I find the Beatles particularly difficult to write about, they’re too much part of me – my parents played them a lot, we sang Beatles songs in the car, they were the first band I ever took an interest in (I wanted to be Ringo*), I remember my parents taping all their singles for me – still the best Beatles compilation I’ve ever heard. Add to this the fact that I ‘rediscovered’ them at university and the fact that I used to work in Matthew Street, Liverpool then I’m pretty steeped in them. To the point that I don’t actually listen to them an awful lot, I don’t need to, I’ve just absorbed their music like a big, fab, sponge.
All of which waffle is probably why I’ve picked Magical Mystery Tour to write about tonight, I have very little history with it. I remember it as an EP with two singles and a booklet, but two years ago a friend gave me a pristine 1967 copy of the US LP version**, which they packed out with the A’s and B’s from the other 1967 singles. Not bad is it when you just have the likes of ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Strawberry Fields’ and 1537 favourite ‘Baby You’re a Rich Man’ just lying around on the kitchen table looking for a good home. It’s a pleasing LP, the booklet is full of great stills from the film, the lyrics to all the MMT songs are included, as is a comic strip retelling of the story.
I’ve never seen the film as an adult and I suspect I’d find it all a bit ghastly if I did (Help! was always my favourite Beatles film growing up, so what do I know?) and I remember finding MMT unfunny and annoying as an 11 year-old. I find it interesting that 1537 fave Ivor Cutler, various Pythons and Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band members sneak in around the edges here and the big concrete emplacements and embrasures (of RAF West Walling) give certain sequences a bit of an apocalyptic tickle.
I like the title track, all the ‘Roll Ups’ in particular, along with that patented steady we’ll-get-there-in-the-end drumming from Ringo. I remember Lennon saying about ‘Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’ that he’d rather it had just been done as a straight rocker without the effects, I have a similar yearning for ‘Magical Mystery Tour’.
For some reason ‘The Fool On The Hill’ seems to attract a lot of opprobrium, I’ve never understood that I think it’s a real McCartney charmer, lyrically and musically. We had a big hill called Banc-y-Lan, about half a mile across fields from the farm I grew up on, in the summer holidays if I had nothing better to do, and often if I did anyway, I’d just grab a book, a blanket and some water, head on over there to a steep glade hidden in the woods on the side of the hill. You could see the Towy valley spread out for miles below, see the checkerboard green fields, the cars beetling along the A40, look up and see buzzards wheeling around overhead, or just lie back and watch the little white clouds slide across the blue; the luxury of time I had then! I associate ‘..Fool’ with all that and more, if he was a fool I was too.
On a similar note ‘Your Mother Should Know’, just does it for me too. Lennon snarled about McCartney’s ‘granny music’ more than once and here’s a prime example front and centre. I love the lyrics and sentiments behind it all, hell I love its essential granniosity! It’s one of the things that lifted the Beatles above the ranks of the merely brilliant, to the ranks of divinely blessed the way they tapped into what were quintessentially old English music hall and vaudeville melodies and memories at times, a more learned man than myself could make a very good case for the Beatles being a folk band in that context.
The instrumental ‘Flying’ is pleasant enough, but pretty insubstantial but we get to the real textured soya protein*** on ‘Blue Jay Way’ and ‘I Am The Walrus’. I love the odd, hypnotic Easternosityness of Harrison’s track, sometimes; about 50% of the time it rubs me up the wrong way and I’m not sure why. The one about the walrus is pretty far from being one of my favourite Beatles tracks, but I’d argue its one of their absolute best – how many bands have the sonic possibilities exhibited here sparked into life? how many genres even? the uneven percussive nature of it all, cut through with a spike of menace as well as all the extravagant silliness. You have to love the bits where a random turn of the radio dial was recorded and anyway it gets massive 1537 bonus points for the word ‘knickers’.
That’s just the first side. A lot of bands have 20 year careers without producing anything as inventive or worthwhile and we haven’t dealt with the real heavy weights on Magical Mystery Tour yet.
How do you write about ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’? I’ve loved them both since I was 8, they’ve formed part of my mental architecture for 33 years now. They’re just too big! Writing about them is rather like trying to dance about the Taj Mahal^. So all I’ll say is that they’re both quite good, despite the disappointing lack of swearing in both. In fact even perennial 1537 favourite ‘Baby You’re a Rich Man’ could be improved by a casual obscenity, or two. I’ll go better than that even: I can state without fear of contradiction that even the title of every single track on the second side could be improved by inserting the word ‘fuckin’^^ into it as the second, or third word. Trust me, I’m a doctor.
In fact let’s have a brief 1537 pop quiz! In keeping with the reverence and respect we should show this greatest of bands, send me your best swearily modified Beatles song title (from any LP), excluding song titles with ladies’ names in them (too crude, even for me) and I’ll award you a prize; an intangible surge of admiration and pride. Just so’s you know the full international standard you’re up against here, my own vote either goes for,
‘You Never Give me your Fuckin’ Money’, or the short but descriptive, ‘Fuckin’ Misery’.
(Beatles aren’t on Spotify of course, so I selected this one for your delectation)
*probably the most realistic option for a mere mortal.
**released in this format against the Beatles will.
***hey, I’m a vegetarian.
^the big building in India, not the bluesman, or the restaurant in town.
^^missing the ‘g’ off makes it all a bit more Guns ‘n’ Roses.