Sunday, January 14, 2018

Yellow Submarine

"1, 2, 3, 4" were the first words heard by The Beatles; words that have been a part of my life since I was born. Too young to truly appreciate the incredible Beatles melee of the early 60s, I was still a part of the 73,000,000 who watched The Beatles on Ed Sullivan (I would not be allowed to stay up for The Stones or The Doors). My first true memories of The Beatles, though, were through Al Brodax's Saturday morning Beatles cartoon series in 1965. The Beatles cartoons were a smash hit, especially in Apartment 22 on Hazelhurst Avenue in North Hollywood, where I lived for the 4th, 5th and 6th grades. Brodax, by the end of the year, was in the process of creating a full-length animated feature film "starring" the Beatles themselves. It would feature Beatles songs with the Beatles doing voice-overs and playing themselves. The Fab Four, unable to face actually "acting" and "going in front of the cameras" again, agreed to a compromise, and, most likely due to the hectic recording schedule and the death of Brian Epstein, would not supply the cartoon’s voices as originally conceived, effectively taking it out of their hands with the exception for the original songs, four of them, created for the film ("Hey, Bulldog," "All Together Now," "Only a Northern Song" and "It's All Too Much").

After it's completion, the Beatles were given a private screening of Yellow Submarine and were surprised and delighted with the results. They loved the film and even agreed to personally film a one-minute cameo to be shown at the end of the film. That session took place 50 years ago today. 

John and Paul were both to later regret not having more to do with Yellow Submarine. John would claim, however, throughout the remainder of his life, that the Yellow Submarine people stole many of his ideas, without giving him any formal screen credit. According to John: "They used to come to the studio and and chat: 'Hi John, old bean, got any ideas for the film?' and I'd just spout out all this stuff, and they went off and did it." Lennon could exaggerate and "play the victim" in countless Beatle-related anecdotes over the years, but this claim does seem justified from available evidence; still, the only publicly agreed-upon story is that one night at 3:00 in the morning, John called up the producer and said "Wouldn't it be great if Ringo was walking down the street being followed by a yellow submarine?" This exact scene is shown at the beginning of the film.

George, though disagreed with John's claims regarding involvement, stating unequivocally, "The best thing about Yellow Submarine was that we had nothing to do with it."                                                                            

When all was said and done, The Beatles attended its official premiere in July 1968 (Lennon escorting his new live-in girlfriend, Yoko Ono, although he was still married to his wife, Cynthia, at the time). George Harrison, always a man hard to please, said: "I liked the film. I think it's a classic. The film works for every generation."

Yellow Submarine Pepperland by Strongstuff
For some inexplicable reason, John's "Hey, Bulldog" was edited out of the American version of the film. Fortunately, the "Hey Bulldog" song and animated sequence was restored for the film's video release. Of course, the film's title comes from the previously released Revolver.  Paul said that he was trying to create "a story, a sort of tale of an ancient mariner, telling the young kids where he'd lived." To accomplish this, Paul's original tale was populated by many submarines of vivid colors, but as McCartney honed the story, it became the narrative of one yellow submarine and the magical people aboard one legendary vessel. "I was thinking of it as a song for Ringo, which it eventually turned out to be…I quite like children's things; I like children’s minds and imagination. So it didn't seem uncool to me to have a pretty surreal idea that was also a children's idea. I thought also, with Ringo being so good with children—a knockabout-uncle type—it might not be a bad idea for him to have a children's song, rather than a very serious song. He wasn't that keen on singing." In short, Side One of Revolver, a highly complex, intense compendium of thought-provoking songs, was livened up with Paul's simple ditty of "short words…which would be picked up quickly and sung by children." Interestingly, it's the children's Beatles songs with which I always had issue growing up, "Yellow Submarine," "Life Goes On," or "Rocky Raccoon," for instance, but these of course are the songs I ultimately sang to my own kids. Whatever my misguidings, the measure of a great work of literature is that decades after its creation, the work's depth of meaning is still debated and discussed. Paul might have set out to create a unpretentious, lighthearted song, but for The Beatles, a masterpiece was always the final destination. A masterpiece may be a bit much; iconic, though, indeed.