Album best now no arguments, but to casually disregard or even disdain Yellow Submarine is to petulantly deny three particularly significant and more importantly joyful aspects of the Beatle story in favour of… well, nobody’s quite sure what exactly.
Firstly there are those two spectacular yet little-heard George Harrison numbers Only A Northern Song and It’s All Too Much and John and Paul’s rockier Hey Bulldog, offcuts from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that hinted a very different direction more adjacent to what The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Pink Floyd were up to that the album could have taken if the narrator of Getting Better had not ironically prevailed; also there is All Together Now which is also a song that is on the album. Then there are George Martin’s contributions, which as well as swirling in nightmarish extremes of psychedelia on the likes of Pepperland Laid Waste and Sea Of Monsters that all of those characters in Edwardian jackets harmonising about Auntie Edith’s Button Shop hadn’t even had ‘bad trips’ about are simply tremendous pieces of music in general, and in any case, having absolutely no interest whatsoever in the outside work of someone who was not only arguably the most inventive producer of a decade when pop music had no technological option other than to be inventive but also had the most legitimate claim out of anyone ever to be the ‘Fifth’ Beatle is just verging on obstinacy, frankly. Most importantly, however, there were the many times Yellow Submarine showed up in the evening midweek on the BBC, causing an entire generation to plead to be allowed to ‘stay up’ to see what happened with Old Fred’s quest to locate the Fab Four, which probably did more to cement and preserve the reputation of The Beatles at a time when they were arguably at their lowest cultural and critical standing – well, relatively – than any bloke with a studiedly precise John Lennon haircut and exaggeratedly jutted-out nose scowling about how them Matt and Luke Goss couldn’t play the chords off Take Nine Hundred And Forty Three of Please Don’t Bring That Banjo Back ever has.
In this chat with Beatles expert Chris Shaw you can hear me explaining exactly how and why Yellow Submarine deserves more attention and respect than it currently seems to get – which is especially strange considering that despite once being written off as a fun novelty the movie itself is held in incredibly high regard now – as well as looking at its position in the wider context of sixties pop music and soundtracks and George Martin’s wildly eccentric career, not to mention standing up for the widely-ignored new Beatles numbers featured on the album. Well, three of them at least. You’ll also find out who I believe did Hey Bulldog better than The Beatles, why I think The League Of Gentlemen might have listened to the George Martin side more than once, more of my theories on the still unreleased Carnival Of Light, and the very strange tale of how I first became interested in The Beatles in the first place, which only partially involves TV’s Peter Serafinowicz. Plus there’s plenty more on loads of mid-sixties pop you may or may not have heard including AMM, Timon, The Eyes and George Martin’s launch music for Radio 1. Beatles To Battle!
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You can find a huge feature on the legendary unreleased Beatles track Carnival Of Light in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. I’m sure Jeremy can probably rustle one up if you’re not too familiar with an espresso machine. Though he might go on for a bit first.
Chris has been a guest Looks Unfamiliar talking about Bailey’s Comets, The Phantom Tollbooth early phone-in interactive role playing game F.I.S.T., BBC Trade Test film Evoluon, Robbue Vincent’s Radio London show and BBC2’s Rock School; you can find it here.
The Alternative Anthology is a playlist with ‘sleevenotes’ looking at some of the furthest out covers of Beatles songs that were released in direct competition with the originals; you can find it here. You can also find me talking about Peter And Sophia, the comedy album that Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers made with George Martin, on Goon Pod here.
Meet The Mono Beatles! is a look at Capitol Records’ eccentric approach to launching the Fab Four in America; you can find it here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.