Saturday, February 7, 2009

Yellow Submarine

All the actual facts I write here about the Beatles are, in case it wasn't already abundantly clear, the product of an imperfect mind-- I've read a ton of Beatle books, and some of them were good and some weren't, and a lot of the information runs together in my head, and I rarely bother to doublecheck anything as I'm writing here. And anyway this isn't meant to be an informative site, clearly, as there are about ten thousand that do that better (see links to the right for a few) and lots of books and stuff that any interested parties should read (perhaps I will get around to making a Beatles Bibliography one day). When I provide things that sound like facts, you should take it as something that I'm saying to you over a drink at the bar-- it's probably pretty close to true, but maybe the details have become garbled.

Keep this in mind when I tell you that I remember having read, somewhere, that Paul composed "Yellow Submarine" in bed. (I feel more OK about saying this seeing as how Beatles Discography backs me up.) Which is why I have chosen it today, a chilly Saturday morning, a day when I'd really rather not get up from bed, thanks-- the sort of pleasant day when one's husband is kind enough to make the coffee and bring it in, so that one may post to one's blog while lying under three blankets wearing one's favorite Cookie Monster pajama pants. Playing "Yellow Submarine" on a morning like this is the musical equivalent of watching Saturday morning cartoons.

And of course, "Yellow Submarine" became a cartoon movie, but that was later. Imagine (and this is impossible with Beatles songs, I know, but humor me) listening to this for the first time-- you're playing your brand shiny new Revolver LP, you've just finished listening to "Here, There, and Everywhere" and are feeling all warm in your heart about that, and then all of a sudden here's Ringo singing, in his sweet and slightly off-key way, "In the town where I was born..." Suddenly we're listening to a children's song, which surely seemed improbable only seconds before. Or perhaps it happens differently: perhaps you opted for the "Yellow Submarine"/"Eleanor Rigby" single instead of Revolver-- they both came out on the same day-- so you put on your new single and it just blows your mind off the bat. (In which case, side B will blow it all over again, but that's for another day.)

"Yellow Submarine" couldn't have been done without George Martin and all the various noisemaking toys at the disposal of Abbey Road Studios. Martin, of course, produced comedy records before he ever began working with the Beatles, and his work on Goon Show albums is part of what made the Beatles like him in the first place, so he knew what he was doing in putting together all this mayhem. Recording "Yellow Submarine" always reads like it was a good time, with various Beatle hangers-on contributing (I believe their chauffeur is blowing bubbles or shaking chains in a bathtub or something-- and I know that's Brian Jones clinking the champagne), and John and Paul running in and out of an echo chamber shouting that quasi-nautical stuff at each other, and all the various archived sound effects records just being pillaged. And it was the right approach, because if you listen, you hear it's not much of a song otherwise. Even for a children's song, the melody is a little slight, which is why if you walk down the street just singing it to yourself (try it!), it sounds more like a kid's schoolyard chant or something. But, look, I'm not criticizing really-- Paul had the ear to know that this little flat melody he had dancing in his head that night/morning in bed could actually be a classic song when engineered the right way. That's why Paul is a genius and I'm just someone who writes about geniuses on an obscure blog.

He also had the genius to give it to Ringo to sing, because, who else? Ringo's vocals have never been better-- he sings this without a trace of irony or winking, with all the earnestness that a good children's song (even a funny one) should be sung with. He is the only Beatle whom you can believe telling you this story. But of course everyone comes on in messy harmonies for the chorus, which is a gigantic singalong. Come on, you know you want to sing along. Just sing. Sing!

I'm not sure I've ever seen more homemade videos for a Beatles song on YouTube than for "Yellow Submarine." I just liked the one above, which edits stuff from the film with some more random footage. Point is, though, clearly the song is still striking a chord with the people. And I'm glad this is one that's still remembered as one of the real classics, considering it's not at all like any of the other songs.

Now to roll over and doze off again to see if I can dream up a song as good as this like Paul did. I'm thinking not. But it's worth a try.

"Yellow Submarine," first released in the U.K. as a double A-side single w/"Eleanor Rigby," AND as side A track 6 of Revolver, August 5, 1966; in the U.S. as a single c/w "Eleanor Rigby," AND as side A track 6 of Revolver, August 8, 1966.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

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