More Than A Yellow Submarine
George has always been my favorite Beatle. It’s his hair.
My entry into Beatles culture was Yellow Submarine, the group’s 1968 animated film. It aired on T.V. a few times in my childhood, and at some point, a bootlegged VHS copy of this broadcast took up residence in our family movie library.
There are many things to love about this film, not the least of which is its ability to appeal to Beatles fans of all ages. There is much to learn about the film, and if you haven’t seen it now is a perfect time. The vividly surreal graphics, magical storyline, and narrative songs formed a strong impression on my young mind. I was fascinated by an animated George Harrison with hair that just won’t quit. It is always shown a bit to the side, moving as if blown by an unseen wind.
Now, of course, I know that George’s hair was moved by the spiritual wind of the universe, into which George and his bandmates turned their eager faces for many years.
A Dorm Room Discovery
Revolver, released in 1966, is the Yellow Submarine album. While not as magical as the film, it remains one of my favorite Beatles LPs. I consider it an early move away from their more popular sound to a style incorporating more of the psychedelic counterculture of the mid-60s.
For me, Revolver is a college-era album. I purchased it in the mid-90s during a time when I was growing my used CD collection, and every time I went downtown to Logos I scanned the bins for classic albums I hadn’t heard in childhood.
I remember lying on my bed in my dorm room at UCSC with a northern California redwood forest rain that I was not accustomed to pouring outside, listening to this album on repeat. The voices were familiar, but the sound, arrangement, instruments and lyrical themes were surprisingly fresh.
The impact of that album has stayed with me, and like many groundbreaking albums, I hear echoes of it in music all around us today.
From the opening notes, it is clear this is not a comfortable song. Staccato violins usher in the demand to look at all the lonely people.
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
Whether you like it or not, dear listener, you are going to have to face some hard questions.
The pounding rhythm of the song, an arrangement apparently based on the score for the Hitchcock film Psycho, never lets up and you are left on edge to ponder some of the bands most unsettling visual imagery
Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window
Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?
This song asks rhetorical questions and answers them with a dark outlook on modern life. These themes are further fleshed out in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released a year later.
Love You To
What is this? A sitar?
Written and sung by George Harrison, this song is the band’s first attempt to incorporate an Indian musical influence into a full-length track. For me, it was a brand new sound and song structure.
Listening to it gave me an early glimpse into what meditation would feel like, twenty years later. I found it hard to believe that this track was produced in the mid-60s. The sound was beyond anything I had heard from that time period. It was truly visionary, and I could hear direct echoes of this track in some of my favorite artists, from Bjork to Jane’s Addiction.
This song solidified my love for George of the windblown cartoon hair. He was connected to a spiritual dimension, one I was just beginning to understand myself as a young adult in my 20s. But that’s a story for another article.
Why was this song written? Purely for joy? For fun? In a 1966 interview, McCartney confirms they were trying to write a children’s song. They were clearly successful because the magic of the lyrics and melody have endured for decades
In the town where I was born
Lived a man who sailed to sea
And he told us of his life
In the land of submarines
Doesn’t that just sound like the beginning of a wonderful journey?
Tomorrow Never Knows
This song remains one of my all-time favorites. The way it is mixed, layering guitar, sitar, bass, and other elements are revolutionary.
Again, when I first heard this track I could not believe it was thirty years old. It sounded as fresh as the most recent 1996 Beck release. There is a bass loop, repetition of lyrics, and some far-out ideas that we are all spiritually connected.
When I listen to this track now I can hear foreshadows of the White Album on the horizon when, in 1968, the band had taken several steps further into experimental engineering.
The Beatles would go on to deepen their exploration of music, lyrics, and culture in future albums. For now, the band had fired a Revolver full of exploration and innovation, and rock music would never be the same.