By Rush Evans
I still remember the first time I saw Yellow Submarine. I had already discovered The Beatles, thanks to my friend Tommy down the street, whose big brother had the Help! album. We listened to it daily. We were about eight years old. It was soon thereafter that my sister and I found ourselves spontaneously visiting our favorite baby sitter, who lived several blocks over. She was kind of a hippie chick, our first exposure, and she always talked about someone named Cat Stevens. She told us that a Beatles cartoon was coming on television shortly. So we stayed to see. And that is how I first saw Yellow Submarine, a vividly colorful cartoon. On a small black and white TV.
But it worked! It was still a cartoon, and it was the guys I had been listening to! It was pretty grown up as cartoons go, but it certainly had child appeal, this child very much included. The song, “Yellow Submarine,” had already become an anthem of sorts, rock music accessible to those of us with single digit ages. And that’s when rock and roll became about something more than teenagers and college kids. It was for little kids, too.
Yellow Submarine, of course, was not necessarily designed as a kids’ song or a kids’ movie. Three decades after they both came out, I would be able to introduce my young son to Beatles music and music in general, as a friend had given us a Yellow Submarine book that played the song when the pages were open. It was pretty cool.
Another friend named Tom painted the iconic yellow submarine on the wall of his twins’ nursery just a few years ago, firing their young imaginations as early as he could make it.
In a record store just last week, I saw a young woman holding a used VHS tape of Yellow Submarine. I began talking with her about it, and I asked her how old she was. “Seventeen,” she said. “And I’m so glad my dad still has a player so I can play this!” She said she was fourteen when she first saw it, so now she’s poised to take The Beatles into adulthood. “Is this the record you said was great?” she asked me, holding up an Ian Hunter album that she’d overheard me identify to someone else as a classic. I said, “yes,” and she bought it along with her Yellow Submarine VHS. There is hope for the future.
Now I’m a grandpa. And my three-year-old grandson already has a Yellow Submarine shirt. The coolest thing about that is that it didn’t come from me but from his parents! And he really loves my little yellow submarine Christmas ornament.
A few months ago, he and my five-year-old granddaughter marched into my record room asking to listen to records. I pulled out Magical Mystery Tour on vinyl, which, like the animated film, includes “All You Need Is Love,” a perfect song to introduce to small children. Both of the kids were already familiar with that song, as it’s the theme song to the Beat Bugs cartoon series, the latest deliberate move to expose another generation to Beatles music. Beat Bugs is pretty sophisticated 3D animation, and famous musicians like Sia, The Shins, and Pink often perform The Beatles songs included on the series about five insects.
The Beatles had been in cartoons several years ahead of the Yellow Submarine feature film, but it was this particular imaginative journey that seemed to capture them at their most psychedelically accessible. The image of the film’s yellow submarine is easily identifiable in 2018, a year in which Ringo Starr still tours at age 78, singing “Yellow Submarine” every time he takes the stage.
Ringo once spoke of his greatest memory associated with the movie. “The first year it was out, I had all these kids coming up to me, ‘Why did you press the button?’ I pressed that button and got shot out. Kids from all over the bloody world were shouting at me, ‘Why did you press that button?’”
A few years after this movie, a similarly musically trippy animated film came out, this time associated with the music of Beatles ally and friend, Harry Nilsson. His album and movie were even more explicitly designed for children, but the songs of The Point were universal, as “Me and My Arrow” and “Lifeline” became some of Nilsson’s most beloved songs by kids of all ages. Ringo Starr would narrate one of the versions of the movie (an interesting fact when one considers that neither he nor the other Beatles provided their own voices in their own cartoon movie)!
So now the movie is coming again at age fifty, and it’s time to see if young Leila and Ford are ready for grandpa to share a cartoon made before the technology used to create their favorite modern cartoons existed. When drawn images on paper and musicians recorded onto tape came alive in the most imaginative of ways.
For grandpa, it appears that the Blue Meanies have taken hold of the world in which they are growing up. Surely, now more than ever, we need The Beatles and their universal message of love in the minds of Leila and Ford and their entire generation. I’m certainly not hearing it in most of the new music of their young lifetimes. The timeless and important message of Yellow Submarine clings and takes root when it is delivered as beautiful songs with unforgettable melodies. I know first-hand that it stays forever in a young mind when we sing along. So we should all share this magical musical experience with the young people in our lives. All together now.
Read the rest of the Yellow Submarine story in the August 2018 issue of Goldmine (shown below), available at select Barnes and Noble, Books A Million and indie record stores.