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This month, to celebrate the Internet’s unbridled love for wallowing in nostalgia and even greater relishing of talking about why certain cultural artifacts are horrible, Sound of the City presents First Worsts, a series in which our writers remember the first time… they ever hated a song enough to call it The Worst. (And to be fair, we’re also going to see how these songs have stood the test of time.)
THE SONG: The Beatles, “Yellow Submarine.”
THE YEAR: 1997-ish.
THE REASON: Fuckin’ Ringo, man.
Pitchfork’s editor-in-chief Mark Richardson recently noted that roughly 98 percent of the Beatles obsessives he’s known have been male, which I’d say holds true for roughly 98 percent of people. A few friends brought my attention to the tweet, because I’m pretty forthcoming about the fact that, if absolutely pressed to name a favorite band, I’ll lean on nostalgia every time and blurt out my childhood obsession, The Beatles.
I know people say that shit like, “I’ve been listening to [insert classic band here] since I was in the womb,” so I won’t say it. But just imagine a five-year-old in pink and pigtails acting out the exceedingly violent lyrics to The Beatles’ “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” with her brother, a chubby bunny stuffed into a Bugle Boy pocket tee (hey, it was the early ’90s). Just imagine your pride-and-joy baby girl pretending to murder her own kin with a giant smile painted on her face, just because The Beatles told her to. My burden to bear was that I was born 35 years too late to share my Beatles obsession with anyone my own age, save for one weirdo (yes, male) who once wore a Beatles tie in a yearbook picture.
The Beatles, “Yellow Submarine”
As a kid, my dad indoctrinated me with the following notions: Beatles albums before Help! deserve to be written off; Rubber Soul and Revolver were game changers; The White Album would be the best Beatles album had the fat been trimmed from it (do you really need two songs with “honey” in the title, guys?); therefore Abbey Road is the best Beatles album. Let’s back up to that second point for a minute: Rubber Soul (1965) and Revolver (1966) were game-changers. Before I reached double digits in age, I had very complex ideas about these two albums.
I was sitting in the van listening to Revolver on my bright yellow Sony Walkman, waiting for my mom to stop chatting up what felt like every person in the tri state area when my hatred for “Yellow Submarine” suddenly hit me. My pea-sized brain was overwhelmed with disgust for a repetitive song that I had heard many times before. Maybe I wasn’t ready to be critical of The Beatles until that very moment, or maybe I had outgrown the frivolity of the song at the ripe age of nine, but my reaction was to violently rip my headphones off. It was like I was swatting a bug off my bare arm. Somebody, anybody, take away that microphone away from Ringo Starr—a confusing reaction considering the pleasure I derived from another equally goofy Ringo song, “Octopus’s Garden.”
How could The Beatles have done this to me? Didn’t they know my dad says Revolver is a game changer? (And my dad, James L. Mapes DDS, is never wrong.) Why would they go and muck it up with a meaningless, ho-hum song like “Yellow Submarine”? The sound effects were cheesy, and Ringo’s sad, dopey voice was even worse.
This feeling of betrayal from a band I’ve invested in is an emotion I’d come to know very well in the years to come. (My teenage obsession was Weezer, a band that must secretly celebrate sadism.) But the first taste of heartbreak tends to sting the worst, even if it is just one silly little song from the biggest band in the world.
SO HOW IS IT NOW?
I auto-skip “Yellow Submarine” every time I listen to Revolver, and because of my hatred toward it, I’ve never seen the animated film with which the song shares its name and plotline. It irks me that “Yellow Submarine” was a No. 1 single and a “classic” from a band I hold in the highest esteem. That someone who isn’t very familiar with The Beatles might think this is them at their best upsets me, although luckily, most people realize that they’re capable of more.
However, I will admit that nine-year-old me was too harsh on Ringo. There are a number of Ringo-led songs that I enjoy, specifically “Don’t Pass Me By” (from The White Album) and “With A Little Help From My Friends” (from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). He really did deserve more drum solos than just the one on “The End” (from Abbey Road), too.
There’s a quote from Paul McCartney about Ringo in Beatles Anthology that has always stuck with me: “We really started to think we needed ‘the greatest drummer in Liverpool,’ and the greatest drummer in our eyes was a guy, Ringo Starr, who had changed his name before any of us, who had a beard and was grown up and was known to have a Zephyr Zodiac.” Besides McCartney’s aside about Ringo owning a car, he hits the nail on the head—he’s a solid drummer. Why he sang aquatic novelty songs instead of slaying solos remains a mystery.