Saturday, August 19, 2017

Yellow Submarine (And a Special Top-100 List)

1. a kiddie song by the Beatles. Ever heard of them?

2. a cool animated cult classic movie based on the hit Beatles song. It's a funky mind-expanding trip. Show this at your party for a wild psychedelic ride.

3. a marijuana joint. A reefer.

Every color imaginable is present in this animated film, one truly unlike any other. This is Yellow Submarine, the 1968 movie based on the Beatles' 1966 song featured on their album Revolver, and it's how many children are introduced to the Fab Four. Aside from how much joy children take from watching animation, maybe this was the compromise made back in the day by strict parents, many of whom had strong opinions about these four blasphemous musicians all those years ago. "Let the kids listen to 'Why Don't We Do It in the Road,' or let them watch a cartoon?" The Beatles' drug use during this period has been well documented, to say the least, and while as far as I can tell this isn't really a "drug movie," per se, one cannot help but notice how trippy it is. And if a "yellow submarine" is indeed slang for a marijuana joint, then that's good enough for me. Drugs or not, it's all good fun.

The introductory scene of the movie is a happy one, in a land beneath the sea where it lay ("or lie, I'm not too sure," the narrator tells us). Here, in Pepperland, men, women, and children dance to wonderful orchestral music by Beatles producer George Martin. But not every creature in this universe likes music. There are blue fiends (called Meanies) who so hate music that they attack the inhabitants of Pepperland by destroying all music and dropping apples on everyone's heads, rendering them stuck in stone. Most horrifying of all, probably, is the giant flying glove that the vicious Chief Blue Meanie (voiced by Paul Angelis, who also voices Ringo and George) takes particular delight in seeing destroy the village. This glove, with its blue hue, menacing eyes, and thirst for carnage, rivals the horror of the giant whale in Pinocchio.

However, there is one inhabitant who manages to avoid the green apples and run away from the giant glove. This is Old Fred (voiced by Lance Percival, who also voiced Paul and Ringo in the cartoon show The Beatles), and Chief Blue Meanie's fury at his escape is only matched by his maniacal laugh at the thought of destroying him. Old Fred hops in a yellow submarine and escapes. From here, the story gets a bit muddled. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band has been criticized for supposedly being the first concept album and yet not really following any concept. Yellow Submarine, as a film, sometimes suffers from the same problem. There's a ten-minute burst of energy and then the yellow submarine escapes to London (I think), and the next song is "Eleanor Rigby," the one about all the lonely people. Why? No reason.

Here in London (I think), Old Fred escapes and finds Ringo, who sulks that "nothing ever happens" to him. A yellow submarine bumping into him surely is something, though. Here, the movie embraces its meta moments. "Won't you please, please help me?" Old Fred begs. "Be specific," Ringo replies, almost sardonically. We meet the other three, none of whom, disappointingly, are voiced by the Beatles. This is probably the biggest fault I found with the film, but when you're the world's biggest rock and pop group (and you're relatively close to breaking up), there's only so much time.

A word on George and Ringo. The two, who probably remained the closest of the four after the not-so-amicable split, were being interviewed in the late 80s around the time of George's exceptional album Cloud Nine, which features Ringo, was released. The interviewer asked the two if there were groups or types of people that were attracted to each of the four. According to Ringo, he got the mothers and the children; Paul got the tweenies; John got the academic, intellectual types; and George got the mystics. Conan O'Brien once asked Ringo why children love him so much. His answer was succinct and immediate: "I'm lovable." As for the mystics, that rings true in this film, as George's first appearance is a mysterious one and of course features the sitar. (For the record, there's nothing "intellectual" about John's appearance here, though like the animated Beatles TV series but not in real life, he's sort of the de facto leader, and there's nothing in Yellow Submarine that really would suggest tweenies being glued to Paul.)

The interior of the submarine is remarkably elaborate and just as unrealistic and fantastical as anything in Pepperland. Gadgets and gizmos abound. One way or another, though, they're on their way, as we get to see gorgeous fish and hear the four sing "All Together Now." There are a number of their greatest hits included in the film, chiefly "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," "Nowhere Man," "All You Need Is Love," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and "When I'm 64," which are mixed with songs heard for the first time like "Hey Bulldog," "It's All Too Much," and "All Together Now," all of which are a joy to hear. "Only a Northern Song," a Harrison creation, features the most innovative animation, though the song itself is one of the more forgettable. Amidst all this, the characters in their submarine see another ship just like theirs, right before they suddenly turn old, white hair spreading furiously without warning. Just when things can't get any trippier, a furry, fluffy, Jar Jar Binks-esque character shows up named Jeremy Hillary Boob, a rhyming physicist, biologist, and dentist, among other things. "A boob for all seasons," George says.

