The "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" Remixes:
Blasphemy or Godsend?

by Pope Penguin

In 1999, in conjunction with the deluxe re-release of The Beatles' 1969 animated feature "Yellow Submarine," EMI decided to release an accompanying soundtrack.  The CD features all fifteen of The Beatles' compositions used in the film and excises George Martin's score.  In many circles the "Songtrack" was thought to be long overdue, but EMI went one controversial step further by deciding to completely remix all fifteen tracks to tie in with the 5.1 surround sound of the new DVD.  While this was greeted with jubilation by many fans, it managed to irk the more purist Beatles fans, who stated that EMI was tampering with history and that the new set of remixes was a travesty of justice.

I had the privilege of first hearing the new remixes at the beginning of the year.  A friend led me through the disc, highlighting some of the more significant remixes.  Since I'd considered myself among the music fanatics who are more purist in spirit, I listened with some trepidation, but when my listening experience was over, I found only one word could adequately describe this new set of remixes: "breathtaking."

Are the purists right?  Was remixing classic Beatles tracks that had "worked" for over 30 years a travesty?  Or are these remixes long overdue, merely a means of updating classic recordings for modern times and a sign of more similar mixes to come?  Before I explore that argument in depth, I shall do a rundown of each track, giving a comparison between the original mixes issued in the '60s, and those featured on the remixed "Songtrack" issued in 1999.

