I have an admission…

Michael Gerber
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…I love Magical Mystery Tour. Love love LOVE it.

Maybe it was seeing the movie as an impressionable 12-year-old at the Tivoli Theater in St. Louis, wreathed in pot smoke and surrounded by kids from Wash U.; or maybe it’s the fact that most of the LP is singalong singles; or maybe it’s the shimmery quality of the production (Elliot Smith was trying to recreate the MMT sound in his home studio when he died); or maybe it’s the fact that the group still seems to have the “free from touring but still interested in being Beatles” vibe going… For whatever reason(s), it’s the Beatles album that I listen to the most.

Magical Mystery Tour Best Beatles Album? Maybe.

In a related heresy, I always cringe a bit when people call the White Album their favorite. They’re free to, of course, but it’s a bit alienating because I wonder what they’re hearing. I hear all the great raw material of India filtered through a brutal six months of international bloodshed, heroin paranoia, rockstar hubris and internal discord. I suppose what I hear is the conditions that allowed The Beatles to arise—in the Buddhist sense of this phrase—beginning to dissipate. White has some superb tracks and I enjoy those, but it’s one long bad vibe for me. I hear the group starting to sicken and die, and it’s the group that I love most about The Beatles.

MMT’s the anti-White Album, short instead of long, happy instead of tense, pot and LSD-infused instead of sodden with smack. MMT always makes me feel good—to me, it’s Pepper with better songs. If that makes me lesser as a listener, so be it. In my not-so-humble, White is pop music consciously attempting to be art, while MMT is pop music so good it is art. Perhaps that’s why critics love White and dis MMT; MMT resists cultural critique, while White demands it (especially Lennon’s work).

Whew. Felt good to get that off my chest. Anybody else got any shocking divergences of Beatle taste they’d like to share? While you’re thinking, here are some home movies taken from the filming of the movie.

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  1. I like it a lot, too. But as a UK listener I got to know it as an EP (extended play, same size as a 45rpm single but playing at 33rpm), where the track order was different to the US album. In particular, Magical Mystery Tour itself was followed by Your Mother Should Know (on the same side of vinyl), rather than Fool on the Hill, so that you remain in an upbeat mood.

    Side 2 is I Am the Walrus, on its own, Side 3 is Fool on the Hill and Flying, and George’s Blue Jay Way is Side 4. Presumably, as with the early albums, this UK version must have been the Beatles-approved one, so it’s odd that when the CD was issued the MMT half followed the order of the American album, not the British EP. Why not sequence them for yourself in UK order and see how it feels? Could be a whole new experience – Magical Mystery Tour Naked … or something.

  2. Avatar Levi Stahl wrote:

    I’m with you all the way on this one. I love, love, love Magical Mystery Tour. It’s the Beatles album I always want to listen to. The chunky shuffle of “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” smoothed into a bliss-out groove for “Flying” (oh, to have a 12″ remix of that one!); the singalong joy of “Your Mother Should Know” and “Penny Lane.” It never gets old

  3. Anybody else got any shocking divergences of Beatle taste they’d like to share?

    I like You Know My Name.

    Not as ironic non-pop, not as kitsch.

    I like it.

  4. I never knew/forgot that the UK MMT sequencing was different–makes me want to burn a new copy with that song order. In his liner notes to the original CD issue of Sgt Pepper (and probably in his Abbey Road sessionography too), Mark Lewisohn notes that the sequence for Side 1 was originally different: “Pepper”/”Help frmo Friends”/”Kite!”/”Fixing Hole”/”Lucy”/”Getting Better”/”Leaving Home.” Back when I had a Discman (before iPods), I would program that sequence, and it did really refresh the album.

  5. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    The Swingin’ Pig label makes a great double-record bootleg called “Alternate Magical Mystery Tour” that includes demo and alternate mixes. Not cheap, but worth looking for.

  6. At the time the White Album was released I was all of thirteen years old. That double LP had a real impact on my teenage years and I still love it for many non-musical reasons. But over the last few years the vibe of a group ripping itself apart becomes more obvious with each listen. After reading Geoff Emerick’s “Here There and Everywhere” it became too painful for me to listen start-to-finish.

