Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles

1967

The Beatles always broke new ground. As a taster for their film, to be shown on Boxing Day, 1967, they released a double EP on 8th December. This was an unprecedented format and quite a good way to release six songs which lasted 19 minutes. (At one point, they were considering releasing the six songs as one EP which played at 33 rpm but it was felt that the sound quality would suffer). Two weeks earlier, on 24th November, they had released “Hello Goodbye” with “I Am The Walrus” on the B side which quickly got to Number One in the UK Charts. On it’s release, the Magical Mystery Tour EP got to Number Two in the Singles charts.

The Beatles’ albums released in the USA were different to the UK versions up to and including “Revolver”. Whilst “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was the same in the UK and the USA, Capitol records in the USA decided that a double EP wasn’t a viable format and so, on 27th November, a full album was released consisting of the six songs from the “Magical Mystery Tour” EPs along with all the non-LP songs that the band had released in 1967 (“Penny Lane”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “All You Need Is Love”, “Baby You’re A Rich Man” and “Hello Goodbye”). The total running time of the USA album is 36 minutes which puts it on a par with early UK Beatles albums; longer than all early USA albums and shorter than late UK albums. I always used to disregard this album as I bought the single and the EPs on release and treasured them. There was a great 24 page booklet that came with the double EPs. However, the completist part of me acknowledges that if I want to have everything that The Beatles ever recorded on CD, I need to own this. It still seems like a compilation album but it contains three of the best songs that The Beatles (or anyone) ever recorded. A “core catalogue” of Beatles albums has been identified and “Magical Mystery Tour” is part of it.

Each of these eleven songs is very well known. Here are some facts that I’ve only just discovered.

“Magical Mystery Tour” includes the sounds of traffic recorded by engineer Stuart Eltham who leaned over a bridge on the M1 on a Sunday morning. Paul McCartney turned up in the studio to record this song with only three chords and one lyric. Later, when it came time for the trumpet overdubs, he tried humming what he wanted to the classical musicians there who got so fed up with the chaos that one of them, Elgar Howarth (now a distinguished composer), wrote the score himself.

The first recording of “The Fool On The Hill” includes harmonicas played by John Lennon and George Harrison and a recorder played by Paul McCartney. The first version lasted for 3’50”, the second version was 4’25” and the final version was 2’57”

“Flying” is the second instrumental song that The Beatles released. “Cry For A Shadow” was written by John Lennon and George Harrison and recorded in Hamburg when they backed Tony Sheridan. It was first released in the UK in 1967 on “The Beatles First” which I bought and was very disappointed with as the only recognisable Beatles song was “Ain’t She Sweet”. “Flying” is the only song composed by all four Beatles. The writing credits name the band in alphabetical order, i.e. Harrison-Lennon-McCartney-Starr. It was originally titled “Aerial Tour Instrumental” and was nine and a half minutes long and included a jazzy saxophone solo at the end with three different organs played backwards.

“Blue Jay Way” was written by George Harrison in Los Angeles whilst he was waiting for Derek Taylor, who was delayed by fog. Derek Taylor had been the press officer for the Beatles 1964 tour of the USA, he had ghost written Brian Epstein’s biography, “A Cellarfull Of Noise” and he was to become the press officer of Apple between 1968 and 1970. It was strange to hear a Beatles song about being in Los Angeles. I guess “There’s a fog upon London” or “There’s a fog upon Weybridge” didn’t scan as well. “Blue Jay Way” includes lots of vocals by John Lennon and Paul McCartney recorded backwards. It sounds like a bit of a dirge but listening to it today, after not playing it for many years, I was struck by how interesting it is. there’s incredible drumming from Ringo Starr. There’s some great cello work and as an example of psychedelic 1967 recording, it’s unparalleled. A lot of the dense swirling effect that sounds like fog (!) was created by “flanging” an effect created when two identical recordings are mixed together with a variable time delay between them. The interference (known as a “comb filter”) results in peaks and troughs in the resulting noise.

“Your Mother Should Know” was recorded at Chappell Studios on 22nd and 23rd August which represented nearly two months since their last time in a studio (to record “All You Need Is Love”). Paul McCartney had been at Chappell Studios when The Chris Barber Band recorded a version of one of his earliest compositions (“Catcall”, sometimes called “Catswalk”) and when the EMI studios at Abbey Road were booked. This was the last song to be recorded before Brian Epstein’s death on 27th August and he was present for the session on 23rd August. “Your Mother Should Know” is a line from the screenplay of “A Taste Of Honey” (and Paul McCartney had recorded “A Taste Of Honey” for “Please Please Me”). Unusually for a Paul McCartney song, there is no middle eight.

The instruments on “I Am The Walrus” include 8 violins, 4 cellos, 3 horns and a bass clarinet. The 16 members of the Mike Sammes Singers can be heard singing “Oompah, Oompah, Stick It Up Your Jumper”. I knew the Mike Sammes Singers from the ghastly “Sing Something Simple” which followed “Pick Of The Pops” every Sunday evening. As soon as I heard them, I knew the weekend was over and it was back to five hours silent listening learning at school the next day. The day after their involvement with “I Am The Walrus”, they were recording for Kathy Kirby. The following day, they were on “The Benny Hill Show”. The outro for “I Am The Walrus” includes a recording from the radio of King Lear Act IV Scene VI, which are the only parts of Shakespeare that Andy and I can recite. The actors that can be heard include Mark Dignam (Gloucester), Philip Guard (Edgar) and John Bryning (Oswald). In 1967, Mark Dignam appeared in the film adaptation of “The Taming Of The Shrew” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The film also starred Victor Spinetti who appeared in the “Magical Mystery Tour” film (as well as “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!”). Technical issues connected with incorporating the radio recording means that as soon as we hear the extract from the Shakespeare play, the stereo recording becomes mono.

