Album Spotlight: The Beatles—Yellow Submarine

If Magical Mystery Tour was the double EP set that should have been (and soon was) an album, then Yellow Submarine, the Beatles’ eleventh record, was the album that should have been an EP. With only four new songs and one side of a soundtrack album, the record showed that it was an afterthought by the band. They had agreed to provide four new songs for the film, and they did—but one was an outtake, and two of the others toss-offs, recorded in one day.

Despite the lack of enthusiasm, however, Yellow Submarine is not a bad record. George Harrison dominates with two of the four new songs, and all of the new tunes have a pleasant psychedelic feel—the last of that era. So although it’s slight, it’s still enjoyable.

Yellow Submarine: See my Revolver review. I’ll just add that it makes a perfect opening to the film and was an excellent choice for the basis of its plot.

Only A Northern Song: The first of George’s tunes, and an outtake from the Sgt. Pepper sessions, originally titled Not Known. Recorded February 13-14th and again on April 20th, 1967, with both mixes being mixed in sync on April 21st of that year for the final recording. Because of the difficulty in syncing the two mixes in mono, no stereo mix was made, and the song remained unreleased in anything but fake/duophonic stereo (which was created on October 29th, 1968) until its release on the Yellow Submarine Songtrack. More about that below. George came up with the title as a pun on the Beatles’ publishing company, Northern Songs, and his cynicism about coming up with tunes for them; he would soon establish his own publisher, Harrisongs. While this isn’t a deep piece, I like the psychedelic sound of it, and the tune. It’s one of my favorite Harrison tunes.

All Together Now: Recorded and mixed for mono in one day, May 12th, 1967. Mixed for stereo October 29th, 1968. A pleasant if inconsequential children’s song by Paul with the suggestive line “Can I take my friend to bed?”1 There was no producer on the session as George Martin had the night off, although Geoff Emerick was in charge of the controls.

Hey Bulldog: The last song recorded, done on February 11th, 1968. Mixed for stereo October 29th. Originally the plan had been on this day to mime recording for a film clip to promote their new single, Lady Madonna; but instead they whizzed through John’s new tune to finish their obligation to the film. It’s a marvelous rocker, with some fun ad-libbing at the end with John and Paul barking and carrying on, which they decided not to fade out. The lyrics are rather bizarre, but this was nothing new for Lennon.

It’s All Too Much: George’s second tune, and the most ambitious of the four. It began as Too Much on May 25th, 1967, with additional recording on the 31st and June 2nd, with four trumpets and a bass clarinet overdubbed on the latter day. All recording was done at De Lane Lea Music Recording Studios in London. Final mono and stereo mixes were done in a 24-hour session on October 16th-17th.2 Beginning with guitar feedback and centered around an organ and sharp handclaps, this is the one new song which truly feels like a group effort. With uplifting, psychedelic lyrics, it was a perfect choice for the movie’s penultimate finale.

All You Need Is Love: See my Magical Mystery Tour review. This was the first appearance of the stereo mix, done October 29th, 1968. The version which had been released in “stereo” on the Magical Mystery Tour album was a duophonic mix of the mono version, which was ten seconds longer. Much later on, the true stereo version was substituted on MMT.

Side Two of this album is not by the Beatles, but by the George Martin Orchestra, with rerecorded takes of the soundtrack music from the film. If anyone wants to discuss them in the comments, feel free. My own feeling is that while it’s pleasant soundtrack music, it’s nothing exceptional.

Released January 17th, 1969; the delayed date was due to the release of The Beatles in November of 1968, and because of George Martin’s insistance upon rerecording the soundtrack music. This was the first Beatles album to be issued in stereo only, with no mono release. However, on March 13th, 1969, a master tape was compiled at EMI for a mono EP release to run at 33 1/3 rpm, with Side A consisting of Only A Northern Song, Hey Bulldog and Across The Universe,3 and Side B containing All Together Now and It’s All Too Much. This probably would have been better value for the money, but it was never issued.

The CD was originally released in 1987, with the stereo remaster issued September 9th, 2009. The mono mixes from the aforementioned EP were released on The Beatles In Mono box as part of the Mono Masters compilation album, also available on vinyl.

Perhaps the greatest problem with Yellow Submarine, apart from the paucity of new material, is the fact that it’s not a good representation of the movie soundtrack, which included 16 Beatles songs or snippets of songs. To remedy this, on September 13th, 1999, the Yellow Submarine Songtrack was released to coincide with the film’s rerelease in theaters. It contained 15 of the songs from the film (presumably the excerpt from A Day In The Life was too brief to warrant its inclusion), and to the delight of many Beatles fans, all of the songs were remixed for the first time. The remixes were performed by Peter Cobbin, assisted by Paul Hicks and Mirek Stiles. Only A Northern Song received its first true stereo mix for this album.

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Track listing:

Yellow Submarine

Hey Bulldog

Eleanor Rigby

Love You To

All Together Now

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

Think For Yourself

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

With A Little Help From My Friends [sic]

Baby You’re A Rich Man

Only A Northern Song

All You Need Is Love

When I’m Sixty-Four

Nowhere Man

It’s All Too Much

While I think that it was an excellent idea to release a new, more complete edition of the Yellow Submarine album, I do have several problems with the Songtrack. The first is that they didn’t put the songs in the order in which they appeared in the film. Surely that would have made more sense than this somewhat random placing. The second, which is a nitpick, I suppose, is that they didn’t include the film version of It’s All Too Much, which has a different verse. Or they could have released the full-length version of the song.

The last problem, which is much more problematic, is the remixing. The reason I don’t like remixes of the Beatles material is that inevitably, due to the complexity of the recordings, something will go noticeably wrong. In this case, it was several things. The percussion is mixed far too loudly on many of the tracks, such as the title track, All Together Now and It’s All Too Much, which takes it to the point where it begins to sound as if the Beastie Boys had recorded it instead of the Beatles. The synchronization of the ADT vocals is audibly off on Eleanor Rigby and Only A Northern Song, turning Paul and George’s vocals into unintentional duets. Worse is All You Need Is Love, where the synchronization of the rhythm track is off with the live recording, making the orchestra sound as if it weren’t even present on the day of the TV broadcast. The backing vocals are also mixed far too loudly. It’s a train wreck.

I’m the first to admit that the stereo mixes on the original Yellow Submarine album are problematic, suffering from “Rubber Soul syndrome”, where all the lead vocals are mixed into the extreme right-hand channel. (Why this was done, I have no clue. But if it was because the group wasn’t present, that’s their own fault.) Hey Bulldog does improve on the original stereo mix by centering the lead vocal from John. Still, I prefer the mono mixes on Mono Masters to the Songtrack versions. Just because you can make the bass and drums more prominent doesn’t mean you should take it to extremes.

Nevertheless, the Songtrack does provide an alternative to those fans who want more of a Beatles album, most of whom probably won’t care about the remixes here. For those who do, they can at least now buy the four new songs separately on iTunes if they desire. That, at least, is well worth the purchase.