Fifty Year Friday: The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour”
in 1968, I went, along with some other junior high school friends to another friend’s house where his dad greeted us by playing us Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture on, what to most junior high students at that time, was a pretty impressive stereo system. I had had rather limited exposure to classical music at this point, never having been to a classical concert, and only having heard a few complete classical pieces like Ravel’s Bolero, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade on a limited-fidelity monophonic system. To hear this Tchaikovsky work not as a snippet in a television commerical, but from start to finish in full stereo, with horns and, ultimately, cannons, commandeering the empty air space around us, left a impregnable impression not just for that day, but the rest of my life.
An equally indelible impression was produced when we later went upstairs and our thirteen-year old host set the needle of his personal phonograph at the start of the first side of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour.” Now I had heard this song on the radio a number of times, but this phonograph produced better fidelity, and it occurred to me as we got to the end of side one, listening to the incredible “I Am the Walrus”, with its striking string arrangement and Lennon’s unrelenting, upper-register vocal delivery, that this was as unusual, mysterious and as equally vital as the 1812 overture we had heard downstairs. I couldn’t but make the comparison between these two supremely transcendental works, “I Am the Walrus” and “The 1812 Overture.” Nor was this effect reduced by our young host replaying the end of “I Am the Walrus” for us to clearly hear what sounded like “Smoke pot, smoke pot, everybody smoke pot.”
This album doesn’t have the cohesiveness of “Sgt. Peppers” or the second side of “Abbey Road, but the presence of “Strawberry Fields” and “I am the Walrus”, perhaps the only two songs of 1967 that are on par with “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, is enough to make this album essential. There is also the post-summer of love anthem, “All You Need is Love”, which extended the momentum of the love movement for at least an additional eighteen months. George Harrison contributes the psychedelic and eastern influenced “Blue Jay Way”, one of those amazing tracks that we see so often on 1967 albums (for example, see last week’s post on the Byrd’s song “Why”) that solidly sound Indian influenced and yet does not contain a single sitar or other traditional Indian classical instruments.
This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of “Magical Mystery Tour” on November 27, 1967 in the US, an album which sold a little under two million copies in the first 30 days of it’s release.
Track and personnel listing at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Mystery_Tour#Track_listing