“Hello Goodbye” was originally titled “Hello Hello”. The Beatles called the coda the “Maori finale” even though the words “Aloha aloha” are actually Hawaiian. When a video for the film was made, girls with grass skirts appear at the end but they were all from London.

It always annoys me when I hear that “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” should have been included on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” but had to be left off because they had already been released as a single. The lie is told that The Beatles never included singles on their albums. The previous single was “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine” which was on “Revolver”, although the album and single were released simultaneously. “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “You Can’t Do that” were released on 16th March 1964 and also included on “A Hard Day’s Night” released on 10th July 1964. The first two singles they recorded and their B sides were all on “Please Please Me”. It’s nonsense to suggest that they couldn’t have been on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.

The original concept behind “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was that it was going to be an album of nostalgia. John Lennon spoke about the song to David Sheff, in an interview for Playboy, just before his death. “The second verse goes, ‘No one I think is in my tree’. Well, I was too shy and self-doubting. Nobody seems to be as hip as me is what I was saying. Therefore I must be crazy or a genius – ‘I mean, it must be high or low’, the next line. There was something wrong with me, I thought, because I seemed to see things that other people didn’t see. I thought I was crazy or an egomaniac for claiming to see things other people didn’t see. I was always so psychic or intuitive or poetic or whatever you want to call it, that I was always seeing things in a hallucinatory way. Even as a child, when I looked at myself in the mirror or when I was 12, 13, I used to literally trance out into alpha. I didn’t know what it was called then. I found out later that there is a name for those conditions. But I would find myself seeing hallucinatory images of my face changing and becoming cosmic and complete. It caused me to always be a rebel. This thing gave me a chip on the shoulder; but, on the other hand, I wanted to be loved and accepted. Part of me would like to be accepted by all facets of society and not be this loud mouthed lunatic musician. But I cannot be what I am not.” Although written by John Lennon, this is a full band performance. Ringo Starr’s drumming is an “indispensable foundation” (according to Ian MacDonald in “Revolution In The Head”). The other key sounds on the track are a mellotron played by Paul McCartney and a zither played by George Harrison. George Martin wrote an incredible score for cellos and Paul McCartney’s guitar in the fade out sounds like a sitar. The song took 55 hours of studio time to record.

In an interview in November 1965, Paul McCartney said that he was writing a song called “Penny Lane”. David Mason, not the musician from Traffic, played a piccolo trumpet on “Penny Lane” and he also played on “A Day In The Life”, “Magical Mystery Tour”, “All You Need Is Love” and “It’s All Too Much”. He was paid £27 10s for his work on “Penny Lane”. Amongst the other instrumentation are five overdubbed pianos.

“Baby You’re A Rich Man” was recorded at Olympic Sound Studios and was completed in 6 hours. It was intended to be included in the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack but because it was used as the B side to “All You Need Is Love”, it is not on the album (but is in the film). There is some evidence that Mick Jagger sings vocals in the fade out at the same time as John Lennon sings “Baby, you’re a rich fag Jew“, purportedly aimed at Brian Epstein.

The appearance given to the “Our World” TV show was that the whole song was performed live but The Beatles were playing over a recording of the rhythm track. The live performances were the vocals, bass guitar, the guitar solo, drums and orchestra. Many “celebrities” were invited into the studio to witness the recording including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Moon, Keith Richard, Eric Clapton, Pattie Harrison, Jane Asher, Mike McCartney, Graham Nash, Gary Leeds (from The Walker Brothers) and Hunter Davies (the Beatles’ biographer). They were all sat on the floor of the studio wearing kaftans with flowers in their hair. Terry Condon was a studio assistant at the EMI studios and he was invited to sit with the others. He said “When the session was over, the girl who had arranged the fantastic floral displays gave me some to take home to the wife and to give to the local hospital. As I walked out of the building, I was jumped on by a swarm of Beatles fans and I was left holding a bunch of stalks!

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

5 thoughts on “Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles

  1. Great article! As a US listener of a certain age, the American albums were the ones that I first heard and had, with “Mystery Tour” and “Beatles VI” as my earliest favorites. My household also somehow ended up with a copy of “A Collection of Beatles Oldies” . . . which I long assumed was part of the North American release package, only learning as an adult that it was actually a UK compilation. I have no idea how it ended up in my parents’ record collection . . . my father was in the Marine Corps, so thinking he may have acquired it abroad. Those non-canonical records are the ones that tug the nostalgia strings the hardest for me, to this day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. The Oldies album had “Bad Boy” on it which was otherwise unreleased. I heard a story that they meant to include “This Boy” but someone misread the title. I don’t know if that’s true.

      Like

  2. ‘Hello, Goodbye’ was the first Single I ever bought with my own money …. as a 9 year old I was full-time working down the pit, Sunday’s off for chapel. Bought from David Evans department store in Cwmbran – no dedicated record shop nearby. Had to return it twice because the pressings were so poor. Ah, good days.

    Liked by 1 person

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