Another "Magical Misery Tour"?

What a mess. For all of his brilliance on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Paul McCartney must take much of the blame for the ill-conceived for television movie “Magical Mystery Tour”. McCartney had thought of it while in America in April of 1967. The others agreed to it so they all share it to some degree. He wrote the title tune and recording began April 25th.

On May 11th the group recorded and mixed “Baby You’re a Rich Man” at Olympic Studios with Keith Grant engineering. The session began at 9PM and by 3AM they had it mixed and “in the can”. It was originally slated to be used in the animated film “Yellow Submarine” announced on June 7th (a week after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s…).

So now The Beatles had two projects going simultaneously: “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Yellow Submarine”. They returned to Olympic on May 12th and recorded, again in one evening, “All Together Now” and on the 17th began work on the deliciously warped “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”.

The next week they returned to De Lea Music Recording Studio to begin recording “It’s All Too Much”, and then following the release of Sgt. Pepper’s… on June 1st, they went back to work on “It’s All Too Much” and a few days later “You Know My Name….”.

The single “All You Need is Love”/”Baby You’re a Rich Man” was released July 7th five weeks after Sgt. Pepper’s…. so neither would be released on a UK album. The Beatles returned to the studio (Chappell Recording Studios, not Abbey Road) August 22nd to record “Your Mother Should Know” and on the 23rd to record overdubs. It was the final session attended by Brian Epstein, who passed away on the 27th from an accidental drug overdose. He was 32.

Those who claim had Epstein lived he could have persuaded the group to abandon “MMT” were probably wrong. By then The Beatles did as they pleased. Four days after Epstein’s passing, on September 1st, they met at McCartney’s home and decided to continue with the movie project. They commenced recording on the 5th, started filming on the 11th and had the double Magical Mystery Tour EP in the stores well before Christmas.

About the MMT project George Martin is quoted in Lewisohn’s book as saying “MMT was terribly badly organized and it’s amazing that anything ever came out of it”.

“I Am The Walrus” came out of it and Martin was proud of it as well he should have been. Also outstanding was Paul’s “The Fool on the Hill”. Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” was another studio effects tour de force and richly evocative of foggy Los Angeles, which is where it was written and what it’s about.

On September 8th the group recorded what would become its first released instrumental and the first composed by all four group members. On the 16th they re-did “Your Mother Should Know” with Ken Scott engineering for the first time having been promoted after Geoff Emerick had burned out after (according to Scott) Sgt. Pepper’s… and become sick of MMT.

Throughout the Fall the group continued recording and mixing songs for MMT and for “Yellow Submarine”. The comings and going are fascinating but “all too much” to cover here.

”Hello Goodbye”/”I Am The Walrus” made it to #1 in the UK shortly after its November 24th release. The Magical Mystery Tour double EP was issued in the UK on Friday December 8th in both mono and stereo versions but not in America. Instead Capitol released it as a full album with the EP songs on side one and five songs from the Sgt. Pepper’s….. era on side two.

There was a mono album issue (Capitol MAL 2835) but it was fairly rare as most listeners by then were well into stereo. Unfortunately stereo mixes did not exist of “Penny Lane”, “Baby You’re a Rich Man” and “All You Need is Love” so Capitol produced “electronically reprocessed for stereo” versions for the stereo album, which Lewisohn describes as “duophonic” but that’s not accurate. Duophonic was Capitol’s far more noxious process for producing “stereo”, which involved gobs of reverb and tape delay to produce an echoey, puke-inducing mess. Fortunately they restrained themselves on their stereo release. Capitol’s version was imported to Britain and was popular with LP fans.

More popular with stereo fans was the German “Hör Zu” record club version of Magical Mystery Tour (SHZE 327), which has the final three songs in genuine stereo obviously released after October 22nd 1971, which was when George Martin finally got around to mixing in stereo “Baby You’re a Rich Man”. “All You Need Is Love” was mixed to stereo in 1968 and “Penny Lane” September 30th 1971. While the original ‘80s era Mobile Fidelity Magical Mystery Tour LP featured Capitol’s “reprocessed for stereo” tracks, the Mo-Fi cassette has the true stereo mixes, which just adds to the “fucked-upness” of this entire MMT enterprise—not that the songs aren’t. Most groups would kill to produce a collection of Beatles “cast offs” like this. It figures that the only typo I could find on this entire box set (so far) is on the MMT jacket where “Los Angeles” is “Los Angels”. Of course, translated from Spanish it’s “The Angels”, but “Los Angels” is a mutt.

