October 9, 2003

Crypt of Mediocrity

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It would be grossly unfair to call Yellow Submarine a Beatles album. It is a Beatles travesty, a perfidious pox presaging the destruction of democracy and happiness. The movie, of course, is a rite of initiation into the glorious world of lethal hallucinogens. So let me dispel the myth: the movie is about a group of blue slugs that somehow make the Beatles travel through time on a submarine in order to plant flowers and hug fuzzy animals in a park. Yeah, real mature, Beatles. While you were dreaming up that sophisticated plot, the Stones made Gimme Shelter and killed a guy.

The album begins with the title track — real clever sequencing, Beatles! The Beatles denied the “submarines” were yellow Darvon sleeping pills that were all the rage in spectral-space-love-Berkeley. This is a shame as then maybe the song would have been about something. Instead, John and Paul subject Ringo to yet another cruel blast of triviality. When the song inevitably infuriated George Martin, John and Paul could be all like, “Wasn’t us, Mr. Martin, Ringo was doing it to himself.” And then they drench the entire production in these goofy wave and submarine bell sound effects as if it could be possible that listeners were unaware submarines are large mechanical vessels designed for sub-marine travel. After you said the word, it already defined itself. I do not want any further explanation. The best thing about “All Together Now” is its title. Even then, you could’ve deleted about three of those words. (Still, it’s better than “All Dispersed Now” or “None Together Now”). Not much goes on in this song that you didn’t hear in the “Alphabet Song” when you were in the womb. Well, there’s one distinction: some people like the “Alphabet Song.” Reportedly, it only took the group five hours to record the track. This is embarrassing when you consider a man without a body could’ve recorded it in about a minute and a half. The song is two minutes.

Lennon’s “Hey Bulldog” is a gratuitous ’50s-rocking b-side. I think it would have perhaps been partially enjoyable if I had heard it in the 1600s. Then I would at least be entertained by my wonderment that alchemists could extract noise from a stringed instrument. I don’t remember Harrison’s “It’s All Too Much” in the movie, but this is likely due to little kids’ ability to repress overly traumatic events. Then there’s George Martin’s classical score. It’s vaguely convivial, if entirely forgettable, occasionally managing some sort of buoyancy amidst the cumbersome pseudo-experimentalism. But listening to it is comparable to listening to the soundtrack of Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land over and over again; it might be vaguely hip and humorous, but at some point you have to take a stand and say, “Mathmagic Land does not really exist.” The Beatles were never quite able to say that.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt