What’s there to say that hasn’t already been said about the Beatles? Sweet F.A. It’s been over 60 years since they evolved from the Quarrymen and they’re still hyped as heroes of music who shaped and reshaped the industry to their heart’s content in the 60s. We all know about them, it’s impossible not to be at the very least aware of their existence.
That last part became very clear to me when I paid a visit to Liverpool for the first time back in July, to spend the day with my good friend Rebecca. While I think Liverpudlians are missing a trick not erecting a statue of Lee Mavers it’s pretty clear that they know what they produced and that they’re set on commemorating it until the end of time. If you’re ever in the area, get yourself away from the city centre as soon as possible and head down to Albert Dock. There you’ll find statues of the Fab Four, a view of the Mersey, a shop selling merchandise including t-shirts, album reissues and replicas of John Lennon’s specs, and a busker doing some lovely renditions of songs like Blackbird and Come Together.
I’ve had a taste of the Beatles, I’ve let them in and I think it’s high time I talk about them on A-Side Glance. Like David Bowie it’s taken me a while to start appreciating them but I am slowly coming around to them, or at least their later and more experimental stuff which I enjoy a lot more compared to their early pop efforts.
There are three reasons why I’m looking at Magical Mystery Tour of all things: One, it tends to get swept under the carpet compared to other albums in the collection (not helped by being sandwiched between Sgt Pepper and the White Album). Two, I’ve always had a thing for psychedelia as seen with Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. And three, it’s Reb’s favourite. That’s good enough for me.
All aboard the bus for the Magical Mystery Tour.
Track #1 – Magical Mystery Tour
The fanfare sways away as the album rolls into life and we are beckoned aboard for the tour. Fittingly the sound of the song encapsulates the start of a big trip, and all the excitement you feel ahead of a grand adventure. I’m ready and raring to go.
Track #2 – The Fool On The Hill
I really, really like this one. It’s got the vibe of a musical and wonderfully uses flutes to evoke the overarching theme of the tour, helping paint images in your mind of the bus trundling down the roads and past the hill atop which the supposed fool sits. I also like how he’s depicted as a misunderstood outsider, making him more relatable and likeable in a way. Gentle, calming, inviting, and an early highlight of the album.
Track #3 – Flying
Onto an instrumental. I feel like it’s a bit early in the day for one and should have been saved for later but it’s still a neat little tune that really picks up when the choir sneaks in.
Track #4 – Blue Jay Way
However I can forgive having the instrumental as it allows for a neat transition into this song, which is George Harrison’s go with the writer’s pen. I think this is the first truly big psychedelic piece of Magical Mystery Tour, it’s very reminiscent of Tomorrow Never Knows but slower and more foreboding. Harrison himself performs the song really well, and I love how it sounds as if he is trapped in the Hammond organ, giving the vocals a layer of drowsiness which ties into the theme of battling fatigue and the urge to sleep. Same goes for the end of the song and the repetition of “Don’t be long”, a line that becomes a mantra as the narrator grasps onto consciousness with buttery fingers.
Track #5 – Your Mother Should Know
Here’s the first note I wrote when this song booted up:
‘This is a McCartney song all right’.
The thing I like most about this song is that it takes its title from the film A Taste of Honey, one of three films I wrote about for my dissertation. However the music hall style is not my cup of tea, although I can appreciate the content of the lyrics and trying to teach different generations about different music.
Track #6 – I Am the Walrus
Ah, this one. Its reputation precedes it. I’ve heard about it through several different mediums:
- Oasis’ live rendition from The Masterplan.
- Jo Grant referencing it when Patrick Troughton appears in The Three Doctors.
- The go-to song when the cast of Whose Line Is It Anyway? are playing Song Titles.
