Man, 1967 was a busy year for The Beatles. Only a few short months after Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came the ill-advised television special Magical Mystery Tour. If you’ve ever seen the film, it’s a poorly contrived mess; a huge departure from the fun of A Hard Day’s Night and Help!. Fortunately, the new songs that accompanied the film were still pretty damn great, and so we can still hold our head high with Magical Mystery Tour the album, even if the second side is filled with previously released singles.
A couple random thoughts as I listened again this morning on my way to work:
Is this the first time the Beatles recorded an instrumental for an album? I’m lazy and don’t do a lot of research¹, but despite the “classic” status of both the opening title track and “Fool On The Hill” it’s “Flying” that first really catches my ear. A slinky guitar brings us into a weird blues progression complete with a patented Beatles melody on the mellotron and some fun tape looping fun.
Having “Flying” jump right into Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” is one of my favorite sequences on any Beatles album. Is it obvious yet how much I love George Harrison? The songs hits the Indian mystic vibes that so many of Harrison’s compositions do, but there’s a great psychedelic quality as well. I did a *little* bit of reading and I guess this is supposed to be a song about a time when Harrison had to wait for a music publicist in LA when he was jet lagged and in danger of falling asleep, but when I hear it and listen to those lyrics, it’s easy to think he’s singing to the other Beatles, imploring them to get their act together before he leaves them. Yeah, history is painting the picture in my head but I swear it’s there.
So this was originally billed as a “double EP” in the UK but at the time the US didn’t care for that kind of thing, so over here side 2 is comprised of a number of previously released singles, including “Strawberry Fields Forever” which is the best song I think never get enough credit. However much you say it’s great, it’s just a little more great than that.
No one can do treacly schmaltz like McCartney, and both “Hello Goodbye” and “Penny Lane” are wonderfully sappy.
I’m not a huge fan of “All You Need Is Love” despite its ramshackle charm, but I give credit to the callback to “She Loves You” at the song’s end. At this point the Beatles have only been around for five years but are so popular they can callback earlier songs and it’s astounding.
¹ I went back and looked it up. Back in 1965 the boys recorded “12-Bar Original” which went unreleased until the Anthology set came out in the mid-90s. So there you go!