Pity the poor Brits, who only received the first side of this album as an EP. After all, Side Two of the 1967 American version of Magical Mystery Tour would include the greatest double-sided single in Beatles history — “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” — when Capitol paired the original film’s music with a trio of recent double-sided hits.
It made for a surprisingly effective soundtrack, when you consider its association with such a badly conceived, awfully executed movie misfire. But even the American version — which is now part of the canon — struggles to overcome comparisons with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, issued earlier the same year. There’s no over-reaching theme on Magical Mystery Tour, no fizzy medleys, no eye-popping maze of cultural icons to pore over on the cover — and that tends to expose the weaker songs in a way that it didn’t for Pepper.
So we have Paul McCartney offering the limpid, but ultimately undercooked “The Fool on the Hill” and, with “Your Mother Should Know,” another in what has become an unbroken series across the decades of pre-rock throwback piffles. George Harrison, who had begun an often-interesting exploration into Indian music, took an experiment with drones on “Blue Jay Way” to the point of monotony. That’s to say nothing of the tossed-off instrumental filler of “Flying.”
Sometimes, the added-on songs on the project’s second half are no better: John Lennon’s “All You Need Is Love,” for all of its pop culture cache as the first globally broadcast song, remains more pastiche than visionary. The dopey “Hello Goodbye” would have been, without question, the worst No. 1 song they ever had — if not for the morbid, crashingly boring “The Long and Winding Road.”
To be fair, the title track — goofy, but mindlessly tuneful, more about feel that anything — gets things off to a stirring start. “I Am The Walrus” possesses one of the band’s nastiest grooves. And “Baby, You’re A Rich Man,” though it won’t be confused with their best work, is filled with a string of intriguing musical moments.
Still, none of it compares, of course, to the towering successes of this album’s legendarily tacked-on double-sided No. 1. Wonders of studio wizardry, eccentric and eclectic, spectacular and specific, and perhaps most of all very, very British, “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Field Forever” are all but definitive — both for their individual writers in McCartney and Lennon, but also for the band itself. When people say something is “Beatle-esque,” this is what they are talking about.
So great is the impact of these two songs, in fact, that they save the whole album.
EMI is releasing a fully restored edition of the 1967 ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ film on October 9, 2012 — and, in an expanded version with the original Brit-only EP. The new DVD and Blu-Ray edition boasts special features, unseen footage, as well as new commentary from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and other cast and crew members. Highlights include three new edits of “Your Mother Should Know,” “Blue Jay Way” and “The Fool on the Hill,” along with “Hello Goodbye” as featured on a 1967’s episode of the BBC’s “Top of the Pops,” and Traffic filming their song “Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush,” commissioned by the Beatles for the film but unused in the final edit.