"Magical Mystery Tour": It's Getting Hard to be Someone (But It All Works Out)

Authenticity required this album to have a "Capitol" label since it was not originally issued in the U.K. There, the five tunes on side one comprised a double 7" EP issue containing the songs from the "Color Television Film called 'Magical Mystery Tour'".

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.

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JC1957's picture

From 1968 on the Hor Zu label actually used fake stereo for side two as well. The true stereo versions did not get released until early 1972 as the 3 fake stereo (duophonic) songs were not mixed for stereo until the end of 1971.

Apparently Capitol was too lazy to follow suit and don't even get me started about that godawful Mo-Fi LP.

Michael Fremer's picture

I did not know that!

mb's picture

All You Need Is Love was mixed into stereo earlier than 71 because the true stereo mix is on Yellow Submarine which was released in late 68.

gettingintovinyl's picture

I agree with your assessment that this is not a "great album" in that it doesn't have the flow of an album as compared to Pepper, but what a great collection of songs it is!  "Blue Jay Way", "Walrus", "Hello Goodbye", "Penny Lane", "All You Need Is Love", and especially one of my top 5 Beatles songs of all time "Strawberry Fields Forever" make this album a 9 out of 10 for me.  Did they ever release this as a full LP in the UK?  Maybe in the 70s, right?  How does the sound of this one compare to those pressings?  Or is the German just the "go to" standard?

Michael Fremer's picture

I recall that they did but I haven't heard it. 

firedog55's picture

Sorry but in the UK it was a "Colour Television Film".smiley

This record has grown on me over the years. Originally, as you said,  it was sort of a disappointing follow up to Pepper; but Pepper hasn't held up that well over the years (sorry, a few of the songs are sort of weak in songwriting terms) and several of the songs on MMT are among the Beatles' best: "Walrus", Baby You're a Rich Man (for the arrangement and sonics), All You Need is Love, Fool on the Hill, Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane. 

Of course SF and PL were among the first songs recorded during the Pepper sessons at the end of 1966, but were released as a double A side single b/c EMI said the Beatles had to have a winter single. A concept single about growing up in Liverpool, as it were. If those 2 songs had been on Pepper instead of 2 of the ones that were (and they definitely fit the Pepper theme) - then Pepper would really have been the great album that some people think it is.

homersoddishe's picture

I love FLYING.  Just saying.

rosiemaxx's picture

Can't stand the unending accolades for Sgt. Pepper. A failed attempt to be different that wowed all the musicoligists and critics,but was barely rock and roll. Magical Mystery is a mind blowing piece of psychedelic rock, at the Beatles  best.Incredible songs ,don't  miss it,if you indeed, did inhale.

mmarston's picture

I recall being somewhat disoriented upon hearing the stereo "All You Need is Love" for the first time on "Yellow Submarine."  Was wearing cans at the time...

I keep hearing how only the HorZu, etc. have side two of MMT in stereo.  But I have a purple label "mastered by Capitol" LP (bought in the mid 90s) that does.  I've seen these panned but this one sounds OK on my plebian setup(s).  But then I like my 70s Japanese "Rubber Soul" just fine...

BobD's picture

I've been holding off getting the new pressings since I have the British Blue Box, giving me stereo copies of all the LPs. I also own at least a mono copy of all the original Parlophones - sometimes a stereo, too.


Does anyone know if the British Blue Box MMT has the true stereo 2nd side mix? Be glad to find out - and if nobody knows, maybe I'll find time to give it a listen and try to judge for myself. Thanks.

nurktwin's picture

I am totally in agreement with 'rosiemaxx'. I am absolutely sick to death of critics and nostalgists tripping over each other to praise "Sgt. Pepper". If we discount the "Yellow Submarine" album - as it's essentially only 4 'new' Beatles songs - "Pepper" is one of the WORST albums the Fabs ever released... with only "For Sale" managing to beat it in terms of banality!

More complex, more exotic ARRANGEMENTS and PRODUCTION, did not mean better songs. I can't remotely understand how anyone can stack "Pepper" up against its two predecessors "Revolver" or "Rubber Soul" (or for that matter, "Help!", "A Hard Day's Night" or even "With the Beatles") track for track, and with a straight face claim that "Pepper" is a better collection of songs than appears on those albums.

I think your view of people's first reaction to this album is completely revisionist - I doubt that anyone thought of this album's packaging as 'tacky' when they first purchased it in late 1967, early 1968. For that matter, what is so 'tacky' about it now?

