"Magical Mystery Tour": It's Getting Hard to be Someone (But It All Works Out)
Imagine Beatle fan disappointment in America upon buying this record, which was the follow-up to Sgt. Peppers.... The cover art was tacky as were the masks on our heroes, with whom we'd grown up.
Before playing it and just thumbing through the full sized booklet made clear that this was an ill-advised project. It felt as if The Beatles had just given up—as if the pressure of a Sgt. Peppers... was simply too great. The real heartbreaker was the page 10 photo of the four in corny psychedelic haberdashery mugging incredibly insincerely to the camera.
The double page photo on 12/13 looked staged, static and utterly insincere.
How many fans back then thought in terms of who was at the helm of this enterprise? How many were thinking of Brian Epstein's role in the Beatles' rise or that his death had left them essentially rudderless?
People now can argue about the effect of Epstein's death on this project or what might have happened had he lived, from his nixing it, to his making it better. Who knows?
What we knew back then before playing the record was that everything about this cheesy package reeked of exploitation. The only mystery here was how could The Beatles do this? Do this to them and to us? Remember: the movie was not shown in America.
Little did we know that it was Capitol that created this album, not The Beatles. It was Capitol that elevated a minor double EP into a full length album that left U.S. buyers thinking this was The Beatles' "next" album.
The came the first play. Remember the last "first play" had been Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band!
The opening title track was cheery but sounded like a campy commercial. "The Fool On the Hill" was deeper and gave greater promise, but that was followed by a lackluster instrumental that punctured whatever hope was raised by "The Fool on the Hill."
Then came "Blue Jay Way", one of George Harrison's most atmospheric songs, so well-produced by George Martin, and so evocative of the desolation and isolation that can be Los Angeles. It's a song I didn't fully appreciate until I moved there more than a decade later.
"Your Mother Should Know" was yet another of Paul's "grandma songs" as Lennon once called the "good timer" old fashioned ditties Paul often wrote.
Lennon saves the day with the memorable "I Am The Walrus" that combines memorable Lennon's memorable Salvador Dalí-like lyrical imagery with Martin's inspired production that included dialog from a BBC production of "King Lear." The song left a searing powerful dread.
The juxtaposition of "Your Mother Should Know" and "I Am the Walrus" produced as strong an impression of what McCartney and Lennon individually brought to their collaborative efforts as any two songs might. And it also demonstrated that they two were determined to go their own ways—not that most buyers back then were thinking this way.
Not knowing then that this side was the product of Capitol's demand for five more tunes from their U.K. parent company so they could create a full-length album side and not something produced by The Beatles, side two produced its own mystery tour, but one that was in no way magical!
"Hello, Goodbye" (comma was removed by Capitol) was an enigmatic tune that seemed like a good blend of Lennon-McCartney sensibilities but was written by the more sunny McCartney, supposedly as a songwriting demonstration performed at the behest of a Brian Epstein employee. It became a number one single with the flip side "I Am the Walrus," a much, much, better song but one that probably scared the hell out of kids who dared play it.
"Strawberry Fields" like "I Am the Walrus" produced an unnerving, edgy nostalgia that was all Lennon. It was John Lennon's "coming apart" announcement. His yearning for the good old days and his discomfort with all that fame and success had produced. It remains a monumental tune.
Like "Strawberry Fields", "Penny Lane" was recorded during the Sgt. Peppers... sessions though unlike the former was not intended to be on the album. Though the real Penny Lane was located near Lennon's childhood home, the tune has all of the hallmarks of a McCartney composition and helped usher in an era of old English nostalgic imagery later mirrored in Andy Partridge's songs for XTC among others.
The two songs, "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane" were issued as single in the UK and again, the contrast between the two writers could not be more clear.
"Baby You're a rich Man" is said to have been an amalgam of two songs, one by Lennon and one by McCartney. Lennon's supposedly mocked the UK press's expression for successful people as "the beautiful people" while McCartney's chorus "baby you're a rich man too" was supposedly saying that everyone was a "beautiful person." But that's only one interpretation!
Crazy interpreters had it as being a song critical of either Brian Epstein or Allen Klein, though Klein didn't get involved with The Beatles until 1969. More crazy listeners heard "baby you're a rich man too" as "baby you're a rich fat Jew" or "baby you're a rich fag Jew." These people are definitely crazy
The album closes with the epic tune written by Lennon that in some ways best defines The Beatles' "mission as well as Lennon's future one in songs like "Imagine." The BBC had commissioned the group to write a song for the first live global satellite link and the group chose "All You Need is Love." It was issued as single with "Baby You're a Rich Man" as the flip side, which makes the nasty interpretations of that song all the more ridiculous. The ending, which reprises "She Loves You" almost sounds like The Beatles' retirement statement but of course wasn't.
So, what a mess of an "album"! It included songs the group did not want Capitol to use on an album that must have appalled them and certainly mystified fans.
The original Capitol stereo issue has side two in electronically reprocessed stereo because Martin didn't have time to produce stereo mixes in time for the album's release. Ditto Mobile Fidelity's release, though incredibly, the Mo-Fi cassette has the tracks in stereo! As does the German issue first on the Hor Zü Apple label and later on the Electrola/Apple label.
When that was first divulged, every Beatle fanatic went out looking for it and if they found a copy were rewarded with superb sound on both sides, but especially on side two!
This reissue like the CD reissue uses the stereo mixes on side two so for those who haven't yet heard them it's a treat. However, while the sound here is very, very good, compared to the German original issue, the imaging is somewhat flat and it sounds as if dynamic compression has been applied, though just a slight bit. Again, the EQ seems to push the vocals forward somewhat and emphasizes the sibilants, though they are smooth and not "etchy."
Unless you have the German original, obviously, this one is worth getting even though it's an insignificant, really non-existent "album." There are too many worthwhile songs on it for it to be ignored.