But this was my first encounter with the original and I finally got to see what all the fuss is about. And it’s just delightful nonsense innit? It does take a certain kind of mind to come up with lyrics like “Sitting on a cornflake/Waiting for the van to come” and “Yellow matter custard/Dripping from a dead dog’s eye”. It then takes a certain kind of mind on a different plane of existence to then add BBC radio broadcasts of King Lear in for good measure. Not as punchy as I might have liked it to be but I still really enjoyed it as it shows how experimental the Beatles were at this point. I’ll also always give my respect to a song with a purpose of getting the analysts and the conspiracy theorists’ knickers in a twist.
Track #7 – Hello, Goodbye
This is an odd one. It sounds like a better song than it really is if that makes sense. It has all the bells and whistles of a decent-sounding Beatles song but it just ain’t doing it for me for some reason.
I want to get more out of it though so for the first time I’m turning to outside help. Here’s Reb with her thoughts and feelings on it:
“I’ve just put ‘Hello, Goodbye’ on, a song that is etched into the membrane of my brain for life, I think I can safely say. I loaded up the lyrics to look at while I listen and I think it’s hit me for the first time how batshit this song is. I say this affectionately, as I genuinely love this song, but it is like it is written by a toddler. The lyrics, anyway. I love the instrumental and Paul whispering in the background his ominous little “I say ‘Yes’, but I may mean ‘No’/I can stay still it’s time to go”. I think fittingly it feels like I’m having an acid trip. The end freaks me out though. It makes me feel severely uncomfortable, however I know this is just a Me Thing, not a General Population Thing. Overall a thoroughly fun and catchy song, though not fit to be studied in any literature class, that’s for sure”
Track #8 – Strawberry Fields Forever
Speaking of batshit and acid trips. If there is any song by the Beatles that benefitted from being made solely for an album rather than the live performances which they had sworn off a year prior, then it is Strawberry Fields Forever. This song sounds excellent today, and I’m willing to bet it sounded damn near revolutionary back in the 60s. It sounds like the result of a group of mad scientists who threw whatever they could into a test tube and made something absolutely mesmerising. Best song of the album.
Track #9 – Penny Lane
Let it be known that if time travel is ever invented I am taking a trip to the 60s. This song makes me want to do that. It’s perfect for a jaunty walk down the street past the various sights you see every day. I love songs like that about the ordinary. Lovely undercurrent of nostalgia courtesy of Paul.
Track #10 and #11 – Baby, You’re a Rich Man and All You Need is Love
Bumping these two together as they are weaved from the same cloth. The album was for the most part made during the Summer of Love in 1967. These two songs serve to remind you of that fact. First, we start with a serviceable, more Indian-sounding song for the hippie. Then, the fanfare of the start of the album returns to cap things off. Being a bit of a cynic I do find the message of the latter a little-heavy handed, and ending with the repeated assertion that all you need is love does come across as a one-dimensional end to proceedings. I’m sure I’d love it more if I was more mellow but for now all I can do is appreciate the two songs for what they are worth; a sunny and cheery end to the Magical Mystery Tour.
This is a sweet little album isn’t it? These days especially you have to be careful with positivity as too much can make you reject it outright, like drinking too much beer. But Magical Mystery Tour hits just the right notes and you can’t help but feel warm and smiley throughout. In keeping with the psychedelic feel, it’s one of those albums you can just kick back and relax to. Just enjoy the good times, forget the bollocks of the world around you and absorb the magic of the Mystery Tour.
Not a perfect album by any means but I must admit I’ve ended up holding it in higher regard than I thought I would. In fact I think I might end up coming back to this one before I next listen to Abbey Road. Although that could be because I don’t want to sit through Maxwell’s Silver Hammer again. No crashing and burning on the Magical Mystery Tour, just a lovely journey down the roads of music and acid for a relaxing time. I can definitely see why Reb loves this album.
And if you’re wondering, no I haven’t seen the film yet. Me and Reb have agreed to watch it at some point down the line, to experience and laugh at the insanity together. I’m bringing vodka.
EDIT: We watched it about two weeks later. It is one of the worst films I have ever seen.