You can read the stereo box MMT review here

When this album was first released most American kids had not idea what it was other than a follow up to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I remember buying it at a small Ithaca book and record store and thinking “WTF is this?” (though not with that acronym since it had not yet been devised). The cover sucked and when I opened it and looked at the booklet it was double WTF. Here were my untouchable heroes looking beyond goofy. What was this?

Other than the still magnificent “I Am The Walrus”, said to have been cobbled together by Lennon from parts of three songs and filled with not very well hidden references to a notorious rock star busting drug squad cop, religious criticism and other issues on Lennon's mind at the time (the ending is not "everybody smoke pot", which everyone did anyway) most of the rest of the side was pretty weak. The title track was just okay, “The Fool on the Hill” notable, “Flying” filler, “Blue Jay Way” evocative and interesting and “Your Mother Should Know” equals “When I’m Sixty Five”. Side two was of course outstanding but five songs? And three in fake stereo? And what was this all about? It was a major let-down of course.

Today, with the backdrop known, it’s still a let-down as an album but any album with “I Am the Walrus” and some of the others can’t be all that bad and this one isn’t.

Again, the mono mixes are for the most part, more coherent than the stereo ones (“I Am the Walrus” stereo reverts to mono once the “King Lear” stuff starts because that was taken from a live radio feed as it was performed and it hadn’t been recorded by anyone), for the reasons repeated in the other record reviews. The original mono mix of “Blue Jay Way” is very different from the stereo in that the latter mix had the entire song running backwards on a tape machine injected into the mix at various points while the original mono did not.

In retrospect side two “stereo lust” was as much because it was at first unobtainable and than somewhat hard to find only on the German pressing. Plus the American original mono sounds distant, bright and thoroughly mediocre. The original’s deep bass had been completely lopped off. This reissue absolutely kills the original mono American release in every way: transparency, dynamics, frequency extension, you name it. Wait. I just did!

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julio's picture

Magical Mystery Tour as you know is not an album it's an E.P. The movie is not a "movie" it's a television special. Keeping that in mind, this American creation of an album is a great listen and works well as a cohesive album. It is a great way of collecting their 1967 singles, and if you have this and Pepper you have everything they did in 1967 with the exception of Its Only A Northern Song. I actually reach for this more than I do Pepper. When you rate the music, are just rating the E.P. songs? The music is at least 9. As for the cover, which seems to get worse and more cheesy as I get older I, I can't defend that.

Mazzy's picture

A 7 for the music . Really? Ha.

Mazzy's picture
Michael Fremer's picture
It must be a generational thing or something. Actually there are many great songs on the album. Don't get me wrong. I think the low rating is based on the sum of the parts, which adds up to much less than the parts—if you get my drift. But look, this is all just one guy's opinion. So opine away!
Mazzy's picture

I do enjoy reading these. But I generational thing ? I just turned 60 so I'm in your ballpark. But I was Biden and grew up in San Francisco so it must have been all that environmental hippy dippy stuff.

markfig's picture

Ha! No complaints about the 7 here. Because of course one assumes MF is grading on the "Beatles Scale."

*Obviously* every Beatles album is a ten compared to the genre of music known as "music not by the Beatles." (!) But what would be the point of giving all these albums scores of ten? For the purposes of review... one must grade on the Beatles scale. Magical Mystery Tour is surely a seven "for a Beatles album."

So in my own happy, deluded mind, I'm just sticking the words "for a Beatles album" after each of those numeric scores... and then it's all good.

JC1957's picture

OK, OK, there's some filler, Your Mother Should Know, Flying and Fool On The Hill but then There's I Am The Walrus, Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, Hello Goodbye and All You Need Is Love. Timeless material. Also, why does the sound get a 9 when Pepper gets 11?

