I am amazed that the Yellow Submarine album still exists. Let’s analyze its contents: 6 Beatles songs – 2 of which were previously released (the title track, on Revolver, and “All You Need Is Love,” on Magical Mystery Tour), plus 7 tracks of George Martin’s soundtrack music for the Yellow Submarine animated film. In other words, 4 songs. The second disc of the mopping-up Past Masters set is 51 minutes long. There’s plenty of room for these 4 tracks, which total fifteen minutes. Does anyone really think the CD is worth buying for Mr. Martin’s soundtrack work?
About that music: in some circles, there remains lingering suspicion that George Martin, being musically trained and all, is the real genius behind the Beatles; that the Beatles were just pretty faces (and good singers) while Martin was the real musician. This strikes me as thinking similar to the notions that Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have written the plays that appear under his name, since he lacked the proper education some would say is necessary to have done so. In other words, unless you’re born to the right folks and have gone to the right schools, you can’t make anything decent artistically. This is obviously class-based crap – but of course, in any individual situation, it could be the case. So, here’s George Martin, flying solo, writing and arranging music under his own name at last: does it illustrate that the spark of Beatle genius resided within the subdued soul of the refined Mr. Martin? Well…no. Certainly, Martin’s ear for colorful orchestrations is in evidence…but compositionally, these pieces are pretty forgettable, certainly lacking the melodic verve and energy of actual Beatles composition. Martin’s no Francis Bacon (but then, neither was he).
So about those four Beatles songs. George Harrison gets two songs on this LP – which is, mathematicians confirm, fully half of the “new” material. These tracks date mostly from 1967, in the midst of recording Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, while “Hey Bulldog” dates from February 1968, a few months before work started on the White Album. “Only a Northern Song” continues the string of Beatles songs featuring prominent noise tracks – in this case, lots of swirling weirdness, to go along with the spastic trumpet playing and some glockenspiel sprinkled from a wizard’s cape. All of this sparkles atop a rather narcotized-sounding Harrison vocal, riding a sometimes very odd chord sequence (odd enough that Harrison’s lyric comments on the same) spelled out by a big fat Hammond organ (unusually for the Beatles). It’s George’s most avant-garde work with the Beatles, aside from his collaborations on Lennon’s “Revolution 9,” and anticipates the oddity of his Wonderwall Music. I like it a lot, cuz I’m weird like that. “All Together Now” is a very minor Beatles song, a fun little kid-style singalong courtesy of one Mr. James Paul McCartney.
The other two Beatles songs nearly are worth the price of the individual CD (if you’re silly enough to buy it like that). “Hey Bulldog” is one of the last times you can hear the band actually having fun in the studio (if not, it sure sounds like it), driven by an absolutely killer Lennon piano riff (doubled on guitar and bass) and one of the band’s more propulsive, rocking performances. (Hey – let’s add it to that hypothetical Beatles rawk album I mentioned last time…) McCartney’s very active bass part is practically a whole song by itself – it crucially provides some rhythmic variety against the steady pulse of nearly every other part aside from the main riff. And on “It’s All Too Much,” George Harrison and the band invent shoegaze, twenty years ahead of time. Guitars drone both crunchily and hazily, there are no chord changes whatsoever, and George sings like he’s pouring honey over razor blades. But somebody needs to pull those wonderfully rich, textured, distorted guitar parts from out of the vague center-channel purgatory they dwell in…even though the rest of the track is pretty cool too: an organ part also burning in some nice distortion, Ringo’s incredibly pinging drums, and two insane trumpet parts. Plus, is that a clavinet playing that funky little bass part in the break? But again: turn up the damned guitars. Someone, please!
So why weren’t those tracks folded into either an expanded Magical Mystery Tour (the three contemporary tracks) or added to Past Masters (either all four, or just “Hey Bulldog”), while Martin’s soundtrack work was either left to fend for itself in the marketplace or available only as part of the film which, ultimately, provides its most sympathetic home?
See this entry’s title.