Yellow Submarine Q&A with Paul, George and Ringo (1999)
Q: The three of you had a private viewing of the newly renovated Yellow Submarine movie. What did you think of the film and its remixed sounds now?
Paul: I think the Surroundsound sounds great. When we first made Yellow Submarine you didn’t have things like Surroundsound, so it was kind of flat. But now they’ve taken advantage of modern techniques and it works. When you see something like Eleanor Rigby in the movie now, it sounds like you’re actually in the string quartet, it sounds like you’re there.
George: We went to Abbey Road studios and listened to all the remixes with the Surroundsound and it makes a lot of difference to you watching the film.
Ringo: I loved the sound. Paul and I went over to Abbey Road to hear the mix and it was exciting; it was like hearing it all over for the first time again, it’s so clear now. Yeah, I love the remix. It works. You hear sounds that were buried before.
Q: How do you think the movie looks?
Paul: When you see the opening title it looks kind of vintage, it’s initially got sort of old-fashioned look, but as you get into it I think it stands up very well – to me it kind of seemed surprisingly modern. It’s quite trippy, it’s a bit of a “head” film really. I don’t’ think it’s a kid’s movie too much, although apparently a lot of kids do like it. As I say, it’s quite “heady”- and some of the puns are dreadful. They are so dreadful that you instantly forget them. It is a period piece, but it holds up, some of the ideas in the film are very clever…it made me laugh in one or two places, which was surprising after all this time. And the colours are very crisp and clean and vibrant now, that particularly struck me, but the sound is brilliant, the music sounds very fresh with these new mixes. I think the only reason to mess with the original mixes would be to get this into the cinema as it now is. But it works.
Ringo: Trippy? Well, it was at the time, it’s what they did at the time. AS to whether the colour is more vivid…well, I can’t remember the yellow of 1967 to compare it to the yellow of 1999. IT just looked yellow and blue and red. But it looked very cleaned up.
George: I guess you’d really need to see an old print of it to realise how improved it is. Trippy? I think it’s trippy for five-year-olds. In its time, when the film was first made, it was a fantastic thing. We forget that now, 30 years later, because there is so much computerized stuff around. But in some ways the technology gets so far ahead that it’s actually not as good as the non-computerized stuff – but because everybody is conned into thinking that the newest is the best you forget that. In its time Yellow Submarine was very innovative. And I think the movie does deserve to be released again; it’s not as if it’s been out and about a lot. And it’s good. It’s good when you look at it in comparison with everything that’s on TV. There’s a lot of rubbishy old movies and even more rubbishy new movies. So, it really doesn’t take much to stand up in this world; let’s face it, most of Hollywood is rubbish. So, anything half decent will stand up.
For some people of my age, it may be a classic; maybe they’re going to look at it and think “I remember that,” maybe they’re just going to enjoy hearing the music again. Whether young kids will like it I don’t know. But it’s usually been a film for kids, they’ve enjoyed it usually from four or five years old. And I think each generation of kids enjoys it, just like they sit and watch Mickey Mouse or something. I think Yellow Submarine is just one of those cartoons that is now there forever.
Q: What do you think of your characters in the film?
George: The thing I liked the most about the movie was that we didn’t really have anything to do with it. They just took our music, we met with them and they talked basically about what they were going to do and then Heinz Edelmann – who was fantastic – went off and created all these characters, showed them to us and that was basically it.
But it’s just a cartoon. Yellow Submarine always was a little cheesy and it probably looks a bit more cheesy to me because it’s from 30 years ago. But, at the same time, it’s pretty cute – and let’s face it, The Lion King and all that stuff isn’t exactly not cheesy. So, it’s the nature of cartoon characters to be cartoon and I suppose it’s the voices that make it really funny because it’s not our voices. So there’ s a lot of Liverpool dialogue added on and we would really not talk like that. But I think it’s fun for the cartoon characters to talk like that. So, when you see my character coming in on top of a mountain haze of transcendental, Indian music, that’s good. It’s kind of me, isn’t it? That’s how I was, that’s how I am. In my heart, I am still on a mountain in India somewhere – and that suits me.
Paul: You have to remember it wasn’t our film anyway. The producers asked us if we wanted to do the voices, but we didn’t really want to. The idea of the movie was based on a Beatle TV cartoon they’d done and we hadn’t done the voices for that. Plus it’s a lot of hard work and we were working on our music at the time and so we didn’t want to become actors, it wasn’t our thing. So they got Liverpool actors to do our voices. That’s OK, we knew we had to sort of live with that – but it did spawn this idea that Liverpool people speak in this daft way. But it’s only a cartoon.
My character in the movie? Terrific (sarcastically), you know…really lacking in character. It’s being the straight guy in the group. I suddenly get landed with that. There’s George looking very sort of marvelous up on a hill, that’s good. I think Ringo’s is always a good character, film-makings love Ringo because he’s always been a great character and he’s got a funny way about him, that works. And I think my cartoon character’s a bit bland. But then the animators didn’t know me, the Pepper side of me. So you become the young executive singing ballads; you get type cast, it’s just like being in a soap. They’ve made their minds up on who you are and you just have to live with it. But never mind, it’s only a cartoon.