(For those readers less obsessed with the subtle nuances of mixes, I suggest you skip the following table of information and peruse my summation argument at the bottom of the page.)
Yellow Submarine
Revolver (1966)
Yellow Submarine (1969)
The vocals are all the way to the right.  The wave noises are in the middle.  The folderol in the middle of the song seems to pan a bit, left to right. The instrumentation is largely submerged in the left channel. Ringo's vocals and the instrumentation is in the center of the stereo picture now, right from the beginning.  The wave noises now pan from channel to channel quite audibly.  There is overall more bass sound.  The sound effects in the second verse come in in both channels now, as do the noises in the bridge.  Strikingly, John's "a life of ease" line is now completely audible, whereas in the original it faded up just after that.  Crisper high and low end (as it is on all these mixes).
Hey Bulldog
Yellow Submarine (1969)
The piano track is all the way to the left and the bass is in the center.  The vocals are all the way to the right.  ADT is applied to John's "you can talk to me" lines.  The folderol in the bridge is all the way to the right.  There are several edits that are apparent throughout the song.  The talking at the end of the song is in the right channel, and the volume of the instrumentation drops during this part.  It comes up again when John screams "ahhhh-ha-ha-ha!" The piano intro is closer to the center of the stereo picture.  The bass has been placed in the right channel, while the vocals have been placed in the center (where they should be).  The vocals have a slight slap delay on them now, but still shoot to both channels (via ADT) during the "you can talk to me" lines.  The folderol during the guitar solo is now in both channels.  John's "yep" during the last verse is now in the right channel.  The volume of the instrumentation during the talking at the end does not drop as it does in the original mix.   Overall everything is crisper, including the high and low frequencies.  The fade lasts about a second longer.
Eleanor Rigby
Revolver (1966)
The harmony vocals are all the way to the left, while Paul's vocal (and high harmony) are all the way to the right.  The strings seem to be in the dead center.  There is a brief ADT (Artificla Double Tracking) error at the very beginning of the first verse: the ADT on "Eleanor" cuts out too late, leaving a piece of it in the left channel.  ADT is applied on the "all the lonely people..." parts.  Paul's harmony vocal at the end has a touch of flanging on it. The beginning is quite striking now.  The strings are separated into both channels now, and the vocals are altogether more towards the center.  Paul's lead vocal is in the center, and the ADT error from the original mix is gone (on the very first "Elea...").  ADT is still applied to Paul's "all the lonely people..." lines, but is more subtle, since the lead vocal is in the center.  Paul's harmony vocal at the end is now in the right channel, with added ADT so that it pops into the left channel a bit as well.
Love You To
Revolver (1966)
The sitar work seems to be in the center, for the most part, and there appears to be some tiny glitches on the master tape, rendering the intro a little scratchy in places (caused, no doubt, by the high dynamic range of the sitar).  The percussion seems to be in the center.  Some droning instrument is in the right channel and is treated with ADT, spreading it a little to the left.  The mysterious groaning instrument is a little right of the center.  Like "Hey Bulldog," several edit points are pretty noticeable. Intro sounds crisper.  The crackly noise from the original mix seems to have vanished, and a bit of reverb has been added.  Moreover, the very noticeable edits of the original mix can't be heard now.  The instrumentation is submerged a bit more in the background on this mix.  The groaning noise (during "make love all day long...make love singing songs..." etc.) is a little more in the center now, with perhaps a bit of ADT added.  Generally just tighter all around.
All Together Now
Yellow Submarine (1969)
The acoustic guitar is in the left channel, which is treated with some reverb that leaks it into the center.  Paul's vocal is all the way to the right, and the bass and other vocals are in the center.  There is a ringing noise that enters in the second verse.  The horn is in the left channel, as well as a voice in the far background and a prominent harmonica.  The clapping is in the center. The placement and reverb on the guitar is the same, but it sounds crisper.  However, Paul's lead vocal is louder.  A faint harmony vocal emanates from the center during the second line, previously inaudible.  The other vocals are spread between the left and right channels now.  The mysterious ringing noise is more prevalent throughout the whole song.  The horn seems to still be emanating from the left channel, but perhaps treated with reverb, or just placed closer to the center.  The handclaps are mainly in the right channel now.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
The songs opens with the synth-celeste in the right channel.  John's vocal enters in the center, with a very slight flanging effect.  The bass is just to the right of the center.  The drums are in the left channel and are very faint, as is the organ.  George's guitar is to the far right.  At the end of the second verse ("grow so incredibly high"), John's voice audibly goes out at the end of the line.  All vocals seem to be in the center.  Lennon's voice goes dodgy again at the end of the last verse ("the girl with kaleidoscope eyes").  The synth-celeste is a little closer to the center, and has either been treated with ADT or reverb, for it appears faintly in the left channel as well.  The flanging on John's vocals is much more prominent.  The bass still appears to be a bit right of center.  The percussion and drums is much more prominent and appears in the center now, as does an ominous piano thud right before the "cellophane flowers" line.  Paul and John's vocals have some space between them now, with a bit of reverb added.  The guitar is closer to the center now.  Lennon's vocal flubs audible at the end of each verse are now largely submerged.  The fade out is about three seconds longer, and the hiccup is now quite audible.
Think For Yourself
Rubber Soul (1965)
The "fuzz bass" is to the right of the center.  George's vocal seems to be planted in the left channel, treated with ADT, so that it appears in the left channel.  (It should be noted that the "Rubber Soul" CD was remixed in 1987, and that ADT hadn't even been invented in 1965).  The harmony vocals seem to come from the left as well.  The drums and bass are all the way to the right. Not too dissimilar.  Intro sounds more reverbed.  The vocals all seem to be in the same place (the left), with the same ADT added.  The drums and bass seem closer to the center.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
The lead guitar is all the way to the right, and the drums and bass are a bit right of center.  Paul's lead vocal is in the right, and the applause and brass are in the left, leaving the first section sounding very hollow.  The vocal harmonies are in the left, but pan towards the center during the "it's wonderful to be here" section.  The crowd noises after the "the one and only Billy Shears" line seem a bit choppy, as if they were meant to be more prominent but there was some sort of glitch. The bass and drums and second guitar now seem to be in the dead center.  George's stinging lead guitar is a little more to the center and has been treated with reverb and is louder.  Paul's vocal is now in the dead center.  The brass has moved from the left and closer to the center.  The harmony vocals in the chorus are now separated out into both channels of the stereo picture (and thus do not pan from the left to the center during the "it's wonderful to be here" section).  The crowd noises after the "one and only Billy Shears" line are louder and are more balanced now.
