The Billboard Interview With George Harrison by Timothy White
Copyright 1999 Billboard Magazine and BPI Communications Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by kind persimmon.
        Let's start by clearing up current misconceptions of what the upcoming 
        new "Yellow Submarine" release is about and what it will actually 
        The main thing you need to get over to all the people is that it's not a 
        soundtrack, but that it's actually the "songtrack." This will be a total 
        of all the Beatles songs that were used in the film.
        The whole "Submarine" thing was written or done around the time of "Sgt. 
        Pepper," around that period. [But] "Yellow Submarine" only ended up with 
        just those six new songs that were in the film. And then they put all 
        that George Martin-orchestrated material on there. But now it will be 
        every song that was in the movie -- because the film also had "All You 
        Need Is Love" and "Sgt. Pepper" too -- all together, for the first time. 
        And they've all been remixed!
        The film also had even older songs, like "Eleanor Rigby," that are now 
        on the new "Yellow Submarine: A Songtrack."
        Exactly, and they're in all their new mixes in that "wraparound sound." 
        So the video and the DVD versions and the new CDs will also have the 
        same new stereo mixes that will match the wraparound sound and will come 
        out around the 14th of September.
        But I haven't even seen the finished film yet! We're going to a private 
        screening of the new version in a week or two. 
        We may have a couple of cinema "events," showing it in theaters, and I 
        think that's gonna turn into a big night out, but the film is not going 
        to be out in a general theatrical release.
        We've got all sorts of other things coming in time for November, 
        including an announcement about a Beatles Web site. Neil Aspinall [the 
        chief executive] at Apple, he's organizing all these details, and he's 
        got all kinds of things that are going to reach fruition, like some 
        special merchandising. Having lasted 40 years with the Beatles, Neil is 
        the only person who's ever really been able to keep in contact with the 
        four of us at the same time through all the various conflicts and 
        whatever. And I met him when I was like 13 years old, smoking behind the 
        air-raid shelters at the Liverpool Institute high school. [Big laugh.] 
        There's supposedly a "Yellow Submarine" EP in the vaults that EMI had 
        thought of putting out about a year after the "Yellow Submarine" album 
        was finally released in January 1969. The EP had the six songs put on 
        the soundtrack album, plus an early version of "Across The Universe." Of 
        course it never came out.
        I remember that the early version of "Across The Universe" was the best 
        one. But we finally put that one out on a World Wildlife Fund charity 
        album ["No One's Gonna Change Our World," December 1969, Regal Starline 
        SRS 5013]. And it also later went on the "Anthology [2]" album. But, you 
        know, there's certain things where somebody might have said, like, "Oh, 
        at this point in time we had some songs in the can," but there's nothing 
        that I can remember that was ever solid discussion about an EP of any 
        sort like that, other than the [two-disc] "Magical Mystery Tour" EP 
        [issued in the U.K. in December 1967]; in America they didn't have 
        extended plays so that had to be made into an album.
        What about "Hey Bulldog," which was cut at the same February 1968 
        sessions that included the early "Across The Universe," your "The Inner 
        Light," "Lady Madonna," and other material? Do you remember how the 
        group came up with John's piano riff and your guitar riff for "Bulldog"?
        Well, it was John's song, and it was a great tune. Funny thing is, in 
        the version for America [as well as most U.K. prints] of the "Yellow 
        Submarine" film they edited "Bulldog" out, so we had to make sure this 
        time that it would be in, because of that whole bit in the movie of the 
        dog with all the heads! 
        And we do now have an unreleased video of "Hey Bulldog," as you know. 
        What it was is that when we were in the studio recording [10 takes of] 
        "Bulldog," apparently it was at a time when they needed some footage for 
        something else, some other record ["Lady Madonna"], and a film crew came 
        along and filmed us. Then they cut up the footage and used some of the 
        shots for something else. But it was Neil Aspinall who found out that 
        when you watched and listened to what the original thing was, we were 
        recording "Bulldog"! This was apparently the only time we were actually 
        filmed recording something, so what Neil did was, he put [the unused 
        footage] all back together again and put the "Bulldog" soundtrack onto 
        it, and there it was!
        An unreleased live Beatles video!
        [Chuckling.] Yeah! And everything has a different mix on it now! Because 
        when they set up to this new, wraparound five-speaker mix for the film, 
        they were working away doing that for months and months at Abbey Road. 
        You see, another thing is that a lot of the time the Beatles were only 
        working on 4-track tape, so we'd get to the fourth track and then what 
        we'd do is mix the four tracks onto one track of another 4-track 
        machine, and then we'd do another three tracks.
        So what they've gone doing in these new mixes -- which we did a little 
        bit of on the "Anthologies" -- was to connect all the four tracks 
        together and have the first four tracks all separated, and then the 
        three overdubbed tracks separated, in order to create a new mix. 
        Normally the mixes heard since the '60s up till now from Beatles records 
        have all been on these finished 4-tracks with the pre-mix of the other 
        three tracks stuck onto it.