    On the other hand MMT remains a euphoric listen 43 years later. Funny how an LP cobbled together by their artless Yankee record company managed to come off so well, what with a trio of the finest singles ever released (including B-sides) to fill it out to full length. If it had included the quartet of songs recorded in early ’68 just before they left for India it would be my favorite Beatles LP.

  7. Avatar Michael wrote:

    So! I’m not the only one!

    Right on, Mr. Pleasant; the February ’68 songs continue the good vibe, and I agree: if MMT had included those, it would practically be welded into my CD player.

    For me, there’s this incredibly definite sense of Things Going Bad in early ’68; it’s not surprising that The Beatles would’ve reflected that–the group was exquisitely, unselfconsciously attuned to the Sixties. I’m digging into this in the next Beatle Noir, because there’s a lot of evidence that things didn’t go bad by mistake.

    Hey, Anon–I don’t know if I’ve ever heard that boot (surely it’s available online somewhere), but your post inspired me to dig up “Acetates,” which has this nine-minute version of “Flying” on it…and then I found “Aerial Tour Instrumental”…Trippy for a Saturday morning…

  8. Avatar Cara wrote:

    I have a “shocking divergence of Beatles taste”… I like MMT the film!

  9. Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

    Here’s my “shocking divergence of Beatles(-related) taste” — I really like Wings’ “Wild Life.” Get past those first two songs (yeah, I admit that can be tough) and the rest is really good (“Love Is Strange,” “Wild Life,” “I Am Your Singer”) to great (“Tomorrow,” “Some People Never Know,” “Dear Friend.”).

    And like what you said about MMT, Mike, I like the vibe of “Wild Life.” It feels like the beginning of better days, after the Lennon/McCartney scorched-earth battling carried on in “Ram” and “Imagine.” Even the sadness of “Dear Friend” is a grief that makes room for hope.

    I think it’s Paul’s most underrated solo album, just as “Walls and Bridges” is John’s most underrated.

  10. Avatar Alex wrote:

    This is a great discussion, and I hope it continues.
    I agree with Nancy Carr: I love Wings’ “Wild Life.” There’s something about it that just rubs me the right way. That album gets a lot of scorn. Nancy’s post is the first positive thing I have ever read about it, and I feel somewhat vindicated reading it. My favorite Wings album, though, is “Venus and Mars,” about which I’ve never read a word from anyone at all.
    In addition, I also have a place in my heart for MMT, particularly these songs that usually get bad press: “Flying,” “Blue Jay Way,” and “Baby, You’re a Rich Man.”
    But my main “shocking divergence of Beatle taste” is for the album “Beatles ’65.” This was the first Beatles album I ever listened to, because my parents had it. I have always found very pleasing the juxtaposition of the somber Beatles’ originals with the R&B covers. (If you want to be lit-crit about it, you can imagine that what’s being said goodbye to in such songs as “I’ll Follow the Sun” is the Beatles’ days of bashing out those jolly R&B covers.)
    Tonally, the whole album is great. There’s a spacious crispness on those songs that I don’t hear on any other Beatles recordings. George’s Gretch is perfect. It’s just so…creamy. I even like the great wash of reverb that, in many people’s minds, ruined the U.S. releases of “She’s a Woman” and “I Feel Fine.”
    On the other hand, I was never able to sit through a complete listen of the original U.K. release, “Beatles for Sale.” The latter is often criticized for being rushed and containing too much filler. If this is so, then Beatles ’65 can be seen as a corrective. For U.K. listeners who are unfamiliar with Beatles ’65, I recommend assembling the tracks from “Beatles for Sale” and “Past Masters” and giving it a try.

  11. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    I bought MMT sometime in the early ’70s, the American release. There must have been a bad pressing or something, because halfway through the second side of the album, the fidelity gets worse, turns to mono.
    I never really appreciated “Baby You’re A Rich Man” until I heard it years later on CD… it sounded lo-fi and full of static on my pressing.
    “All You Need Is Love” sounded cleaner on my ’70s “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack, with proper stereo (one whole side devoted to George Martin’s charming orchestrations)
    Of course, what saved MMT for me was Strawberry Fields and Walrus… those two tracks elevated the album into something truly magical.

  12. Karen Hooper Karen Hooper wrote:

    Hahaa–I live the Meet the Beatles album, which–except for a few wonderful songs like Baby its You and Twist and Shout–is pretty bad.

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