YouTube Link: Yellow Submarine Trailer
The link above is to the trailer for the MCMLXVIII animated film, Yellow Submarine. It’s a strange, but gripping tale of the Yellow forces of Good in their battle to conquer the Blue forces of Evil. It was original for its time. It’s an imaginative, sometimes overly-sentimental, sometimes funny film with some great music. It’s a sort of extended animated music video, from a time before music videos.
By 1968, Disney dominated animated films. So it was inevitable some people would try to compare Yellow Submarine to Fantasia. Yellow Submarine uses a simpler, more minimal animation style than Disney. New, specialized film/animation techniques in Yellow Submarine influenced later animators like Ralph Bakshi in Fritz the Cat, and Wizards. It also influenced Terry Gilliam and Monty Python. (Python’s John Cleese gives a great performance in a scene with Beatle Ringo Starr and Peter Sellers in The Magic Christian.)
Many people assume that Peter Max created the artwork for the Yellow Submarine, because it’s style is similar to Peter Max. But Max had nothing to do with the film. Like how some people think all of Badfinger hits are the by Beatles. Yellow Submarine’s art director was a German illustrator, Heinz Edelmann.
The Yellow Submarine album is as unusual as the film. First, it’s unusual to release a studio album by a major band as a film soundtrack. It’s also unusual for the band to play on only the one side of an album, and to have only four new songs. The second side has George Martin’s orchestral compositions for the film.
The orchestra on Yellow Submarine was recorded in a way that no one had heard before. Martin isolated and close-miced some instruments. From the very start, there is something different about the tone of the orchestra. It’s not like what you hear on Deutsche Grammophon records. Add to that electric guitar, sitar, and electric vibraphone. It still sounds unique today.
Pantomiming live-action with music is usually a bad idea. In The Producers (1967) and Mad, Mad World (1963), the music follows the action too closely, and it gets tiring quickly. But in cartoons, the rules are different. The music almost always follows the action. Martin’s musical pantomimes always enhance the action and the humor of the scene. With Yellow Submarine, Martin joins the ranks of great composers for animation like Carl Stalling for Warner Bros and Scott Bradley for Hanna-Barbera.
Side 2 of the Yellow Submarine album opens with a musical depiction of Pepperland. It’s quaint, orderly, thoroughly boring, and a little at odds with the visual extravagance onscreen. It seems to set the musical rules, but it’s a sucker-punch.
Tracing the path from order to chaos is a common artistic motif, like the gradual destruction of Col. Ripper’s office in Dr. Strangelove, or the destruction of Pyramid Picture’s offices in Girl’s Night Out in season 2 of Made In Canada.
George Martin’s score descends into eerie disorder from the first few seconds after “Pepperland.” As you progress through the “Sea of Time,” the “Sea of Holes,” the “Sea of Monsters,” and finally the “March of the Meanies,” the musical landscapes become steadily more ominous. This culminates in the strangely beautiful “Pepperland Laid Waste,” before order is restored again in the final, triumphant, (boring) number “Yellow Submarine in Pepperland.”
Some Beatles fans deride this album, but like all Beatles albums, it’s still one of my favorites. I hope you’ll check out this misunderstood Beatles album, including George Martin’s remarkable orchestral score on Side 2. Side 1 is the Beatles at their most psychedelic, with songs like “Only A Northern Song,” and “It’s All Too Much,” and “Hey Bulldog.”
George Martin’s orchestral music: