Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/21/10.
The release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was a huge moment in the world of pop culture and the history of the world. The Beatles suddenly peaked as far as creativity and in terms of commercial appeal was concerned as everything was going great. The band followed up the release of the album with a new song called All You Need Is Love for a broadcast of Our World as it was seen by 400 million people in 26 countries with the Beatles representing Britain. Following the release of the album and All You Need Is Love, the Beatles went on a spiritual retreat to Bangor to study meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. During the retreat, the Beatles received devastating news that many said was the beginning of the end for the band.
The death of Brian Epstein on August 27, 1967 from an accidental drug overdose at age 32. Epstein's death would cause troubles for what the band would do with a lot of business issues including their publishing and plans to form their own company called Apple. The band took on a TV project that was loosely-plotted and be accompanied with a bunch of brand new material the band had been recording following the period of Sgt. Pepper along with their new film project. Originally released as a six-track double EP in the U.K., the band's U.S. label Capitol released the record with five more songs that were released as singles and a B-side that many said was the only U.S. album superior to the rest of the band's U.S. catalog. The film project and album would be known as Magical Mystery Tour.
Produced by George Martin, Magical Mystery Tour is an album that has the Beatles continuing their fascination with psychedelic music. Featuring more abstract yet pop-laden material, the album is a combination of six tracks the band recorded for the film project plus a new single and previous material that were released prior to the making of Magical Mystery Tour. With the majority of material written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney plus a song by George Harrison, the album also features a rare track written by the entire band as an instrumental piece. While it may not have rich sophistication of Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour is still a brilliant follow-up that showed the Beatles evolving more and more into psychedelic pop.
The album opens with the upbeat title track filled with nonsensical lyrics and a blazing horn section of blaring trumpets. With Ringo Starr's bopping beats and harmony vocals from John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison singing the chorus with McCartney singing weird lyrics along with a melodic piano. Featuring some clanging percussions tracks with contributions from associates Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall, it's a brilliant track that works in its presentation and whimsy. The ballad Fool On The Hill is led by McCartney's somber piano with his calm vocals filled with melancholic lyrics. Featuring an arrangement of flutes playing in the background, it is one of the Beatles' best ballads as it features a soft, finger cymbal accompaniment from Starr as Harrison plays an acoustic guitar in the background with McCartney playing a solo from a recorder.
The instrumental track Flying is the only track written by the entire band as it features melodic guitar tracks from McCartney and Harrison plus Starr's bopping drums as it is led by Lennon's soothing mellotron performance. The track also features vocal-like wails from the band as it is driven by Lennon's mellotron playing eerie notes. Harrison's Blue Jay Way is a haunting track filled with imagery-laden lyrics inspired by Harrison's visit to Los Angeles in the Hollywood Hills. Featuring Harrison playing an atmospheric Hammond organ solo with Starr's pounding bass drum. The song is an eerie cut where the song's tempo picks up a bit with Starr's steady drum fill as Harrison's vocals are sung through a distorted mix as it includes a driving cello performance in the coda.
The upbeat Your Mother Should Know is led by McCartney's bouncy piano melody with soothing backing vocals from Lennon and Harrison as McCartney sings playful lyrics of nostalgia. With Starr's thumping drum fill, Lennon's wailing organ, and Harrison's washy guitar in the background, it is one of the band's catchiest songs as it is presented in one of the TV special's strangest sequences. I Am The Walrus opens with Lennon's melodic keyboard track from a mellotron with a wavy string arrangement. With Starr's steady, mid-tempo drum fill and McCartney's bouncy bass lines, Lennon sings lyrics filled with nonsensical meanings and ideas where the only thing makes sense is the chorus where Lennon says "I am the eggman, I am the eggman, I am the walrus, koo-koo-ka-choo". With Harrison's driving guitar track, it is one of the band's strangest but enjoyable songs that is not meant to make any sense.
