FEATURE: Blue Meanies and the Liberation of Pepperland: Celebrating Fifty Years of Yellow Submarine




Blue Meanies and the Liberation of Pepperland


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/Press Association 

Celebrating Fifty Years of Yellow Submarine


ALTHOUGH the soundtrack was released…


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/Press Association

in January 1969; the Yellow Submarine film was unveiled to hungry audiences on 17th July, 1968. Let’s talk about the music first of all. This was a period between The Beatles’ eponymous album (or ‘The White Album’) and Abbey Road. Those two albums are considered among the very best from the legendary band – Let It Be, their last album (to be released rather than recorded), left some critics cold and was not a huge success. The band was not strangers to film by the late-1960s and had already released the album for the much underrated Magical Mystery Tour – the record was unvalued as opposed the film itself. The boys, in 1968/1969, were winding down their career and knew that the end was not too far away. Many critics were a bit ho-hum regards the album for Yellow Submarine. Some loved the second side – compositions by George Martin – and liked a couple of songs on the first side. George Harrison, perhaps, offered two of the best songs in the form of Only a Northern Song and It’s All Too Much. Yellow Submarine (the title cut) had, obviously, already appeared on a Beatles record: it was part of 1966’s Revolver and seemed weird, but wonderful, on that record. All Together Now is catchy and chat-along but does drag a little bit; the title-track is fun and inventive whereas Hey Bulldog is a so-so rocker – All You Need Is Love is one of The Beatles’ best but sounds a little odd on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.

George Martin composed second-side pieces like Pepperland and Sea of Monsters; March of the Meanies and Sea of Holes – they all seemed to fit better with the film itself and would have been hard to cause too much offence. Some viewed the aforementioned It’s All Too Much as tessellated and a mantic interweaving – gidouiled and spiralling (Barry Miles wrote that for International Times, in fact). Some debated an E.P. would have been more suitable: release a four-track work that collates the best four songs from the soundtrack. Others felt fans had been hankering for a Beatles soundtrack for a long time and Yellow Submarine came along at the right moment! Some felt, even though the material has a bit of a recycled feel; The Beatles at half-strength is a better proposition than a full-strength peer; others felt Hey Bulldog, in fact, was a stormer. The original compositions and already-heard songs on side-one were okay but everyone seemed to agree on one thing: the George Martin-composed side-two is/was a more fluid and impressive work. I guess, given the content of the film and its trippy nature, non-vocal (for the most part) music was a more suitable accompaniment. Released fifty years ago with a host of screenwriters, directors (for the animation and (brief) live action); the film was launched to the world. There was so much excitement for this tripped-out, colourful extravaganza from the world’s best band – even though The Beatles’ voices were provided by actors (some doing rather dodgy ‘impressions’)! If you need the full plot; I have gone onto Wikipedia to save you the time:

Pepperland is a cheerful, music-loving paradise under the sea, protected by Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The titular Yellow Submarine rests on an Aztec-like pyramid on a hill. At the edge of the land is a range of high blue mountains.

The land falls under a surprise attack from the music-hating Blue Meanies, who live beyond the blue mountains. The attack starts with a music-proof blue glass globe that imprisons the band. With the band sealed in the globe, the Blue Meanies fire magical projectiles from big artillery stationed in the blue mountains and render the Pepperlanders immobile as statues by shooting arrows or dropping giant green apples upon them (a reference to the Apple Records music label), and drain the entire countryside of colour...

...In the last minutes before his capture, Pepperland's elderly Lord Mayor sends Old Fred, an aging sailor (whom the even more elderly mayor calls "Young Fred"), to get help. Fred activates the Yellow Submarine and takes off in it ("Yellow Submarine"). Old Fred travels to Liverpool ("Eleanor Rigby"), where he follows a depressed Ringo and persuades him to return to Pepperland with him. Ringo collects his "mates" JohnGeorge, and finally Paul in The Pier, a house-like building on the top of a hill. The five journey back to Pepperland in the yellow submarine...

...As they start learning to operate the submarine, they sing "All Together Now", after which they pass through several regions on their way to Pepperland:

·         Sea of Time – where time flows both forwards and backwards to the tune of "When I'm Sixty-Four". At one point, the submarine passes itself as it loops through time.

·         Sea of Science – where they sing "Only a Northern Song". Just before the song finishes, they pick up a monster.

·         Sea of Monsters – The monster is ejected into a sea inhabited by other weird monsters. Ringo presses the panic button on the submarine, ejecting him from the submarine and into the sea. He is seen riding one of the monsters, who tosses him around, and with the threat of Native American-like creatures, resulting in John pressing another button on the submarine, sending the US Cavalry to successfully defeat the creatures and rescue Ringo. It is also where a monstrous "vacuum cleaner beast" sucks up all loose objects, creatures, the entire landscape, and finally itself, popping the submarine into a strange empty void...


Sea of Nothing – This blank region is where they meet Jeremy Hillary Boob Ph.D. ("Phud"), a short pudgy creature with a painted clown face and cotton tail, but a highly studious and helpful ally to the Beatles, who sing "Nowhere Man" in reference to him. As they leave, Ringo feels sorry for the "Nowhere Man" and invites him to join them aboard the submarine.

