Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour

Review #36
Artist: The Beatles
Title: Magical Mystery Tour
Format: LP
Label: Capitol Records
Year: 1967
Songs: 11

The Magical Mystery Tour LP is the only American Beatles release that has become the canonical version. This record, if you aren't familiar, features the music from their very unusual film of the same title, as well as a number of tracks previously released as singles. The British version of this was actually a double ep that only featured the songs from the film and excluded the singles. With every other Beatles record, when the cd versions came out, they were all the original British versions. But not Magical Mystery Tour.

Perhaps that's because this is such an excellent collection of songs. In fact, for a long time, this was my favorite Beatles record. From the infectious pop of the title track, to the strange abrasiveness of "I Am the Walrus," to basically all of the singles that make up side B, this record is both fun and interesting from beginning to end.  As a teenager, I declared Harrison's "Blue Jay Way" to be one of the Beatles' only bad songs.  But I've since warmed to it.

The absolute highlight of this record, in my view, are two songs on side B that were originally released as a single together, "Penny Lane," and "Strawberry Fields Forever." In my last post, I described the "Hey Jude/Revolution" single as the pinnacle of the Beatles' catalogue. If that is so, then this single is a close second. These songs, both about actual places from the band's history, are classics that really showcase Lennon and McCartney's differing but complimentary styles. "Penny Lane" is a pure McCartney pop gem. Catchy and fun, but also well crafted and innovative in its own way, "Penny Lane" is one of McCartney's best compositions. "Strawberry Fields Forever," by contrast, is clearly Lennon's work--slightly dark in its sound, with lyrics at once absurd and profound, and unusual instrumentation and production to give the song a surreal and slightly spooky quality. Both are fantastic in their own way and for some reason feel as if they were always destined to be paired, in spite of the their differing sounds.

"Strawberry Fields Forever" is also a crucial piece Paul is dead conspiracy lore. Near the end of the song, a muffled John Lennon can be heard saying "Cranberry Sauce." This was misheard as "I buried Paul" and taken to be yet another piece of evidence that McCartney had died and been replaced by a look alike.  But don't get me started on that.

The LP version of this record is especially worth having for Beatles enthusiasts and collectors because inside it's gatefold cover it includes an illustrated storybook of the film, complete with very 1960s artwork, and also some photographic stills from the movie. Good fun.

In short, Magical Mystery Tour is a great record. The movie is not for just anyone--it's pretty weird and also dull at times (I like it anyway) but the record is essential.

Here's the title track, with video as it appeared in the film.

Total songs listened: 467


Anonymous said...

Mr. Di Cicco-
I am very disappointed in the the lake of posts in the last few weeks. I want more of what you got!

Love you!

Damon said...

Dear anonymous,

Thank you for your interest in the blog! Life has kept me too busy to post much for the last month or so, but I hope to have fresh reviews this weekend.