        In other words, the individual tracks on the basic tapes were 
        rediscovered, allowing you to separate each of the original, incremental 
        So for the first time you've actually got a much bigger, cleaner mix, 
        because you've got the original bass and drum and guitar tracks 
        unmixed-together, you know? And also, with all the old equipment and all 
        the compressors and the stuff that we used in those days, you'd spend 
        ages trying to improve the final 4-track mix you figured you were stuck 
        with. This engineer, a fellow named Peter Mew, did a lot of the work 
        with a guy called Allan Rouse, who's kind of in charge of all the 
        Beatles catalog. So we went in and listened to all these new, fully 
        remixed tracks, and they really are good, with the sound coming all 
        around you, you know!
        A few more questions about the classic songs originally on the "Yellow 
        Submarine" album, like "It's All Too Much." Is that you playing the 
        organ on that track?
        That's right! I probably wrote it on the organ, I think. 
        At the end of "Too Much" there are snippets of Jeremiah Clarke's "Prince 
        Of Denmark's March" and the Merseys' '66 [No. 4 U.K.] hit "Sorrow."
        You mean on the fade-out? Yeah, with "Your long blond hair/And your eyes 
        of blue." That was all just this big ending we had, going out. And as it 
        was in those days, we had the horn players just play a bit of trumpet 
        voluntarily, and so that's how that "Prince Of Denmark" bit was played.
        And Paul and John just came up with and sang that lyric of "your eyes of 
        blue." But just a couple of years ago somebody suddenly tried to sue us 
        for that!
        For them singing a little snatch of lyric to give exposure to an obscure 
        Oh yeah. I just ignored it. I think that's one of my songs that's 
        actually published now by ATV and Michael Jackson's Northern Songs, so I 
        just thought, "Well, they can deal with it." I just thought it's so 
        ridiculous, you know.
        Incidentally, that riff that's played on "It's All Too Much," I seem to 
        have heard at least 50 songs that've used that lick since then. [He hums 
        the melody on the chorus.] You know the one I mean: Dah ding ding ding, 
        dah ding ding ding. I mean, that's become like a stock thing. The 
        difference is some people admit where their influences come from, like 
        the Byrds [did] with the Rickenbacker 12-string thing after they all 
        went to see "A Hard Day's Night."
        But then I've had people writing to me and telling me about a group 
        called Texas with a song called "Black Eyed Boy" [a No. 5 U.K. hit in 
        1997], and everybody's saying, "Hey, they've ripped off your song!" But 
        I don't know, because somebody sent me a cassette and I put it on, and I 
        couldn't hear a thing!
        We've never really been into suing people for things like that. I've 
        heard a bunch of records in the past that took things from things like 
        "What Is Life," or "Living In The Material World," or "Here's Comes The 
        Sun." What's the point? But I suppose the point would be like Bright 
        Tunes [the publishing company that started the protracted plagiarism 
        suit against Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" in which George ultimately 
        prevailed] -- you could just try and make some money out of people. 
        The guitar feedback on the intro to "It's All Too Much" was done in May 
        of '67, so it was pre-Hendrix, before he started to go wild with that 
        stuff, since his "Are You Experienced?" album [released in the U.K. on 
        Dec. 5, 1967] hadn't come out yet.
        But, now, I don't think I was playing the guitar feedback; as I say, I 
        was playing the organ, so I think that was probably Paul that did that. 
        But it was, like, manufactured, meaning that it wasn't like an accident 
        or anything; it was part of the arrangement.
        I just wanted to write a rock'n'roll song about the whole psychedelic 
        thing of the time: "Sail me on a silver sun/Where I know that I am 
        free/Show me that I'm everywhere/And get me home for tea." [Laughs.] 
        Because you'd trip out, you see, on all this stuff, and then whoops! 
        you'd just be back having your evening cup of tea! 
        But we also had that feedback on "I Feel Fine" [in 1964], and John 
        always claimed it came about from playing an acoustic Gibson with a 
        pickup in it, and it had a big round sound hole, and it just used to 
        feed back very easily if you faced it toward the amplifier.
        But then I've heard other people say that wasn't the first feedback 
        either: "1897, we had feedback on such and such!" [More laughter.]
        We've talked about "Only A Northern Song" before, which was intended as 
        a little commentary of yours.
        It was at the point that I realized Dick James had conned me out of the 
        copyrights for my own songs by offering to become my publisher. As an 
        18- or 19-year-old kid, I thought, "Great, somebody's gonna publish my 
        songs!" But he never said, "And incidentally, when you sign this 
        document here, you're assigning me the ownership of the songs [Harrison 
        had written as a Beatle]," which is what it is. It was just a blatant 
        theft. By the time I realized what had happened, when they were going 
        public and making all this money out of this catalog, I wrote "Only A 
        Northern Song" as what we call a "piss-take," just to have a joke about 
        "All Together Now," by Paul and John, do you have any thoughts about 
        It was a nursery rhyme kind of thing. Again, if you look at it from one 
        point of view, it's embarrassing. But we seem to have been the 
        all-around entertainers, weren't we? Somehow we got away with stuff like 
        that, either with Ringo singing "Yellow Submarine" or us doing a song 
        like "All Together Now."
