Yellow Submarine is the strangest entry in The Beatles catalogue, primarily a soundtrack the record is a mix of unreleased songs, previously released songs, and instrumentals composed by George Martin. The first half is Beatles, the second half is Martin. If the best of this, and the best of the other unreleased songs recorded around the same time had been put together we could have been left with a good album. What we do have is a mess of ideas and unresolved bits. The band didn’t have the greatest amount of involvement with the project and it was released very soon after The White Album. With a bit more time and involvement it could have been better.
`Yellow Submarine’ is a song that all fans will already be familiar with, Ringo’s catchy little nonsense number made even more silly due to visions of the film and its psychedelic sights.
`Only a Northern Song’ is Harrison’s attack on one of the companies which made money from his songs, and also shows his growing annoyance at being in the band, his belief that Paul and John made more money from his own songs than he did, and wishing to branch out on his own. All the anger and bitterness doesn’t translate too well and although the lyrics are ok the music is uninspiring and forgettable.
`All Together Now’ is McCartney’s attempt at a partner to Yellow Submarine- another light, fun, sing-along song which sounded like a children’s rhyme. Unfortunately it sounds more like a child speaking in tongues whilst in bed with chicken-pox. The tune itself is ok but it is repetitive and mostly boring showing a lack of interest or inspiration from the band.
`Hey Bulldog’ begins with a cool piano riff which is then matched by the guitar, but the rest of the song doesn’t keep up with the intro. The lyrics are fine and there is plenty going on, it is fairly heavy in parts for a Beatles song but it doesn’t have any noticeable melodies apart from that riff. Paul’s barking is all fine and well, I only wish there was more style to the verse and chorus.
`It’s All Too Much’ is a much stronger effort from Harrison with a hypnotic, swirling vibe and nice guitar work. It is highly experimental with bits of notes fading in and out, instruments joining and leaving inexplicably all held together with a nice verse melody. It is perhaps too long at over 6 minutes and becomes a bit grating towards the end. If it had been kept shorter the ideas would have shone through more clearly. As it is, it has a You Know My Name feel.
`All You Need Is Love’ is probably the strongest song on the album and remains one of the group’s most famous, but it isn’t one of my favourites. It also appears in slightly different version on Magical Mystery Tour and Love and is one of Lennon’s most clear messages- a firm belief in love conquering all. Naïve and fluffy yes, but also well meaning. It has a typically memorable melody and chorus, and the ending is a nice mix of various voices and memories. I think that for me after a while the song becomes too dreary and the trumpets over the chorus are quite tiresome.
`Pepperland’ is the best of the instrumental pieces, but that isn’t saying much. Most, if not all of the second half can be skipped as it is barely more than a barrage of noises which thankfully at times sounds rather ominous and foreboding. Here the strings are quite gentle and it almost sounds like the soundtrack to a romantic movie from the 50s.
`Sea Of Time’ begins with that distinct Eastern feel and following with a few nice and simple violin parts before ending with the Pepperland theme.
`Sea of Holes’ has a dizzying quality suggesting falling into a deep, dark, unknown place. There are interesting production techniques and effects but it’s mostly tuneless.
`Sea of Monsters’ sounds more like a Tom and Jerry episode than anything else- it fits well with the movie, but isn’t very good to listen to by itself, aside from the Bach interlude and the charging outro.
`March of the Meanies’ sounds quite threatening and as if it should be from a Sci-Fi epic.
`Pepperland Laid Waste’ also sounds quite foreboding but is mostly without anything of interest. Again it is fine for the film, but not something to listen to on its own merits.
`Yellow Submarine in Pepperland’ closes the album in almost regal fashion replaying the title track in a dainty way and adding a few other emotive parts. It’s a nice enough ending which highlights the strength of the main song’s melody.
Overall this is simply an ok album which could have been better. Yes it is the worst in the Beatles back catalogue but shows that the band were still capable of having fun. The first half contains some essential stuff but the second part is mostly pointless unless you’re a huge fan. Of course I am sure there are plenty of people out there who readily enjoy the second part, which does have some good moments, but it isn’t for me.