Monday, January 7, 2008

The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour EP

(Parlophone, 1967)

“Magical Mystery Tour” was released in the UK as a double-7” EP soundtrack to the Beatles’ ill-advised adventure in filmmaking (hence the reappearance of “I am the Walrus”). The five new songs stack up favorably next to the rest of the band’s impressive and inventive 1967 output, and, as a whole, this loose, out-there package tops Sgt. Pepper as a work of smart, expansive psychedelia. Quite a capper on twelve months of vinyl activity that included the “Penny Lane,” “All You Need is Love,” and “Hello Goodbye” singles as well as the Pepper LP. Yow! I’m lazy, so let’s just go through this one track by track for maximum dullness and minimum readability. But before we do that, hey, guess what? The EP doesn’t have the same running order as the LP/CD!! Oh, I’m sorry… was your mind just blown?

It’s a big, brassy opening with the driving (HA! It has bus sound effects!) title track; a better use of horns on a Beatle song I cannot call to mind. Punchy drums, too! There exists a hilarious outtake with a spoken interlude that is well worth locating posthaste – “When a man buys a ticket for a magical mystery tour, he knows what to expect… And we guarantee him THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME. And that’s just what he gets… The INCREDIBLE… MAGICAL… MYSTERY TOUR!!!” Haw. “Your Mother Should Know” takes us back into winking, old-timey “When I’m Sixty-Four” territory, but is a touch sprightlier and sassier than its Pepper McCousin. Next to the plate is our friend “I am the Walrus,” which both ups the overall freakiness and gives the otherwise under-represented Lennon a chance to have his say on this release.

END OF RECORD ONE. INTERMISSION. START OF RECORD TWO (a little Help! humor for you there, everyone!).

I can never make up my mind about “The Fool on the Hill.” Is it a quirky, mellow-time character study that interestingly presages “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” in its “fast” sections? Or just a tedious drag that never quite gets off the ground? Today, I happen to think it’s the former, but why don’t YOU TELL ME?? “Flying”? Unstoppable! Bass- and Mellotron-heavy mood-piece – and rare full-group composition – that shows the Beatles of ’67 could indeed get its psych across without layering truckloads of overdubs and aural weirdness atop itself. Short, sweet, ’n’ plenty effective! George’s creepy-crawly “Blue Jay Way” ends the set on an unsettling note. The “back to basics” movement would take hold after this (“Lady Madonna” was the group’s next release), so it’s rather fitting that the band’s full-on psychedelic phase should unwittingly close out with such a nightmarish, squirming bit of paranoia, a dark, underbelly-of-the-Summer-of-Love lead-in to a period of gettin’ back to where they once belonged (ugh, sorry; had to say that, I guess).

Lazy though it is, I sincerely hope everyone appreciates this entry, because I went through some distressing times to get my hands on this, a mono first pressing ($$!!) of “MMT”: A desperate and deranged booze-hound with whom I spoke at a bar one night insisted on selling it to me for twenty bucks when he learned I was a fan of the Beatles. Knowing this was a hugely unfair deal, I tried to decline, but he wasn’t hearing it. We walked to his place, and I sweated uncomfortably as we made the transaction in his dank rat’s nest, surrounded by disturbing, wall-sized collages and, yes, voodoo dolls.

A few months later, I watched him pick up a girl hours after he’d had serious oral surgery; his mouth was bleeding and, by his own admission, his breath smelled of vomit.

I miss that guy.

2 comments:

landon said...

Brilliant!

Donald Brown said...

I'm not sure about "Fool on the Hill" either, but that's because it got covered so much on variety shows of the '60s -- and I think the 5th Dimension did it. So it seems tainted with more easy listening pop schmaltz than other Beatles tunes of this era, to me. On the other hand, recently listening to '60s era pop-productions like Scott Walker make me more nostalgic for those kinds of arrangments. So I like the song more now, I guess.

The song here for me is "Blue Jay Way." Creepy and sinister.