The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour (1967; 2012 reissue)

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 single 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.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Brian

    Flying was ‘tossed off’? what are you talking about? it’s cooler than cool. A great track

  • apollo c vermouth

    …Morbid, crashingly boring, more pastiche than visionary.

    Well describes this reviewers attempt to be cooler than cool. Limpid and undercooked, a regurgitation of past piffles.

  • Sara

    Nick: I pretty much never agree with your “judgments.” I’m going to just stop reading your reviews. Anyone who can diss Fool on the Hill and Your Mother Should Know has serious shortcomings as a critic. Over and out.

  • Chris

    Magical Mystery Tour suffers from following-up Sgt. Pepper. For any other band, MMT would be seen as a masterpiece of 1967 Summer of Love psychedelia pop. The quality of the songwriting and performances can’t be denied. The title track, “I Am The Walrus”, “The Fool On The Hill”, and “All You Need Is Love” are highlights that can’t be ignored.

  • Mark Saleski

    >> Anyone who can diss Fool on the Hill and Your Mother Should Know has serious shortcomings as a critic.

    so is there some absolute rating system for musical content? songs have a certain rating and therefore can NOT be disliked? it’s really a strange and rigid way to look at things.

    >> Over and out.

    be careful, nick just got done greasing the door hinges.

    • adam

      >> so is there some absolute rating system for musical content?

      no, but this review is quite ridiculous. as ridiculous as it is pompous, in fact. i’m all for butchering holy cows but some of the things written in this article make no sense whatsoever.

      • S. Victor Aaron

        >>”i’m all for butchering holy cows, except for MY holy cows.”

        Fixt.

  • http://www.twitter.com/thisisjohnbook John

    “Pity the poor Brits, who only received the first side this album as an EP.”

    Major fail rioght there.

    • Nick DeRiso

      No, it isn’t.

  • http://www.kitotoole.com Kit O’Toole

    As seen here, the Magical Mystery Tour film and album still divide fans. The album did not have an overriding theme like Pepper; to me, it represented the chaos the Beatles were living in during 1967. Remember, they had recorded Pepper, studied with the Maharishi, and lost Brian Epstein, all within a relatively short period of time. Like the film, the soundtrack is experimental and challenging–“I Am the Walrus” being a prime example. I think time has been kind to these songs; the movie, however, is a different story.

  • Mark Saleski

    i always thought Sgt. Peppers was overrated.

    wait…what were we talking about?