Well, I'm simply sounding bitter - but this "Pepper" worship annoys me like you wouldn't believe. (Hmmm. Well, maybe you WOULD believe after this missive). The music from the actual "Magical Mystery Tour" EP is not among the Beatles finest work. "Flying" is fun, but weak, and "Blue Jay Way" is lacklustre... to put it kindly. But stack up the remaining tunes against "Pepper"... as they all have their counterparts on that album. The 'show opener' - 'Magical Mystery Tour' versus the show opener on "Pepper", 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band' - sorry, I have to go with 'MMT' as the better of the two songs... if only because it moves, as opposed to sounding contrived - if not downright clumsy. (Lennon always claimed it was a mistake to try to "rock up" the track 'Sgt. Pepper'. And again, I don't think either tune is among the Beatles' strongest works). Paul's romantic ballad - 'Fool on the Hill' versus 'She's Leaving Home' - gotta go with 'Fool on the Hill' - unless you're a fan of kitsch strings. (Talk about "tacky"). As for the 'gramma song' - well, you got me this time. I'll go for 'When I'm 64' over 'You're Mother Should Know'. Finally, the choice slab of psychedelia - 'I am the Walrus' definitely trumps 'A Day in the Life'. I'll broach no argument about that - 'A Day In the Life' is pretentious artiness and they knew it at the time - 'Walrus' not only ROCKS, but outdoes 'ADITL' in artiness (and was deliberately a 'joke' on Lennon's part for those people reading meaning into Beatles' lyrics as opposed to a selfconscious 'statement').

The five tunes on the vinyl 'B' side of the album are among the Beatles' finest work - four made it onto the 'blue' album and three made it onto "1" - if that counts for anything. I think some people enjoy trashing 'Hello Goodbye' because Lennon trashed it. I'll tell you, there must be a million wannabe songwriters out there who wish they could write 'trash' that is as fantasically infectious as this song. And who else but the Beatles could throw away a song as great as 'Baby You're a Rich Man' as a single 'B' side?

"Magical Mystery Tour" is not a "mess of an album". It's a compilation album - and that does leave a bad taste in the mouth of purists, as it's not an organic creation. But the compilation is put together intelligently - and I would argue that the track line up on vinyl side one plays more aesthetically than the line up of the double British EP.

Lock yourself in a room for a month with "Sgt. Pepper" as your only music. Then lock yourself up in the same room for another month with "Magical Mystery Tour". I think you'll revise your review... or be craving a listen to the "Yellow Submarine" LP after a month with "Pepper". Lennon never bought into the "Pepper" 'myth'. Why do you?

If I sounded nasty, I apologize. But save your venom for a half-assed compilation like "Magic Bus" by the Who... (who were extremely agitated with its appearance), not for an EXTREMELY enjoyable album like "Magical Mystery Tour". (And I'll grant you, the film does indeed stink).

Mark Maloof's picture

Somebody above wondered if the Mystery Tour in the UK Blue Box is true stereo.  There is NO Mystery Tour in the UK Blue Box (which, by the way, sounds great.  Those who have them and compared to the new box set say the new one is no better, just different, and while a tad bass shy, the UK blue box has more dynamic snap, a better top end, and sounds more analog because....it is all analog!  The dopes at EMI could not bother to at least use the hi rez versions of digital to make these reissues!  I would have been pleased enough with that).  

I have the German Apple/Electrola version that I bought in Harvard Square when I was a teen in the late 70s/early 80s, because I had read even way back then that it was one of the only true stereo versions. Yet I have a Parlophone black label version (bought at flea market in 90s, no idea of pressing year) that I swear may be the same mix.  I'm away, but I'll check when I get home.  I know some may knock "The Tour", but it formed a special place in my heart as a highschool teen (though White Album is my favortie Beatles album, but then I did end up being a punk rocker later).  In regards to the Pepper bashing, it's still better to me than some of the light silly early stuff (She loves, yeah yeah whatever), when they worn the corny matching suits. No wonder the Stones seemed way cooler than the Beatles when they came on the scene. (but I like both bands equally).

WaxtotheMax's picture

I would give it roughly the same grade as Mr. Fremer and add that as a former owner of the original EP at one time, or maybe twice..I do like this pressing without any real negatives to express after about 9 listens. By the way, the Lp is flat and plays with nary a click to be heard.

morris's picture

It is not possible for any one to keep the fans impressed all the time. However, when it comes to travel there are places where you would hardly feel disappointed such as Australia where amazing food, great views await you and you must check out Australias animals.

morris's picture

It was not up to the expectation so obviously the fans felt bad, you can not expect magic from a band all the time they are always under pressure and they are traveling so frequently that sometimes they fail to perform well.

Waynefi's picture

I guess I am nuts, but MMT is my favorite Beatles LP , HUH ???