Sub-mission

After 30 years, Apple finally does Yellow Submarine right

The Beatles
Yellow Submarine Songtrack

(Apple)

Most people's candidate for least fab Beatles album is the original Yellow Submarine soundtrack, and with good reason. No one wanted to shell out full list price for an album padded with an entire side of George Martin instrumentals, two previously released Beatles hits and a mere four new songs, all throwaways by the Beatles' own admission. The animated feature premièred in London on July 17, 1968, yet the soundtrack album didn't reach stores until January of 1969, well after the White Album had been unwrapped under millions of Christmas trees.

The Beatles didn't want this Yellow Sub-standard hack work to appear before their new record as the double album's starkness made the psychedelia of Pepperland seem part of some long-gone era. Yellow Submarine went gold like all the other Beatle LPs, but it remained a slow catalogue seller -- usually the album that even completists put off buying until the very last.

Now the last becomes the first with this radically expanded and remixed 1999 edition. Every Beatles tune used in the film for even a nanosecond is included here, 15 songs in all, with the George Martin Orchestra nowhere in sight. (Fans of "March of the Meanies" needn't despair, the original CD isn't being deleted). Purists might cry foul that the original mixes have been tampered with, that the harmonica on "All Together Now" has been subdued to volumes lower than that of the bicycle bell. But they're just nowhere men who don't know what they're missing. A back-to-back sound comparison exposes the previously released Beatle CDs as the rush jobs that they were.

Of all the original Beatles CDs, only Rubber Soul and Help! were digitally altered -- the rest were straight transfer jobs that anyone with a CD burner and access to the Beatles mixed masters could have done. Shame on you, EMI, but we'll probably pay for your mistakes again when you digitally remix the entire catalogue, the inevitable outcome once the kudos and sales figures for this latest marketing venture are tallied.

On every newly mixed song, the vocals are moved to the center of the stereo picture, no longer banished to a lonely corner with only a faint hint of reverb on the opposite side. Before the White Album, Beatles stereo mixes were usually done in under two hours with none of the group in attendance. For this reason audiophiles consider the mono versions of Sgt. Pepper and Revolver to be the definitive recordings.

This new hybrid restores many of the vocal effects found on the mono versions that were missing on their stereo counterparts. John's "a life of ease" megaphone sing-along on "Yellow Submarine" comes in when it's supposed to, and the "Sea of Green" sound effect rolls from speaker to speaker now. The true testament of the song's renovation is how it reveals sonic touches like the jarring sound of a foghorn -- which I had never detected even after countless spins of the original.

Paul and Ringo's stellar contributions benefit the most from this overhaul, now that every track has a rich bottom and a loud kick drum. Ringo's lurching waltz pattern on the verses of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" -- once muffled out of earshot -- are given new life here. Other sonic wonders: "When I'm Sixty Four" loses much of the original's annoying tape hiss; "Sgt. Pepper" has even more biting rhythm guitar; the cellos on "Eleanor Rigby" have deeper bass tones, and all the bad vocal glitches have been smoothed out.

Even the previously unlistenable "Only a Northern Song" gets a reasonable mix, with the screeching horns pushed way in the background and the rhythm section pulled into prominence. Ditto for Harrison's other Submarine-specific song "It's All Too Much," which still manages to go on about three minutes too much.

With this expanded song selection, Harrison finally gets four songs on a single Beatles album, a concession that comes 30 years too late to stave off the Beatles' breakup. Quite simply, this new "songtrack" makes every one of those old stereo mixes sound like well-intentioned crap. Better-sounding Beatles albums won't save rock 'n' roll from its impending obsolescence. Only great music by new artists can do that. But good luck trying to convince Mojo and Q magazine subscribers that the dinosaurs that once roamed the Earth aren't preferable to the dogs stinking up their yards now.

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