With A Little Help From My Friends
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
The "Billy Shears" introduction is mostly to the right.  The harmonium seems to be in the center.  The crowd noises are very faint, as are the drums.  The percussion, bass and guitar are to the right.  Chorus harmonies are to the far left, and verse harmonies are just left of center.  There is a curious effect on Ringo's vocal that seems to make it go from center, to slightly left of center, and back and forth for the entire song.  The "Billy Shears" intro is now right in the middle.  The harmonium has gone a little to the left.  George's guitar intro is now much more audible, and continues to be more audible throughout the entire song.  The piano has now gone from the center to closer to the left as well.  The chorus harmony vocals now appear in both channels, perhaps treated with ADT.  The verse echoes seem to be closer to the middle as well, and perhaps treated with ADT.  The original effect of Ringo's vocal panning a bit left and back repeatedly throughout the song now seems to be rectified.  Ringo's vocal wavering at the end is now a little more prominent. 
Baby You're A Rich Man
Magical Mystery Tour (1967) 
The bass seems to be the most prominent feature in this mix.  Placed in the center, it's nearly louder than everything else.  The vocals and handclaps also join the bass in the center.  Piano and percussion is all in the right channel, with the snaky mellotron parts in the left channel.  A thudding (and sometimes yelping) guitar joins the mellotron in the left channel later on, as well as a percussive instrument sounding a bit like a snare drum.  The curious droning noise in the second verse is heard in the center channel.  The placement of the instruments seems to be nearly identical to the original, but the overall sound has been beefed up.  This is partly due to the new placement of the percussion and drums in the center channel.  The vocals sound a tad louder, and in the choruses, the additional unison vocals come in in both channels.
Only A Northern Song
Yellow Submarine (1969)
For many years, this song was only available in what is considered "mock-stereo."  Essentially, this means it's a mono mix with the high end frequencies (treble) boosted in one channel and the low end frequencies (bass) boosted in the other.  That being said, the mix is fairly straight forward and chaotic.  The vast majority of the sound is in the right channel, where the bass frequencies are.  From the beginning, the listener can tell this is a vastly different mix than the original.  The organ leans to the left channel but echoes across to the right.  The percussion, as well as George's lead vocal, is placed firmly in the center.  The high pitched trumpet noises emanate from the left channel, and the celeste noises seem to fade from channel to channel.  Piano and mellotron can be heard in the right channel during the second verse.  The random voices near the end appear to fade from channel to channel, as did the celeste.  A curious "thank you Eddie!" is evident in the fade.  Overall, this is simply a well-balanced, tight mix, which is to be expected for its debut appearance in stereo. 
All You Need Is Love
Magical Mystery Tour (1967) 
Yellow Submarine (1969)
Piano is in the left channel, as is harpsichord, with the brass filling the right channel.  Once the harmony vocals enter, they are in the left channel.  A myriad of shouts and spoken comments can be heard underneath the instrumental backing in the intro (presumably the film crew and engineers from the live satellite performance).  The strings are also in the right channel.  Johns lead vocals as well as Paul's bass are in the center.  Later on they are joined by George's guitar solo.  This new mix highlights the component parts of the recording.  The brass in the intro is now front and center, as is Ringo's snare roll.  The harpsichord still emanates from the left channel.  The spoken comment immediately prior to John's vocal can be heard in the right channel now.  All the harmony vocals seem to be in or near the center.  A curious bass vocal harmony is now very prominent.  The strings are still to the right, but seem to transfer to the left.  The saxes in the chorus lean right but echo across the stereo picture.  An accordion seems to be evident now, apparently all but buried in the original mix.  A curious honky tonk piano fill appears in the left channel during the final verse.  For the outro the orchestra seems to be evenly spread throughout the stereo picture, which helps to highlight the various pieces played.  The handclaps are spread throughout the stereo picture. 
When I'm Sixty Four
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
The woodwinds appear in the right channel, the bass and percussion in the center.  Paul's vocal is all the way to the left.  A piano also appears in the center.  The harmony vocals in the bridge sections are all the way to the right.  The bells are in the left channel.  George's brief guitar fill appears in the center. The woodwinds still lean right, but are a little more frontal.  Paul's vocal is dead center, along with his bass and Ringo's percussion.  The piano has now moved to the left.  The harmony vocals are now directly behind Paul in the center.  The bells are still in the left.  A harmonized "ahhhh" in the second bridge is now very audible in the center channel.  Some piano frills in the second bridge are now far more audible in the left channel.  George's guitar fill now seems to come in a bit earlier, as early as "indicate precisely what you mean to say." 
Nowhere Man
Rubber Soul (1965)
The harmonies emanate from the right channel but are heavily echoed and thus bleed over through the stereo picture.  Bass and drums lean left.  The curious high pitched feedback noise after the first "you don't know what you're missing" comes from the right channel.  Electric guitar frills come from the left channel, but curiously end up in the right channel for the solo.  The acoustic guitar leans slightly left but is echoed to the center.  The intro harmonies are now spread nicely throughout the stereo picture.  The acoustic guitar is dead center, as are the bass and drums.  Guitar frills now lean towards the right channel and remain there for the solo.  The curious high pitched feedback noise in the first bridge is all but gone.  The reverb overall has been toned down considerably.
It's All Too Much
Yellow Submarine (1969)
The intro comments lean left, with the distorted guitar intro in the center.  Organ follows in the center, as do the drums and bass.  The handclaps appear in both the left and right channels.  George's vocal mainly emanates from the left channel, but is echoed by another vocal in the right channel at times as well.  All distorted guitar frills appear in the center.  The bizarre grinding noise appears in the right, as does the brass.  All backing vocals appear in the left, with George's lead, but are echoed slightly right. The beginning comment is still to the left.  The guitar intro is still in the center, as is talking in the intro, which is now more audible.  The organ now emanates from the left channel but is echoed across the stereo picture.  Bass and drums are still in the center.  handclaps are still spread evenly in the left and right channel but are now a bit crisper.  George's vocal is far more central, but is still echoed in the right channel by what is apparently a second vocal.  The grinding noise is still in the right channel.  The brass sounds as if it leans right, but is echoed a bit in the left.  The backing vocals are still to the left, along with George's lead, but echo into the right channel.  Two brass descants are now very audible near the end, one in each channel.  The fade is a little quicker but lasts just a tad longer. 

