When was it recorded? Apr. 25-27 and May 3, 1967
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 27 (US) or Dec. 8 (UK), 1967 on “Magical Mystery Tour”
Who wrote it? McCartney (with noteworthy contribution from Lennon)
Have I heard this song before? Maybe
What my research dug up:
According to Paul, “Magical Mystery Tour” was co-written with John. John, however, does not share this opinion, so I’m giving primary credit to Paul. According to the Beatles Bible, “The title track was McCartney’s initial idea, based on ideas written on an overnight flight from America on 11 April, though what he took to the studio was little more than the title and three chords. He attempted to rouse the other Beatles into contributing lyrics, but their enthusiasm was low and [Paul] later completed the lyrics alone.”
“John and I remembered mystery tours, and we always thought this was a fascinating idea: getting on a bus and not knowing where you were going. Rather romantic and slightly surreal! …So we took that idea and used it as a basis for a song and the film.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)
Being the ignorant American I am, I didn’t know mystery tours were a real thing. What I gathered beyond Paul’s quote above was that “a mystery tour of the type that was popular in Britain when the Beatles were young” (Wikipedia).
“Magical Mystery Tour” is also about drugs (which is par for the course at this point). Paul’s own words were, “’Magical Mystery Tour’ was the equivalent of a drug trip and we made the film based on that.”
To quote reviewer Richie Unterberger, “When Beatles compositions were a little on the slight side during the psychedelic era, the tracks were virtually always rescued by some unusual additions and augmentations. In ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ those can be heard in the odd bit after one of the choruses in which the group suddenly sings a new reverie-like melody about a mystery trip, leading into another burst of snazzy trumpets and a gradual speeding up of the tempo as the verse returns. It’s as if the Beatles had been slipping into a dream, then roused slowly back to reality — another feature of circa-1967 Beatles recordings such as ‘A Day in the Life’ and ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ [both of which I’ve previously written about]. …Then there’s the strange coda, with its slightly dissonant, minor piano ramblings. This strikes a bittersweet mood rather at odds with the relentlessly upbeat pose of the rest of the song, as if to say the magical mystery tour might not be quite the wholesome carnival it’s being billed as.” Hmm.
Quoth the Beatles Bible, “Recorded just four days after the completion of the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album, ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ was Paul McCartney’s attempt to maintain momentum within The Beatles and to give them a new direction and sense of purpose.” (You tried, Paul. You tried.)
The Beatles began work on “Magical Mystery Tour” Apr. 25, 1967. Obviously, as the song was unfinished, they spent a lot of time rehearsing but by the end of the night and three takes, the band had the rhythm track done. According to the Beatles Bible, “After this they raided the Abbey Road sound effects collection, creating a tape loop of the sound of coaches to be added at the mixing stage.”
Paul added his bass part and the rest of the Beatles plus Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans added percussion parts the next day. More vocals were overdubbed the day after.
Quoth Wikipedia, “On 3 May, the brass fanfare and other parts were added in a disorganized session where the trumpet players began the evening without a score.” The Beatles Bible elaborates, “The session began by Paul McCartney humming notes to the brass players to let them know what he wanted, but he mostly failed to get his intentions across.” Eventually Gary Howarth, one of the trumpeters, got so impatient he wrote his own score, which Philip Jones (another session musician) says was what the group wound up using for the final recording.
Also worth note – the screeching tires heard in the song were ‘performed’ and recorded by Ringo driving around.
“Magical Mystery Tour” was released as a double EP (six songs) in the UK and an LP in the US (padded with five songs previously released there only as singles).
Quoth Unterberger, “Unlike all four of the other theme songs for Beatles films… ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ was not destined to be a smash single (or even a single) or a much-recognized standard. There’s a reason for that which goes beyond the failure of the film to gain U.S. broadcast and theatrical distribution. ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ was a pleasant, get-up-and-go tune, but not one of the Beatles’ very best songs, though principal author Paul McCartney no doubt would have liked it to be, since the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ film was his idea to begin with. Still, on its relatively modest merits, the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ song is a good listen.”
So obviously, “Magical Mystery Tour” appeared in the film “Magical Mystery Tour” (approximately one and a half times). Alan Pollack notes in his, well, notes that the movie version differs slightly from the album version, so let’s see what we can hear. (I admit, I’ve never actually seen the first half of this movie, so I apologize if I steer you wrong here).
(And again, sorry for asking you to see if you can hear something. That’s just how the English language wants to work.)
Now what Pollack pointed out in his review was
- Paul uses a different “voice” for the spoken part of the intro and the spiel itself is a bit different; “hurry, hurry …”
- Rhythmic emphasis by the drums of patterns on the off-beat are mixed more prominently.
- The bridge includes a curiously bored-sounding voice over from John followed by some applause that is abruptly terminated at the end.
- The final sections include extra appearances of the coach noises and the applause returns for the outro.
And I did, for the most part, notice those so hopefully you did too (especially since I’m four [or five or six] sheets to the wind).
I think I have probably heard this song before, but I can’t for the life of me remember where or when. I like it a lot though! I feel like I’ve said this a lot over the past week, but it is fun, which always makes listening a joy. I will definitely be revisiting this movie in full before next week is up as well.