The album's second half begins with the upbeat single Hello Goodbye which opens with McCartney's bouncy piano and playful vocals as he sings weird but peppy lyrics. Featuring Starr's bopping beat and wailing guitar notes from Lennon and Harrison, the song is a catchy yet bouncy pop song that features a wonderful drum fill from Starr along with brimming viola arrangements. The song also includes an amazing coda with bouncier rhythms and the band chanting in a Hawaiian-like style. Next is Strawberry Fields Forever, a song that originally came out as a double A-side single in February of 1967. Opening with McCartney's flute-like mellotron solo, the song has Lennon singing haunting lyrics filled with imagery and nostalgia as it features Harrison's melodic guitar and Starr's slow, steady drum fill. The song intensifies with Starr playing more, thunderous fills with Harrison playing a flourishing swarmandal with other instruments like Neil Aspinall's guiro, Mal Evans' tambourine, and George Martin's blazing arrangements of horns and cellos as it is definitely the band's most groundbreaking tracks.
Penny Lane, the other A-side single released with Strawberry Fields Forever in February of 1967, is a playful piano-style track that has McCartney singing about a street in Liverpool. Filled with an air of nostalgia, the song has Starr's bouncy drum fill with Lennon playing a bouncy piano track with Harrison's soft guitar as he and Lennon sing backing vocals. Yet, the song is dominated by an arrangement of flourishing flutes and horn solos orchestrated by George Martin that also features string tracks as it one of the band's richest cuts. Baby, You're A Rich Man, a B-side to the single All You Need Is Love, is a mid-tempo rocker with Starr's bopping drum fills and McCartney's bouncy piano that is carried by a swirling clavioline track by Lennon as he sings the song. The song's weird lyrics about gain and wealth is a strange cut as it features Harrison playing a soft guitar track in the background as he, Lennon, and McCartney sing the song's chorus.
The album closer is the single All You Need Is Love that opens with La Marseillaise French national anthem with a song that is simply about love. Wtih Starr's bouncy drum fill with Lennon's bopping harpsichord track, the song is an anthemic track devoted to love as it features a wonderful string arrangement from George Martin. With McCartney's soft, thumping bass line and a wailing solo from Harrison, the song's chorus is sung by all involved including some special guests like Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Richards, Harrison's wife Pattie Boyd, Starr's wife Maureen Starkey, Graham Nash, Keith Moon, Eric Clapton, McCartney's then-girlfriend Jane Asher, and many others as it closes with McCartney singing bits of She Loves You in this amazing anthem.
The album was released in the U.S. on November 27, 1967 just nearly a month before the release of the Magical Mystery Tour TV project. The album was acclaimed and sold well but when the TV special aired in the U.K., the Beatles were hit with negative reviews from critics and audiences for the very first time. Though it was shown on black-and-white TV since color TV wasn't invented yet, it was the first time the Beatles got into some trouble. Though the TV special later proved to be popular with Beatles fans, it did mark the beginning of some troubles for the band.
The 2009 remastered edition of the album does provide some fantastic moments in the recording. Notably for the production of several tracks where the instrumentation is presented in a grand fashion. Even a song like Strawberry Fields Forever is presented in a broader presentation to give more idea of what was being played as the remastered version is one of the top albums in the remastered series.
While it may not have the overall consistency of Revolver or Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour is still a fantastic album from the Beatles. The album in comparison to their other albums is one that is ranked very highly as it is the only U.S. studio release that lives up to the U.K. albums. With one half of the album that showed the band's progression of what they were doing for the TV special and another half filled with singles and B-sides. The album by itself is remarkable as Magical Mystery Tour is another winning achievement from the Beatles.
The Beatles Reviews: Please Please Me - With the Beatles - A Hard Day's Night - Beatles for Sale - Help! - Rubber Soul - Revolver - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The White Album - Yellow Submarine OST - Abbey Road - Let It Be - (1962-1966) - (1967-1970) - Past Masters - (Live at the BBC) - (Anthology 1) - (Anthology 2) - (Anthology 3) - (Let It Be... Naked) - (Love)
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