StonedBeatles1's picture

As a kid in the 60's I always loved this album and still do (even though it was originally an EP). Originally owning the US mono version (my favorite of the lot) then the US stereo version (with the reprocessed mono songs). In the early 80's I copped 2 German imports that had the true stereo mixes of the songs mentioned above (thought they were revelatory at the time), a Japanese import with the US cover, inserts and reprocessed songs and then finally the 1st CD pressing with the true stereo mixes. I always enjoyed comparing the mono, stereo, 45 and EP mixes of I am The Walrus, with the intro's being different, Ringo's drum edits and the middle section edits. I even have a true stereo mix throughout the entire song ripped from the Anthology DVD series. "How and why" all these different mixes exist adds to the mystique of The Beatles for me. It may not be the best Beatles album but it was always a gem in my opinion. A 7 musically? NEVER!

I need it like a hole in the head but I'm certain to purchase what might be my 15th (or greater) copy of The White album next week..

StonedBeatles1's picture

You gotta admit, the movie has become more entertaining with age!

elliotdrum's picture

I have been a Beatle fan since late Dec. 63-
Mike Wallace on CBS did a report on the Moptops from Liverpool
one of the songs they aired was I Want To Hold Your Hand and you
could hear how special they were going to be. At that time was just after the JFK assassination and the country was definitely in a funk -not the good kind of funk. The Beatles powerful positive attitude was infectious. I started to pickup the singles as they came out and the band I was in started to cover their songs.
Also I probably listened to the Beatles on acid about 50 times or more, by the way if you really want to hear your stereo...never mind. So since I'm just another bozo on the bus I will give the
Beatles a "10" straight across the board. They changed my life for the better in so many ways, I still get shivers when songs like Day In The Life are played and that happens in Analog- Digital-Stereo or Mono because it's the music man--DIG IT!!!

Puffer Belly's picture

I didn't discover the Beatles until 1971, after I heard All Things Must Pass in the 7th grade and wondered what an ex-Beatle was, and MMT has been either my favorite or one of my favorites ever since. My friends and I would plan our Beatle purchases so that between us we had all the Capitol, Apple, and UA albums. We knew nothing about Parlophone for at least another 5 years.

I also have the vinyl mono EP that came with the deluxe version of the MMT Blu-ray in 2012. Does anyone know how this EP was sourced and mastered?

bill lettang's picture

Michael..(in all good humor),I get a funny feeling that somehow out of all the cool reviews so far, this one could be.... YOUR MMT. Glad to learn the re-issue beats out the Capital and that there's a typo...(???????????)

Rberretta's picture

Thanks for all the great reviews! I have spent a couple years getting all the mono originals so I could just say, "already got the originals!" when this came out, but of course now I'm tempted anyway! But here's my question: I bought Y cables to mono-out my stereo rig, and connected them between my turntable and phono stage. But I got a buzz in one channel when I did this. Any idea why? Is it a grounding problem? My preamp and amp are tube, but my phono stage is solid state and I can't figure out the problem. Any suggestions?

Audiobill's picture

Connect Y cables between preamp & power amp. Takes possible ground issue with phono preamp out of the equation because you can connect ground wire to preamp as you normally do (I suppose).

amarok89's picture

was making this collection into an album. I've never understood your rating of the music on this.

julio's picture

I feel sorry for those who paid top dollar for the Japanese Odeon Red vinyl reissues. It seems like by the reviews of this box set it really devalues their investment. By the way those Japanese reissues have terrible reproductions of the album art work. I can't wait for Tuesday and thank you Michael for working your butt off to give us these album by album reviews. I was also wondering if anyone had heard anything about analogue productions doing Beach Boys albums?

amarok89's picture

but that snark makes me curious to look up all the old hype. I seem to have missed the boo hoo's.

kammerathdk's picture

Hi Mike,

Thanks for all these great reviews. Did you have a chance to compare this reissue to the original UK mono EP (or the Strawberry Fields UK single)?

Audiobill's picture

Capital/EMI SMAL 2835 does not contain "When I'm Sixty-Five." It just has six songs on Side One. Curious!

StonedBeatles1's picture

If you're looking for When I'm Sixty-Five you've been on a very long bad trip! :)

Audiobill's picture

"Your Mother Should Know” equals “When I’m Sixty Five”

StonedBeatles1's picture

Makes sense. Sorry for being a bit a bit slow. It's either me being 54 or I did too many quaaludes in the late 70's. Hope I'm no worse when I'm 64, or 65! :)

detroitvinylrob's picture

Not in my house, on my turntable... I'm very much in line with the "sound quality" ratings throughout, and yet I guess, to each there own but I found, and still find MMT because it is where the four were at at that time, disjointed, distracted, and a mess, and yet still conceptually brilliant by and large.