·         Foothills of the Headlands – Thanks to Jeremy, this is where he and the Beatles are separated from both the Submarine (and Old Fred) and where John sings "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". Pepper (foreshadowing that Pepperland is yet to come) causes the beings in the Headlands to sneeze, blowing the Beatles and Jeremy into the Sea of Holes.

·         Sea of Holes – Here, Jeremy is kidnapped by one of the Blue Meanies patrolling the outskirts of Pepperland. Ringo thoroughly investigates one of the endless number of holes and puts it into his pocket. While searching for Jeremy, Ringo jumps onto a green hole which turns the Sea of Holes into a Sea of Green. From here, the group arrives in Pepperland, followed by Old Fred and his Submarine...

Reunited with Old Fred and the submarine, they look upon the landscape: a sorry sight. The beautiful flowers have become thorns, and the once-happy landscape now a barren wasteland. Everyone is immobilized and made miserable by the evil Blue Meanies, only able to move when permitted (such as when the Meanies feel like bullying them). The Beatles, camouflaged as Pepperlandian cutouts, dress up as Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and reacquire (steal back) some instruments (their own instruments were lost in the Sea of Monsters) from the warehouse where the Meanies impounded "all things that make music". The four are discovered at the last second (Ringo accidentally steps on a bagpipe) and a clown Meanie sounds the alarm, causing the Beatles to flee hastily from the Meanies' vicious multi-headed (and multi-bodied) dog. Once in the clear, after defeating some apple-bonkers, the four rally the land to rebellion, singing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", eventually forcing the Blue Meanies to retreat...

...The Chief Blue Meanie retaliates, sending out his main enforcer, the Dreadful Flying Glove, but John easily defeats it by singing "All You Need is Love". Pepperland is restored to colour and its flowers re-bloom, as the residents, empowered by the Beatles' music, rise up and take up arms (flowers) against the Meanies, who are fleeing headlong back to the blue border mountains where they came from. The original Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band are released (thanks to the hole carried in Ringo's pocket from the Sea of Holes) and Ringo rescues Jeremy. The Beatles then have a rematch with the four-headed Meanie dog, singing "Hey Bulldog", with the Beatles victorious once again (This scene was in the UK version). The Blue Meanies are forced to retreat, and the Chief Blue Meanie tries to save face by killing Jeremy, but Jeremy performs some "transformation magic" on him causing the Meanie to sadly concede defeat. John extends an offer of friendship, and the Chief Blue Meanie has a change of heart (partly due to the "transformation magic" performed by Jeremy) and accepts. An enormous party ensues, where everyone sings "It's All Too Much" with everyone living happily ever after...

...At the end, we see the real Beatles in live-action, having returned home, playfully showing off their souvenirs: George has the submarine's motor, Paul has "a little 'LOVE'" and Ringo still has half a hole in his pocket (having supposedly given the other half to Jeremy, which Paul offers to fix "to keep his mind from wandering", a reference to "Fixing a Hole"). Looking through a telescope, John announces that "newer and bluer Meanies have been sighted within the vicinity of this theatre" and claims there is only one way to go out: "Singing!" The quartet obliges with a short reprise of "All Together Now", which ends with translations of the song's title in various languages appearing in sequence on the screen, which concludes with the words "Released through United Artists" on the bottom-right-hand-corner of the screen”.


IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press Association 

Two soundtracks from the film have been released: the second, in 1999, contained all the songs from the film except A Day in the Life. Apart from the odd original composition (like Only a Northern Song); fans got a mixture of Beatles classics from their recent albums. It was a head-swelling, mind-tripping film that showed a new side to the band and was really well received. Although a few retrospective reviews have scored down the film and felt it has not aged well; at the time, there was a huge swell of love for the Beatles masterpiece. Even if the soundtrack was a little muted in terms of the band’s best; few had any complaints regarding the film itself! It is remarkable to think there is so much love for the fifty-year-old film! We have this ongoing fascination of The Beatles and digest everything from them. Like their albums; we hold their films in high esteem, even if they have produced some pretty average ones (Magical Mystery Tour, for one!).

Special screenings are occurring today – check search engines to see if Yellow Submarine is playing near you! – and revel in the brilliance, giddiness and wonder. This year will see another fiftieth anniversary for The Beatles: their eponymous album was released in 1968 and will be met with a lot of acclaim, respect and special shows. I am annoyed I do not have time to get to a cinema but will buy the film from Amazon and watch it as soon as I can. We have not really seen any real equivalent to Yellow Submarine since 1968. Some bands have had films made about them but nothing as phantasmagorical and spellbinding as Yellow Submarine. Even if the boys’ career had reached its real last peak and was threatened with a steady decline; the film, Yellow Submarine, was a reminder of what the band could achieve and why they were so loved.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/Press Association

Even though we only get to see a brief glimpse of The Beatles (at the very end); a new wave of affection came through and swept the world. Have a look at the film and, if you can, get to a cinema and see it on the big screen! Listen to the album and listen to all the gems and pleasures waiting within. There are plenty of times ahead we can mark a Beatles anniversary and celebrate one of their terrific works. Today belongs to Yellow Submarine and a film many of us wouldn’t have been able to experience the first time around (in 1968). I defy you to watch the film and not hum the title-track until…

YOUR voice runs dry