Last summer, music fans the world over celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ groundbreaking LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This time around, we mark 50 years since the July 1968 premiere of the Beatles’ animated feature Yellow Submarine. And with Apple releasing a special picture disc of the “Yellow Submarine” single, the film enjoying a cinematic re-release next week, and Happy Socks throwing in pairs of commemorative footwear for good measure, we’ll all be setting sail for the Land of Submarines.
Ground zero forYellow Submarine occurred on Wednesday, July 17th, 1968, when theanimated feature film premiered at the London Pavilion. As with A Hard Day’s Nightand Help!, it was an evening redolent with the fanaticism of Beatlemania’s great onslaught in the band’s early days. The scene around Piccadilly Circus was appropriately raucous, with the Beatles having traded in their psychedelic finery for the upscale Carnaby wear that was coming into vogue. Even producer George Martin was on the scene, joined by his wife Judy. Looking out of place as usual, the couple was dressed to the nines as if they were at a Hollywood opening, circa 1955, with the producer wearing a sleek tuxedo and his wife donning a fancy gown.
In short order, Yellow Submarine enjoyed rave reviews both at home and abroad. Writing for The New York Times, Renata Adler captured the magic of the animated feature, as well as the Beatles’ uncanny portability across nearly every genre and demographic: “Yellow Submarineis a family movie in the truest sense,” Adler wrote, “something for the little kids who watch the same sort of punning stories, infinitely less nonviolent and refined, on television; something for the older kids, whose musical contribution to the arts and longings for love and gentleness and color could hardly present a better case; something for parents, who can see the best of what being newly young is all about. . . . When invited to, the whole audience picks up the ‘all together now’ refrain and sings.” Even George Harrison, one of the most vocal critics of the project when it was conceived back in 1967, observed that the “film works for every generation—every baby, three or four years old, goes through Yellow Submarine.”
In spite of the movie’s astounding success—it turned over millions of pounds in ticket sales on a relatively meager budget—the Yellow Submarine soundtrack album would be delayed until January 1969. First, there was the issue of the Beatles’ new long-player—later popularized as The White Album—which would require the balance of 1968 to complete. But there was also the matter of the soundtrack itself, which Martin wanted to re-record for posterity. When the soundtrack was finally released on January 17th, 1969, in the UK, Martin’s score comprised half of the album, with the remainder of the LP consisting of “Yellow Submarine,” “Only a Northern Song,” “All Together Now,” “Hey Bulldog,” “It’s All Too Much,” and “All You Need Is Love.”
Not surprisingly, fans and critics alike were suitably miffed with the release, which included several songs that were already available and the score for a film that was, by that point, already six months old. With cover art by Heinz Edelman, the Yellow Submarine soundtrack nevertheless registered top-five showings in both the UK and US marketplaces, where consumer enthusiasm for new Beatles product continued to reign supreme. Indeed, the soundtrack might have even topped the charts had there not been another newly minted Beatles release in heavy rotation the world over.
As for 2018, the coming weeks will serve as a litmus test of sorts regarding Yellow Submarine’s capacity for enthralling 21st-century audiences with the Beatles’ magic of yore.