        Thinking of things suited for children from the Beatles, Al Brodax, who 
        produced the "Yellow Submarine" movie, also had done the series of 
        Beatles cartoons [several dozen episodes, broadcast on ABC-TV starting 
        in 1965, but only given limited later exposure in England on Granada 
        Television] that were shown on Saturday and Sunday mornings in America. 
        Whatever happened to those cartoons?
        Oh, we bought them all a few years ago, just so we had control over them 
        for the future. I always kind of liked them -- they were so bad or silly 
        they were good, if you know what I mean. [Grinning.] And I think the 
        passage of time might make them more fun now, in terms of being more 
        watchable than they really were back then. But we don't have any plans 
        for them at the moment.
        By the way, the song "Yellow Submarine" never really did have anything 
        to do with a narcotic pill by that nickname, did it?
        I never heard of that pill. Paul came up with the concept of "Yellow 
        Submarine." All I know is just that every time we'd all get around the 
        piano with guitars and start listening to it and arranging it into a 
        record, we'd all fool about. As I said, John's doing the voice that 
        sounds like someone talking down a tube or ship's funnel as they do in 
        the merchant marine. [Laughs.] And on the final track there's actually 
        that very small party happening! As I seem to remember, there's a few 
        screams and what sounds like small crowd noises in the background.
        Fans still wonder if that voice shouting into the submarine's funnel is 
        John, same as they still ask who coughed at the start of "Taxman" on the 
        "Revolver" album.
        My son Dhani reckons it was me. He says, "I'd recognize that cough 
        anywhere!" [Laughs.] But I don't remember.
        Your own "Sgt. Pepper"-ish film characters in the "Yellow Submarine" 
        movie were dubbed by actors, so the Beatles' only actual appearance in 
        the film is at the end of the picture.
        Well the deal was we hadn't really been that involved in the making of 
        what was supposed to be our third movie. I must say, at the point I had 
        no idea of how it was going to fit into the film or where it was going. 
        We had our lines and just kind of did it, but it all turned out quite 
        well with the animation, didn't it?
        It was excellent, and the film was very influential, particularly the 
        work of principal animation designer Heinz Edelmann.
        Right, and then Peter Max built his whole career on the fact that 
        everybody thought he'd done it! I loved a lot of those characters 
        [Edelmann] came up with. And the Blue Meanie named Max, I always 
        wondered if the later idea of the "Mad Max" movie character came from 
        It's a spectacular, Dante's "Inferno"-type tale of good vs. evil. And 
        that "flying glove" character is scary!
        [Laughs.] It is, it is! And all those Apple Bonkers! The fact is, with 
        the way the culture and the government are now, it's all still happening 
        now as it was in "Yellow Submarine." Except the Blue Meanies have got a 
        bigger stranglehold on the planet right now than they even had back in 
        '67! And it looks like there's no musical group coming along to break 
        the bubble of grayness, because even the music industry has turned gray 
        and is dominated by Blue Meanies. 
        Do you think popular music has had an impact on shaping minds, and that 
        across history it's helped influence peoples' thinking?
        Music definitely influences you, whether it just makes you feel happy or 
        sad. And likewise I'm sure all that horrible music these days is making 
        people change -- there's just worse crime, more cynicism. I wouldn't 
        necessarily directly blame the music for all of that, but there is this 
        kind of chemistry that's created through endless television or music 
        programming or advertising that drones away on these things-with crap 
        music, with murder movies, and that whole thing with Robert De Niro 
        pointing a big gun at everyone on the big posters [for the film "Ronin"] 
        that you see everywhere now in London. And so it's like my son Dhani was 
        saying, that "Who gives a shit about bombing Bosnia!" becomes the 
        attitude on a campus, because they're all so desensitized. 
        It's like the music and entertainment business has gotten into the arms 
        Yeah! And it was both pathetic and very funny at the time, but a couple 
        of years ago I was in Los Angeles, and I had the television on, and for 
        the local weather we went to some guy at the beach. And in the shot of 
        him live with the beach in the background you could just see the 
        pollution was just dreadful, and he just goes, "Yes, well, it's another 
        beautiful day down here at Santa Monica!" And I thought, "What are you 
        talking about? It stinks!"
        But that's how it is, that's the desensitizing. Maybe in another few 
        hundred years people will be living in sewers with rats crawling all 
        over them, and they'll be thinking, "This is great, life is good." 
        Mahatma Gandhi said, "Create and preserve the image of your choice," and 
        the image we seem to have chosen is one of greed and butchery.
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      Copyright  1999 Billboard Magazine and BPI Communications Inc. 
      All rights reserved.