Suffice it to say, this is probably the closest I will ever know what it's like dropping acid.

This movie may not have as long-lasting a legacy as the Beatles' music itself, but that's mainly a comment on how high the bar is in relation to their music. Yellow Submarine is largely credited with helping to make animation be perceived as a serious art form. Beyond that, there are obvious influences as far as Terry Gilliam's work with Monty Python and the French animated film Fantastic Planet. And there's little doubt that most children, even these days, would be mesmerized by the animation, especially during sequences like "Nowhere Man" or the dizzy Sea of Holes, a scene unlike anything ever produced in pictures. Some adults, though, might be overwhelmed or possibly disinterested (or might suffer from a headache). Still, what a wonderful way to introduce young children to the Beatles, especially the last few moments of the movie.

In honor of the upcoming Ringo Starr album, here is a list of the Beatles' best songs in their post-Beatles careers. (For my list of the greatest Beatles songs, click here.)

100. King of Broken Hearts (Ringo)
99. Marwa Blues (George)
98. Junior's Farm (Paul)
97. Cleanup Time (John)
96. The No No Song (Ringo)
95. We're On the Road Again (Ringo)
94. Weight of the World (Ringo)
93. Oh My My (Ringo)
92. Whatever Gets You Thru the Night (John)
91. Apple Scruffs (George)
90. Hi, Hi, Hi (Paul)
89. Helen Wheels (Paul)
88. Deliver Your Children (Paul)
87. Shanghai Surprise (George)
86. Sue Me, Sue You Blues (George)
85. Beaucoups of Blue (Ringo)
84. (It's All Da Da Down To) Goodnight Vienna (Ringo)
83. Dream Away (George)
82. Woman (John)
81. The Back Seat of My Car (Paul)
80. Sunshine Life for Me (Ringo)
79. Wanderlust (Paul)
78. Easy For Me (Ringo)
77. I'd Have You Anytime (George)
76. That's What It Takes (George)
75. Mrs. Vanderbilt (Paul)
74. When We Was Fab (George)
73. No More Lonely Nights (Paul)
72. Got My Mind Set On Your (George)
71. Working Class Hero (John)
70. Bangladesh (George)
69. Coming Up (Paul)
68. Listen To What the Man Said (Paul)
67. Jet (Paul)
66. That's the Way It Goes (George)
65. You (George)
64. End of the Line (George)
63. Every Night (Paul)
62. Who Can See It (George)
61. Try Some Buy Some (George)
60. Beautiful Night (Paul)
59. Stand by Me (John)
58. Back Off Boogaloo (Ringo)
57. Let Em In (Paul)
56. Living in the Material World (George)
55. Early 1970 (Ringo)
54. Oh Woman Oh Why (Paul)
53. Hold On (John)
52. Smile Away (Paul)
51. With a Little Luck (Paul)
50. Cloud Nine (George)
49. Beware of Darkness (George)
48. All Those Years Ago (George)
47. Eat at Home (Paul)
46. How? (John)
45. Let Me Roll It (Paul)
44. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five (Paul)
43. Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll) (George)
42. Monkberry Moon Delight (Paul)
41. The Devil's Radio (George)
40. Ding Dong Ding Dong (George)
39. Mull of Kintyre (Paul)
38. Instant Karma (John)
37. Crippled Inside (John)
36. Walk With You (Ringo)
35. My Valentine (Paul)
34. Oh My Love (John)
33. Love (John)
32. Only You (And You Alone) (Ringo)
31. Live and Let Die (Paul)
30. All Things Must Pass (George)
29. If Not For You (George)
28. Behind That Locked Door (George)
27. I'm the Greatest (Ringo)
26. Handle With Care (George)
25. I Dig Love (George)
24. (Just Like) Starting Over (John)
23. Mother (John)
22. Too Many People (Paul)
21. #9 Dream (John)
20. Cheer Down (George)
19. Awaiting On You All (George)
18. You're Sixteen (Ringo)
17. Give Me Love (Give Me Peace) (George)
16. Watching the Wheels Go Round (John)
15. Jealous Guy (John)
14. Mind Games (John)
13. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (Paul)
12. Beautiful Boy (John)
11. Band On the Run (Paul)
10. Maybe I'm Amazed (Paul)
9. Isn't It a Pity (George)
8. It Don't Come Easy (Ringo)
7. Give Peace a Chance (John)
6. Wah-Wah (George)
5. Photograph (Ringo)
4. What Is Life (George)
3. Happy X-Mas (War Is Over) (John)
2. My Sweet Lord (George)
1. Imagine (John)


  1. You got it wrong on John Lennon's WOMAN. Should be much closer to the top!