As you can see, many of the tracks have been drastically overhauled, with many of the instruments and voices changing their place in the stereo picture.  I feel it would be difficult for anyone to deny the simple fact that, sonically, the mixes altogether are more crisp, commanding and well-balanced.  It's clear the original tapes have been remastered very well, which brings the tapes into the modern digital era without sacrificing their original integrity (at least in this reviewer's opinion).  The main benefit of the remixes is that many aspects of the original recordings that had previously been buried in the mix are now much more present.  Additionally, original aspects of the mixes that may have been done out of necessity more than anything (for instance, vocals all the way to one channel) are virtually gone.

Though this may result in me having to hand over my membership as a card-carrying audiophile and musical purist, I have to say that, on the whole, after close scrutiny of these new mixes, I greatly prefer them to the original 1960s mixes.  Though I can see why viewpoints such as mine might cause some outrage in the Beatle fan base.  The main argument is that the original mixes "worked for 30 years" and didn't need to be embellished upon.  Moreover, making any kind of significant changes to a Beatles song, especially this long after the fact, is viewed as outright blasphemy.  As some Star Wars fans commented on the "Special Editions": "you don't re-paint the Mona Lisa."

However, after some objective consideration, these arguments - at least when applied to the Beatles catalogue - falter.  The fact that Beatles mixes "worked for 30 years" is somewhat of a weak argument.  It isn't as though anyone has recorded over or embellished the original analog 4 track recordings done by The Beatles themselves.  These mixes only serve to accentuate and highlight the many and varied sounds already present on the recordings.  It is no more (in fact, far less) blasphemy than what Phil Spector did to the "Let It Be" tapes, liberally wiping vocals and instrumentation, without The Beatles' permission, in favor of his own musical ideas.  Also, it could be said that the Beatles' U.S. albums "worked for 30 years" as well, even though, to many people (including myself) Capitol's butchering of the original UK track listings and liberal creation of "new albums" from singles and said albums' outtakes was a massacre.  Thank goodness the original track listings of The Beatles albums were finally used the world over when the albums were issued on CD in 1987.

Additionally, couldn't it be that these mixes "worked for 30 years" because no one bothered to go back, clean them up and make them generally more presentable to the public?  It's interesting to note that the digital age also had to live with minor atrocities like Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?" CD, which was mixed from dirty, third generation master tapes, because the originals couldn't be found.  Thankfully, the originals were finally recovered, cleaned up, and re-issued.  I don't think anyone would complain about something like that.

The most thrilling aspect of these new mixes might lay in the fact that for once, The Beatles' music doesn't sound quite as confined and claustrophobic as before.  Finally, the music can breath the way (I feel) it was originally intended to.  It is well known that The Beatles recorded on only four tracks of tape for most of their career (post-1964, prior to 1968), but for once, it doesn't *sound* that way.  The instruments and voices have been carefully repositioned and expanded so as to give the listener a more clear, concise and entertaining view of songs that brim with life, color and creativity.  In one case, a song even makes its very first appearance in stereo, ever ("Only A Northern Song").  *Long* overdue, if you ask me.

The fact that The Beatles worked on four tracks is, admittedly, part of their charm...but it was also just plain out of necessity.  Had The Beatles had the chance to play with eight track recording techniques sooner - or perhaps even 16 or 32 track machines - it is no doubt that The Beatles would probably have taken full advantage of that opportunity (with perhaps the exception of Lennon, who tended to prefer simplicity, especially in his later work).  Not only would it have eliminated the need for "bouncing" tracks (mixing several already finished tracks onto one track, therefore freeing up the others for more overdubbing), it may also have allowed The Beatles to record their ideas in a manner more consistent with what was going on in their heads at the time.

