Considering that the fab four has just released their remastered Red and Blue albums, this week’s vintage album is one of the most innovative, and at times controversial, albums that The Beatles released – and in my mind, the best one too. We’re all familiar with most of these songs, but listening to a Beatles album from start to finish as originally intended has given me a new appreciation for one of the biggest pop bands in history.
To me, Magical Mystery Tour was the album that changed things. Sure, there was Sgt. Pepper before it, with the tracks Lucy in the Sky and Sgt. Pepper heralding their change from a clean cut touring pop band your mum could be proud of, to a moustachioed studio band bringing on LSD-influenced sitar stylings. But Magical Mystery Tour was the first time they stopped experimenting, and started bringing some seriously iconic, influential and innovative music to the table.
The assertion that this is a different band begins immediately with the tracks Magical Mystery Tour and The Fool on the Hill – it’s in these two opening songs, with their (at the time) challenging trippy ambient pop, that you realise there is something to be said here. But the assertion that this band was now a musical force to be reckoned with hits you with Lennon‘s complex, iconic, and for most people confusing, single I Am The Walrus.
Any words I could possibly use to describe the awe I feel when I hear this song are surely inadequate. The lyrics are at once puzzling and yet simple; they are simple yet forceful. And it continues, tearing apart ‘modern’ culture: the fleeting fads of western fascination with eastern spirituality, the fact that none of them really get it (‘Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna. Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe…‘), to the antagonistic mocking of the ‘man’, and the police that enforce his laws (‘See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly…‘).
There is no question here that Lennon spits at these very people that won’t even understand the lyrics he venomously attacks them with. Remember that pesky word that no one really knew the meaning of in school – alliteration? Well just listen to Lennon spitting out those P’s to convey his frustration and disgust. Stunning. Why don’t we study THIS in poetry class?
But enough of that, this album isn’t one iconic single. From here on in Lennon takes over with Strawberry Fields Forever and All You Need Is Love, and it is his mellow vocals, stunning lyrics and subtle musical melodrama that from here on in will help elevate the band above simple pop diddys like Love Me Do.
McCartney brings it back to the commercial world with two pretty tracks that look back to where The Beatles built their name – Penny Lane and Hello Goodbye, and the ensuing rift becomes ever more apparent in the growing cracks separating McCartney‘s simple, commercial (yet amazing) pop writing with Lennon‘s proverbial soap box and increasingly unique musicianship.
It’s here where you question how The Beatles were still relevant in the world of 1967 when making ‘pretty’ tracks like Hello Goodbye, in a world where The Doors were unleashing tracks like Break On Through and threatening the very being of pop bands as iconic music influencers; and The Vietnam War was to question the role of a warmongering government in making decisions about the average Joe’s life or death.
But it’s at this fleeting moment of cynicism and criticism that you realise Magical Mystery Tour is the perfect album for this snapshot in time. Alternating between an uplifting moment with a suburban Joe in the simple, idealistic world of home in Penny Lane, and the disorienting tempo paired with a snarling, political tirade in I Am The Walrus, reflects the upheaval swirling in the personal and political lives of the West in 1967.
This music is modern – it would be innovative even if released today, and its relevance will surely stand the test of time for another 40 years over. You can’t understand the phenomenon of The Beatles without this album, and the listener is left wondering why we don’t make music like this anymore. The indie-blah generation needs to learn to look back before they look forward.
Oh, and for the record – I would have totally done McCartney, but I would have wanted to hang out with Lennon.