I always say my music collecting officially started at Christmas of 1978, when my mom bought me The Beatles’ 1967-1970 album…but how did I come to chose that album, of all things? I mean, barring the fact that the collection really started a few months earlier with the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack, there has to be a reason I’d become obsessed with the Beatles at the tender age of seven. Well, there’s two reasons: the aforementioned 1978 movie that we went to see that summer, and another movie that had been playing on one of the local independent television stations:Yellow Submarine.
I don’t remember exactly when I first saw this animated feature, but I know it was on WLVI, Channel 56 out of Boston. They played it at least once every summer, their own worn copy with all the pops and skips and edits, sometimes as a double-bill with Help! afterwards. I fell in love with the movie instantly and looked forward to watching it every time it came on. They played it in December of 1980 when John Lennon was murdered, and that was the year I grabbed a few blank cassettes and taped the entire movie onto tape. (I remember it was this year because I taped a Lennon tribute show hosted by Casey Kasem that they played afterwards.) I listened to that recording through 1981, and by the time WLVI played it again, I knew the movie by heart. To this day, I can still quote nearly most of the movie, given a prompt.
This movie, the Sgt Pepper soundtrack, and the Beatles in particular, were major influences on how I listen to music. I’d been a radio listener probably since I first noticed specific songs playing on the car radio during our family vacations–the fact that I had all older siblings who latched onto music before I did probably helped me do the same–but the Beatles were probably the first band where something clicked, and I stopped being a passive listener and became an active one. And by active, I mean that I’d actually paid attention to the songs, learned their lyrics, and explored their sounds. The original songs fascinated me, especially when I’d come to know many of them through the Sgt Pepper versions.
A few months ago, Yellow Submarine recieved a second remastering and release onto dvd. Both times (1999 and this year), the release was prefaced by a short tour of select movie houses, and I of course had to go. The first time they played it at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge MA, and that was the first time I’d ever seen the movie on the big screen, after having watched it on tv for years. Back then, it had been remastered to Dolby Digital 5.1 and the movie sounds and visuals cleaned up considerably…plus, it was the first appearance of the “Hey Bulldog” sequence that had been edited out of the US version and later UK versions. A new soundtrack was released, Yellow Submarine Songtrack, which to this day remains the only songs by the Beatles that are remixed to 24 tracks. [Nearly the entire Beatles oeuvre was recorded on a 4-track mixer, barring Abbey Road and a few singles. Think of that bit of info next time you listen to the brilliance of “A Day in the Life”.] A second remastering took place recently and this latest version just came out a few weeks ago on both dvd and Blu-Ray. I could not pass up going to see it at our local theater around the corner, and I was not let down. The colors and sounds were vibrant and exciting, and the mix was clear enough that I could actually catch pretty much every line of dialogue effortlessly.
The interesting thing about watching Yellow Submarine every few years or so is that I still pick up on new things, or at least see things in a somewhat different light. I remember watching it in high school and being surprised when it finally clicked in my head that war-torn Pepperland held a gritty parallel to WWII-era Europe. Or finally catching the ridiculous number of puns (“Can’t help it, I’m a born Leever-puller”), Beatle song references (In the Sea of Holes… J:”Hey, this reminds me of Blackburn, Lancashire.” P: “Oh, boy…”) or sly music references (“Four score and thirty-two bars ago, our forefathers…”) hidden in the dialogue. Or the fact that, this current time, how Chief Blue Meanie really needs to go on meds and maybe even take an extended stay in a psych ward, given his completely-off-the-rails psychosis. Even the little bits of animation are brilliant, such as the pan-down of the Liverpool skyline right before “Eleanor Rigby” starts, or the initial panning across the Sea of Holes in incredible detail, or the clever use of rotoscoping in many scenes. It’s not a perfect piece of animation, as you can definitely see slight mistakes throughout, but it’s sure as hell a creative one.
Yellow Submarine is definitely one of my Top Five movies, and one I’ll never get sick of. Watching it as a kid defined who I was and how I listened to music, and despite its psychedelic roots, it still holds up as a quirky but extremely fun movie that everyone should see at least once.