And for those who argue that these new mixes weren't the mixes The Beatles originally oversaw or intended to be heard, I contend that neither were any of the copious and often wildly varied stereo mixes that emerged from 1963 to about 1968.  For the vast majority of their career, the only mixes The Beatles personally oversaw or approved of were the mono mixes.  They generally preferred mono over stereo and when it came time to prepare stereo mixes, they largely couldn't be bothered to contribute an ear or opinion.  Therefore, those true purists out there should probably disregard nearly all of The Beatles' stereo mixes (including all the "definitive" editions released on compact disc, mind you) and go back to mono.  Furthermore, the "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" is not the first Beatles CD release to feature completely remixed tracks.  Many people don't know that both "Help!" and "Rubber Soul" were both given "proper stereo mixes" by George Martin for their CD releases in 1987 (though the logic behind this is questionable).

As for the issue of blasphemy: it's important to remember, as I have said before many times, that The Beatles were not gods.  Their music, while classic, historically important and, moreover, timeless, is not sacred.  And as I have pointed out, it's not as if anything has been added or subtracted from the original recordings.  They have only been enhanced, in my opinion, to better reveal the component parts that were already there in the first place.  It is one thing for those ardent fans of the "Star Wars" trilogy to complain that George Lucas tainted the legacy of the films by going back 20 years after the fact and adding and deleting scenes in the original films.  In that respect, I think the complaints can be justified.  However, with these new Beatles mixes, not a thing has been added or deleted.

In trying to ease the pain of the purists still out there in the audience, the last point to consider is simply the fact that, if it makes you feel better, these are film mixes, plain and simple.  These were done mainly to accompany the DVD release of the "Yellow Submarine" film.  All the original songs had to be redone in some manner to make them acceptable for the modern cinematic experience.  Remastering just would not have done the job.  Imagine watching the film where the stereo separation is so severe that, if you didn't have the most professional sound system in the world, the songs would sound horribly uneven.  The songs have been given greater sonic appreciation and polish this time around, coinciding with the incredible remastering of the visual film itself, creating a breathtaking combination that presents the film the way it always should have been.  Finally, this psychedelic period piece has been done justice.  Apple knew full well that this set of mixes couldn't be viewed by the public as the definitive editions (at least not yet), and so they wisely kept the original "Yellow Submarine" album in print.

There's been some talk about drastically overhauling the entire Beatles catalogue, which, admittedly, was rather hastily put together for CD release in 1987 (only Sgt. Pepper really got any kind of just treatment, as far as I'm concerned).  Some have mentioned at least remastering the entire catalogue (which would be a welcome addition...some of them sound downright ragged in comparison to recent compact disc releases), and still others have recommended the catalogue be entirely remixed in the fashion of these "Yellow Submarine" mixes.  It is here that I become somewhat of a fence sitter on the issue.  While I do greatly prefer the sound of this new set of mixes, and while it makes me curious to hear what the rest of the catalogue could sound like if given the proper attention, remixing the entire catalogue would be a very bold move on the part of Apple, and would most likely outrage a great number of people.  Perhaps if Apple were to prepare two different sets of CDs - one remastered "as is" set and one remixed *and* remastered set - then people could take their pick.  But seeing as how Apple is notorious for not doing The Beatles' material justice, or giving the public a fair deal for their money (witness the overpriced "1962-1966" and "1967-1970" sets, which easily could have been single disc sets), the likelihood that that would happen is very slim indeed.

One extremely interesting proposal for revamping The Beatles' catalogue on CD has already been made by a one Mark Easter, and can be viewed at  While he maintains that the "original mixes" should be used (and that some albums should even include both mono and stereo mixes), his proposal for remastering the albums and revamping the artwork and look of the CDs is extremely interesting and appetizing.  Unfortunately, because it requires a great amount of thought, planning, and perhaps even money, it probably won't be viewed as feasible by Apple, who seem more content to sit back and re-release the same old material a dozen times with no sufficient improvements done to either the music itself or the packaging.

Bottom line: the "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" is a blessing.  Embrace it while you can.

© 2001 Crapple Records, Inc.  All rights reserved.  No part of this article may reproduced without the expressed written consent of Crapple Records, Inc.

This article originally appeared on The Fab Four 2000 (  It is reprinted by kind permission.

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