The Real Star of Yellow Submarine
With all four Beatles preferring to do their own thing rather than work together, the last thing they wanted to do was another film. But they were under contract to complete three feature films (Magical Mystery Tour didn't count), and so when the notion of a cartoon was proposed – in which they wouldn’t have to act, or shoot scenes, or even record dialogue (actors were hired to provide the Beatles' voices) – they pounced. Of course, they still had to provide a soundtrack, and that generated no more enthusiasm than the film itself did. So they cobbled together a collection of previously released songs, rejects from other albums, and tunes thrown together in the studio. “It'll do for the film” John Lennon would say after a session they all knew was sub-par (Norman, page 326).
The Beatles' 6 tracks on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack constituted the A-side of the album. But the real star of Yellow Submarine is only heard on the B-side, which feature orchestral tracks written George Martin.
One track heard in the film, but not released until the Beatles Anthology shares striking similarities with the French composer Maurice Ravel's 1912 ballet Daphnis et Chloe. Here's the Ravel original (pay close attention to around 1:30).
By writing this material, Martin is drawing a parallel between late 19th and early 20th century French Impressionism and 1960's pop psychedelia – both of which thrive on color.
Take, for example, a Monet canvas.
That same image in black and white loses a substantial amount of significance.
(Lack of color is partially what doomed the premiere broadcast of Magical Mystery Tour, which likewise needs color to make any sense out of the surreal and psychedelic imagery.)
In writing this music and making that connection, then, George Martin - and not the Beatles - is the real star of Yellow Submarine.
Norman, Philip. Shout! The Beatles in their Generation. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 1981.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.