There’s nothing that I can say about Magical Mystery Tour that someone else hasn’t said already since it was released 50 years ago on November 27, 1967. It is surprising to me, though, that I haven’t seen any fiftieth-anniversary retrospectives published online so far. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places.
I just listened to the album front-to-back again (for the first time in a while) and it is such a dynamite half-hour that straddles the line between bubblegum and psychedelic pop. It was one of the first LPs by The Beatles that I latched onto as an entire album as opposed to an album I’d listen to primarily for the singles, ironically, since the US release was really something of a compilation of a six-song UK EP release and some non-album singles from the same year.
I remember hearing parts of it growing up – my older brother was heavily into The Beatles’ psychedelic period – and being unclear as to the thrust of some of the songs. The intent behind lyrics like, “Let me take you down,” was lost on my pre-teen ears – in my literal-minded youth I pictured someone being taken down off a hook or a shelf. As I got older, the album didn’t lose any of its enjoyablity, but obviously the meanings changed.
Magical Mystery Tour works well as a singular cohesive work of art, despite being cobbled together from an EP and some singles. The title track ties in perfectly with the Side 2 single “Strawberry Fields Forever.” “The Fool On The Hill” provides a counterpoint to “Baby You’re A Rich Man.” And the yin of George Harrison‘s slightly sinister and ominous “Blue Jay Way” finds its yang in John Lennon‘s album-closer “All You Need Is Love.” George Martin‘s production is a common thread throughout, tying it all together.
This is still one of my favorite Beatles albums. With only a couple of exceptions, it is a whole album of highlights, one fantastic song after another. And even those exceptions (“The Fool On The Hill” which comes off as pious and unnecessarily somber and “Baby You’re A Rich Man” which sounds like the b-side to a single – and it was) are still good songs and key to the overall Beatles catalog; they’re just the least outstanding songs on the album. Others will no doubt have their own opinions.
For me, the standouts on the record are a pair of Paul McCartney numbers- “Your Mother Should Know” and “Penny Lane” – that seem very much in the vein of a couple of Kinks songs from earlier the same year, “Waterloo Sunset” and “Afternoon Tea,” which took the same approach to a sort of wistful recollection of simpler times. Despite all the psychedelia of magic and mysteries, strawberries and walruses, it’s these two songs (and, to a lesser extent, “All You Need Is Love) that tie the album to a sober reality of pleasant pasts and brighter futures.