UK album release: Yellow Submarine

Four days after its US release, The Beatles’ soundtrack LP for the Yellow Submarine was issued in the United Kingdom.

The group’s 11th UK album was their first to contain non-Beatles recordings; it contained seven original orchestral pieces written by George Martin. Furthermore, it featured two songs – Yellow Submarine and All You Need Is Love – which had been released some time previously.

The Beatles received some criticism for offering just four new songs on this full-price album – Only A Northern Song, All Together Now, Hey Bulldog and It’s All Too Much. In light of this, a five-song mono EP, with the addition of Across The Universe, was mastered for release, but remained in the EMI vaults.

The Yellow Submarine soundtrack was issued as Apple/Parlophone PMC 7070 (mono) and Apple PCS 7070 (stereo). The mono version, however, was not a separate mix, but a ‘fold-down’ version of the stereo one.

It spent two weeks at number three in the UK charts; at the time the White Album was at number one.

The introductory sleeve notes were written by Apple’s press office Derek Taylor, and were accompanied by an article titled ‘The Beatles’ bull’s-eye’, originally written for The Observer newspaper by Tony Palmer.

My name is Derek but that is what my mother called me so it is no big thing, except that it is my name and I would like to say I was asked to write the notes for Yellow Submarine. Now Derek Taylor used to be the Beatles press agent and then, in America he became the Beatles former press agent (having left them) and now Derek Taylor is the press agent for the Beatles again so when has was asked to write the notes for “Yellow Submarine” he decided that not only had he nothing new to say about the Beatles whom he adores too much to apply any critical reasoning, and by whom he is paid too much to feel completely free, and also he couldn’t be bothered, and also he wanted the people who bought the Yellow Submarine album to buy and enjoy the really wonderful “The Beatles” album out in the month of November ’68 so here and now, unbought, unsolicited, unexpurgated, unattached, pure and immeasurably-favourable is a review of “The Beatles” (the new Apple/EMI album) from the London Observer by Tony Palmer, a journalist and film-maker of some special distinction:
If there is still any doubt that Lennon and McCartney are the greatest song writers since Schubert, then next Friday – with the publication of the new Beatles double LP – should surely see the last vestiges of cultural snobbery and bourgeois prejudice swept away in a deluge of joyful music making, which only the ignorant will not hear and only the deaf will not acknowledge. Called simply The Beatles (PMC 7067/8), it’s wrapped in a plain white cover which is adorned only by the song titles and those four faces, faces which for some still represent the menace of long-haired youth, for others the great hope of a cultural renaissance and for others the desperate, apparently endless struggle against cynical so-called betters.

In the Beatles’ eyes, as in their songs, you can see the fragile fragmentary mirror of the society which sponsored them, which interprets and makes demands of them, and which punishes them when they do what others reckon to be evil; Paul, ever-hopeful, wistful; Ringo, every mother’s son; George, local lad made good; John, withdrawn, sad, but with a fierce intelligence clearly undimmed by all that organised morality can throw at him. They are heroes for all of us, and better than we deserve.

It’s not as if the Beatles ever seek such adulation. The extra-ordinary quality of the 30 new songs is one of simple happiness. The lyrics overflow with a sparkling radiance and sense of fun that it is impossible to resist. Almost every track is a send-up of a send-up of a send-up, rollicking, relentless, gentle, magical. The subject matter ranges from piggies (‘Have you seen the bigger piggies/In their starched white shirts’), to Bungalow Bill of Saturday morning film-show fame (‘He went out tiger hunting with his elephant gun/In case of accidents he always took his mom’); from ‘Why don’t we do it in the road’ to ‘Savoy Truffle’.

The skill at orchestration has matured with finite precision. Full orchestra, brass, solo violin glockenspiel, saxophone, organ, piano, harpsichord, all manner of percussion, flute, sound effects, are used sparingly and thus with deftness.

Electronic gimmickry has been suppressed or ignored in favour of musicianship. References to or quotations from Elvis Presley, Donovan, Little Richard, the Beach Boys, Blind Lemon Jefferson are woven into an aural fabric that has become the Bayeux Tapestry of popular music. It’s all there, if you listen. Lennon sings ‘I told you about strawberry fields’ and ‘I told about the fool on the hill’ – and now?

The Beatles are competent rather than virtuoso instrumentalists – but their ensemble playing is intuitive and astonishing. They bend and twist rhythms and phrases with a unanimous freedom that gives their harmonic adventures the frenzy of anticipation and unpredictability. The voice – particularly that of Lennon – is just another instrument, wailing, screeching, mocking, weeping.

There is a quiet determination to be rid of the bogus intellectualisation that usually surrounds them and their music. The words almost deliberately simple-minded like, ‘Happy birthday to you’; another just goes on repeating ‘Good-night’; another says ‘I’m so tired, I haven’t slept a wink.’ The music is likewise stripped of all but the simplest of harmonies and beat – so what is left is a prolific out-pouring of melody, music-making of unmistakable clarity and foot-tapping beauty.

The sarcasm and bitterness that have always given their music its unease and edginess still bubbles out – ‘Lady Madonna trying to make ends meet – yeah/Looking through a glass onion.’ The harshness of the imagery is, if anything, even harsher; ‘The eagle picks my eye/The worm he locks my bone.’ And, most grotesque of all, there is a terrifying track just called ‘Revolution 9,’ which comprises sound effects, overheard gossip, backwards-tapes, janglings from the subconscious memories of a floundering civilisation. Cruel, paranoic, burning, agonised, hopeless, it is given shape by an anonymous bingo voice which just goes on repeating ‘Number nine, number nine, number nine’ – until you want to scream. McCartney’s drifting melancholy overhangs the entire proceedings like a purple veil of shadowy optimism – glistening, inaccessible, loving.

At the end, all you do is stand and applaud. Whatever your taste in popular music, you will find it satisfied here. If you think that pop music is Engelbert Humperdinck, then the Beatles have done it better – without sentimentality, but with passion; if you think that pop is just rock ‘n’ roll, then the Beatles have done it better – but infinitely more vengefully; if you think that pop is mind-blowing noise, then the Beatles have done it better – on distant shores of the imagination that others have not even sighted.

This record took them five months to make and in case you think that’s slow going, just consider that since it’s completion they’ve written another 15 songs. Not even Schubert wrote at that speed.

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