Ringo: The characters are what they are, animated characters. I did think they could have spent a bit more money on the voices (laughs) everybody seems to be talking as if they’re on Valium. The best story I liked about Yellow Submarine was that when it came out all these kids would ask me “why did you push the button?” – that’s the bit when my character pushes a button and get shot out of the sub.
Q: What do you think of other characters in the movie?
George: I like the Blue Meanies a lot – as opposed to in real life where blue meanies are actually pretty grim, but in Yellow Submarine I think they’re really cute. I like their outfits. I like the big boots. And I like the vacuum cleaning bloke – and the Bonkers, because they never say anything, they just go along bonking people. (laughs) That’s quite a good idea really. I think the more bonking the better.
Ringo: The Flying Glove is great now. Because the sound is now zooming here and zooming there, the glove is great. The sound effects are so much better, the remixed sound does help the film. The bit I really love is the Sea of Holes; I loved that whole scene when we first saw it. I thought it was the most adventurous scene in the whole movie and I still think that now.
Paul: I like the man Blue Meanie; he’s got a great voice. In fact, I’ve been doing him at home. His character comes in handy for many situations.
Q: Does Yellow Submarine capture the feeling of its time?
George: Well, that music was of the time and the animation was tailored to the music and to the feelings that were about then. But if someone sees it in 100 years’ time, whether it will give them a feeling that it’s captured the times, I don’t’ know.
Paul: When the guys who made the film first came to London saying they wanted to do this feature film because at the time I lived in town and the others didn’t, they came around to see me to talk about it. I was actually sort of imagining a kind of Disneyesque animation – Dumbo, Snow White, Lady, and the Tramp. I think those are really great classics. So, I was kind of steering it a bit in that direction.
Unfortunately, it was in the middle of the Sixties and it was in the middle of this wild thing happening in London. We just made Sgt. Pepper and they felt they had to pick up on that; quite rightly, I think. So, my main point was that we could make a great kids’ cartoon and they kept saying no, we’ve got to pick up the spirit of the times. I think they were right and that’s exactly what they did. The film’s very much got a Sixties feel in the colours, the jokes, and the whole idea. And I think it’s quite a good metaphor for life – The Blue Meanies on one side and then the All You Need is Love people. I think that still stands up and it probably always will.
All You Need is Love is basically the message of the movie, which still holds true. It seems to be a very simple message and sometimes it can seem a very bland message, but it’s a good song. John sings it great and it’s affected a lot of people. And I still think the message is really true, I think that it is still what people need. The people have got the message but the warring factions haven’t. But when they get it, the will of the people will be done.
Ringo: Maybe the next time they have a war, the side that hugs the most wins.
Q: The sound has been remastered and remixed and the released of the home video is accompanied by a new Yellow Submarine album, so is the music the real hero of the movie?
Ringo: Every time The Beatles are represented, it doesn’t matter what goes on around them but the music. That’s how it’s represented, it’s always the must.
George: Music can be a hero. Music can be beneficial in the world and has been and yet still can be in the future. But likewise, it can have a negative effect too, there’s a lot of really bad stuff around that’s negative, whether it’s in the lyrics or in the noise it produces, head-banging stuff that’s bad for the nervous system.
Music can be a really powerful force; not just Beatle tunes but all kinds of music which definitely ‘puts you in the place.’ People are always saying where you were when this happened? Well, you can always remember where you were when you first heard a particular record. Music had that effect and so for people who were into the Beatles, this music is from a happy time in their lives and they can play that again.
The music that is now on the record and which is in the movie is representative of us from a period. The songs originally weren’t all on the same album, those songs were taken from a period of maybe two years. But it represents us at that period and the music is the main thing that is representative of us.
Paul: When people bought the Yellow Submarine soundtrack the first time around, they might have been surprised, and our fans probably a little disappointed, that all the orchestral soundtrack music was on there, because people tended to buy our records for our sounds.
So without doing the George Martin soundtrack an injustice, I think it’s great that finally, you can buy all the songs that were in the movie on this one new songtrack album. I think it’s a good idea to call it a “songtrack” as opposed to a “soundtrack,” because it lets you know you’re getting the songs.
And it also gives you a reason to re-release it, because one thing with the Beatles is that we always try to never cheat people. When we became The Beatles, we’d recently been record-buyers so we knew what it meant to spend those hard-earned pennies on a record. So we always try to give people good value for money good A sides and good B sides and pack the albums with good stuff so you don’t feel cheated. And that’s what’s happening this time around what the songtrack, now you don’t get any of the incidental music, you just get The Beatles’ music.
Q: The new, renovated version of the movie now included the Hey Bulldog segment that was cut out in the Sixties. Also, there’s now talk of a video of new Hey Bulldog footage of The Beatles that has never been seen before?
Ringo: The video is film footage that none of us remembered had been taken. But we found it and that’s the blessing.