Martin's picture

But seriously, the least of the greats, I would agree.
Looking forward to having a listen. My copy is the German stereo pressing. As you'd expect, living in Switzerland, it's the easiest to find.
But to quality, even being arguably the least of the greats, I can imagine the much feted Adam Levine and his band Maroon 5 would collectively give their left nut to produce something as good as mystery tour.
You've definitely been listening to too much quality :-)

J.D.'s picture

Forgive me if I can't place this in a timeline too concretely, but : there was a sense, after Pepper --- that beatles were a little mired in the vintage-reprise sort of thing that was woven throughout the Pepper album. That songs like With A Little Help and the title track Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts were in fact high-visibility Novelty songs, and were unlistenable after a few spins. (Can people really listen to those again today? Not me, thanks.) That the Lennon stuff was the exception and not the rule, and that beatles were lagging behind the times; their Edwardian-bandstand pose was a little bit of a one-time-only kind of thing (and comparable in kind to say, 'Winchester Cathedral' or Tiny Tim throwback ditties in vibe: pastiche-vaudevillian was a moment, not a serious pursuit).

Bear in mind that Hendrix, even Donovan, and an American Group chasing a "White Rabbit" had already gone pretty solidly psychedelic by April 67. Lennon knew it, and eventually thought SPLHCB to be rubbish.

I would say that the MMT record brought a lot of chatter to a halt with "Strawberry Fields" stunning the punters and proving the psych icon it always will be. I'd also say that rather than that thriftshop-musichall-stageyness of Pepper, the whole MMT grand fiasco brought something authentically beatles and authentically psychedelic -- right on time -- back to the fore. And that is the Absurdism and, yeah, Loony-tune vibe that seems intrinsically beatle and is found in the (yes flawed) tv special. (It's kind of crazy still to see beatles as hippos and walruses; whereas, the center gate of pepper is cringeworthy, with pastel-suited, buttoned bellboys in a technicolor row... kind of a pre-jacko vibe, but let's not..)

Sure, MMT is a bit of a mess, uneven and assembled from disparate parts, but so what-- so is the White Album, and that is considered the grail, the apex of their work.
"Mucky Moppets Run Amok" is the MF verdict, whereas history will probably see a lot more here than meets the eye.

DJ Huk's picture

I love this album. Especially my pristine German Apple pressing with the different cover (the back has a shot of Lennon on the bus giving a balloon to a little girl) and those whimsical stereo mixes. As a kid, I found the whole Capitol package worked, because it was truly mysterious. We hadn't seen the television special yet--all we heard were rumors about the black-and-white version and the color version in the UK. So the included book with the Beatles acting goofily psychedelic really intrigued the imagination. Always my favorite era of Beatles, anyway: though I kind of liked their early stuff, when they went all twisted and wild with Tomorrow Never Knows and Rain, I was totally there. I recently viewed the TV special itself again, and though it generally drags, there are certain parts that are pretty good: the I Am The Walrus sequence, Lennon shoveling the spaghetti, The Bonzo Dog Band performing "Death Cab for Cutie". I give it a 10: for Strawberry Fields Forever alone, if nothing else ... and there was plenty of something else.

J.D.'s picture

I had forgotten that small ingredient: when we got the Capitol album in the US, there was this sense of there being this whole non-existent context, an invented script that, as you rightly mention, was really an obscure Mystery in practice. It felt weirdly modern and surrealist to be seeing the booklet with its still-frames from a missing story line; we could only presume how the songs might fit in with the unknown narrative.

We thought that was the way it was meant to be, a concept album with its concept a secret.

(once we did see the tv-special, it didn't actually reveal much anyway, but for so many years there, this distance kept the songs, yeah, mysterious & magical.)

It all comes back if you let it. Roll up.

southroad3's picture

Thanks MF for another great review, I owned the US LP (stereo) for years, then moved it on after I got hold of the Horzu version (much beefier sound), I also have the original mono EP. I play MMT as much, if not more than most of the other albums, especially "Walrus" and "Fool". I've got the new Box but it's only being opened on Christmas morning ! Roll on Crymbal !