There are two albums called “Yellow Submarine” and it’s easy to confuse the two. “Yellow Submarine” consists of six songs by The Beatles and seven orchestral tracks recorded by George Martin from the film soundtrack. Four of these songs were previously unreleased.
In 1999, an album was released called “Yellow Submarine Songtrack” which features the four unreleased songs along with eleven well known Beatles songs, ten of which were heard in the film. These eleven songs were re mixed. The release of this “songtrack” coincided with the re release of the film at the same time. However, I am going to focus on the 1969 release.
In 1967, The Beatles signed a new contract with EMI/Capitol committing them to record 60 new songs. By January 1969 they had released 56 songs so they needed 4 more songs to fulfill this contract. These 4 unreleased songs were “Only A Northern Song”, “All Together Now”, “Hey Bulldog” and “It’s All Too Much” which were put out on the album along with “Yellow Submarine” and “All You Need Is Love”.
Northern Songs was a publishing company set up by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Dick James in 1963. In retrospect, Dick James’ 50% share now seems excessive but at the time, it was a good deal compared to many such arrangements made at the time. George Harrison owned about 1% of the company and was a contracted songwriter until 1968 at which point he set up his own company, Harrisongs. “Only A Northern Song” was originally intended to be on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”. One of the concepts that was suggested for the album was that it should be an album about their childhood and their Liverpudlian roots. Certainly, “Penny Lane”, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “When I’m Sixty Four” fit into this and George Harrison’s contribution appeared to be about singing songs from the North but was, in fact, a sarcastic and bitter criticism of the nature of his financial publishing deal. Kenneth Womack, in “Long And Winding Roads” suggests that the real concept for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” is a rallying call to consciousness and self-awareness. John Lennon didn’t feel that “Only A Northern Song” fitted in with the positivity of the album and rejected the song. The song is fairly negative about The Beatles and could be set alongside “Not Guilty” (an unreleased song which asks the other Beatles not to blame George Harrison for their dalliance with meditation) as akin to washing the Beatles’ dirty laundry in public.
On Monday 13th February 1967, three days after the mammoth recording session for “A Day In The Life”, The Beatles recorded 9 takes of “Only A Northern Song”. When George Harrison sings “If you’re listening to this song, you may think the chords are going wrong but they’re not. He just wrote it like that”, the instrumentation is deliberately off key with a discordant trumpet, played by Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s random piano and glockenspiel playing. As always with The Beatles, the imagination is truly impressive and what could be a mess becomes a psychedelic masterpiece with cynical droll lyrics.
“All Together Now” lasts for just over 2 minutes and the title is sung over 50 times. The song was written by Paul McCartney and he takes turns to sing the verses with John Lennon. It was conceived as a children’s song and written in Rishikesh. Recording took place on Friday May 12th 1967, the day after The Beatles recorded “Baby You’re A Rich Man”. John Lennon plays harmonica on a song for the first time in over 2 years (rather more successfully than “John Lennon” of The Fab Four).
In the USA, the sequence of the “Yellow Submarine” film which accompanied “Hey Bulldog” was cut. That’s a shame because it’s a great song which was recorded on February 11th 1968. “Lady Madonna” was a month away from release and The Beatles were soon off to Rishikesh so they agreed to go to the Abbey Road studios to record a promotional film which could be played on “Top Of The Pops” and other TV shows. They took the opportunity to record a new song by John Lennon. The first video shows them recording “Hey Bulldog” even though the accompanying track is “Lady Madonna”. Yoko Ono was present at the recording of this song and possibly that explains the slightly avant-garde conclusion to the song. Although it was common for The Beatles to carry on playing once a song had come to its end, in this case their larking about with dog noises was not faded out. Another example of this is was when they continued with “Revolution” and John Lennon started screaming towards the 15 minute mark; these screams can be heard on “Revolution 9”.
The best of the four new tracks is another George Harrison song, “It’s All Too Much” which is over six minutes long. The song was written as a celebration of the experiences George Harrison had when taking LSD. (“The more I go inside, the more there is to see”). Rob Sheffield, who wrote the fantastic book, “Dreaming The Beatles” wrote that this song is in “the top five all-time psychedelic freakouts in rock history“. The song was recorded on May 25th 1967 and May 26th at the De Lane Lea Music Recording Studios near Holborn Station, five days before the release of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”. The long seemingly improvised coda includes a snatch of Jeremiah Clarke’s “Prince Of Denmark’s March” and a line from “Sorrow” by The Merseybeats.
In the film “Yellow Submarine”, “It’s All Too Much” is played towards the end of the film once The Flying Glove has been defeated. According to Kenneth Womack, the sequence “celebrates the colorful beauty of friendship and music that have been restored to Pepperland”. Ringo Starr said “that’s the track that really sets the mood of the movie – that’s where the music and the movie really gel.“
Side Two of “Yellow Submarine” does not feature any of The Beatles so, in one way, is a disappointment. On the other hand, it’s popular classical music which is very redolent of the late Sixties. For those of us who like “Days Of Future Passed” or “Deep Purple In Concert”, it’s great. George Martin re-scored the instrumental music and it’s imaginative as well as being groovy, fab and gear.
The final track is “Yellow Submarine In Pepperland” which takes melodies from “Yellow Submarine” and puts a classical spin on them.
The Beatles made two films, “A Hard Day’s Night” in 1964 and “Help!” in 1965. I went to see them both and loved them. Obviously I preferred “Help!” because it was in colour and had exotic locations. Time, and the critics, have told me that my preferences are misguided and “A Hard Day’s Night” is now revered as a classic whereas “Help!” was self indulgent with a silly story. Hang on! That’s why I loved “Help!”. In fact, I still love both films. I wonder how many times I’ve watched them? By 1966, The Beatles wanted to move forward artistically and repeating the film making experience was not on their agenda. John Lennon would spend Autumn filming “How I Won The War” and Ringo Starr appeared in “Candy” in 1968 so it wasn’t appearing in a film that they objected to. It was appearing in a Beatles film that they wanted to avoid. The problem was that Brian Epstein had signed them to United Artists for three films. By appearing in person towards the end of “Yellow Submarine”, they fulfilled their contract. Between 1965 and 1967, a cartoon series, just titled “The Beatles” was broadcast on American TV. George Dunning and Al Brodax worked on this and they subsequently directed “Yellow Submarine”.
The Beatles story is the greatest story ever told and I can’t get enough detail. The more I go inside, the more there is to see.