Paul: I think Hey Bulldog is really cool. One of the things I liked about John’s songwriting style is its quirkiness. It’s quite surreal, some of his lyrics. And I think Hey Bulldog is very surreal. What happened was that we were in the studio and we’d just done Lady Madonna and some film people were coming along to the studio to do a video for that. So, we did that and just as they were packing up, they asked if we’d mind if they shot a little bit of general stuff. We said we had to get on working on doing this other song. They said that was OK if we didn’t mind them being there. So, they were just laying on the floor filming. Anyway, we were recording Hey Bulldog and they got a lot of this live footage of us recording that. But we all forgot about it and it has only recently turned up.
I think it makes a really cool video. It’s very of the time and it’s this whole live take of us doing that song, Hey Bulldog. I like it. I like the bit when I’m harmonizing with John and he says something about a dog and I just started barking and being a dog. Then John sort of says ‘have I got anymore of that’ and then I’m off, I‘m howling! And the spirit of that session is brought back by the recording. It’s a very free and open spirit that I like a lot and it’s very artistic. And it’s a very cool riff. I still remember us making up that riff. So, I think the lyrics are great, John sings it good and I think my dog impression is terrific.
Ringo: When the news broke in Britain about Hey Bulldog everybody said we’d found a new track; but it’s not a new track, it’s new footage. It’s always nice to be surprised but, Oh my God, we had footage, actual film footage. I love that track. It’s a fine track.
Q: It’s debatably whether Yellow Submarine the move is a children’s film or not, but what about the song, was that initially aimed at children?
Paul: I was in bed one night in that little limbo moment just before you drift off to sleep. Because I’m a songwriter, one of the things I find myself doing in those limbo moments is thinking of ideas for songs. Somehow, in that moment, I thought it might be good to do a children’s song, for Ringo. Ringo was always very good with kids and John and I were always looking to write a Ringo song for each album. So, I was thinking that, and this idea of a yellow submarine, like a kid’s book or something, came into my mind. So, the next day I started writing it and we finished it up. Ringo sang it very well; I think he sings it to this day. In fact, he tells me that when he’s in concert he gets the audience to do the chorus; Ringo shouts “where do we live?” and they all go “in a Yellow Submarine” Oh, (laughing) I love that, the idea of Ringo going “where do we live?”
Ringo: That song’s given me a career (laughing). Everybody can sing that song. When I’m on tour it’s all “this is one you all know and if you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.” Even fetuses know that song.
George: The year that song came out I think it was voted the most popular and the most hated song in Britain, it’s one of those songs. It’s the kids all love it, their grannies all love it, the people who just like The Beatles all love it, and the people who don’t like it, hate it. It’s not just that they don’t like it. They hate it. It’s one of those extremes. It’s one of those songs you can’t get out of your head once you hear it. It’s a pretty cute song, but it was a children’s song basically.
Ringo: The interesting thing about that song and the bit in the middle of it was that we did all of our own sound effects. Like the sound of the engine in the water was done by blowing through a straw. I was at one end of the studio shouting and John was in another corner shouting and we all just made it up on the spot. That’s how it was. Some people think we took months to do that, but it was all done off the cuff right away.
Q: What do you think now of the style of the movie?
Paul: I think the way they married the music to the animation was very good. I think some of the sequences are particularly stunning. I like the Lucy scene. I think that is really good. They had some very clever ideas and certain sequences were prize-winning. In the Sixties people we retrying things and people didn’t mind if ideas were different. You could put them together somehow, in the clothing, in the music. I liked the way they varied the animation styles in the film – doing things like using live action underneath the horses in Lucy and then painting over that. It’s quite a common technique now, but it was not very common then. Things like using the real photography in Eleanor Rigby was very stylish. I think it all held together and because the main characters were walking through all this stuff it’s made it a kind of psychedelic movie. I think the first time I saw it I was expecting something a bit more Disney. This time I knew that wasn’t to be, so I actually enjoyed it for what it was and I think it came off really quite well.
Q: How does this new release of Yellow Submarine as a home video and as this new Beatles’ songtrack add to the great Beatles legend?
George: I don’t think it will add anymore. It just keeps what is already there going. It just keeps it ticking over. But all of that really had nothing to do with us, you know. It was like we were just put there as playthings for the rest of the world.
Paul: The funny thing about being in The Beatles is that we didn’t want to become legends. We just wanted to get good at our music. It’s difficult for me to talk about what makes The Beatles great because you’ve got to try to bring some modesty in at some point. But the fact that there is this body of work and that the career of The Beatles is finished does allow you to talk about it. And, putting modesty aside, I think the songs are really good – that’s the backbone of it all. I think in the music and in the songwriting and in the performance, we did something right that still shows. And it is Tomorrow Never Knows drum sound and copying it religiously, which is nothing but a tribute. They could be copying anyone, but they’re not. They seem to think that we hit a nerve which is still worth hitting now.
Ringo: This is just a re-release, I don’t think the world will stop turning. But because of the record, it will give people the opportunity to take a listen.
The interesting thing for me with the record, and I always go back to the record, is that I’ve played it a lot to young people and they’ve all mentioned the music could have been made today. It’s what the bands today are trying to sound like still. So that’s why, for me, the music is the legacy and in this case, it’s surrounded by the film.