The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour: Round 67, Nick’s choice

beatlesMMTRound 67: because this came out in 67, you see. (Just; December.) But more importantly than that fact (which is actually merely incidental to this tale), in 1993 the FA Cup Final was on Saturday 15th May, which just so happened to be my 14th birthday. It also just so happened that the final was contested between Sheffield Wednesday – my family-supported club – and the evil, George Graham-managed Arsenal, the two teams meeting in a cup final for a second time that season. Arsenal had won the league cup, but surely Wednesday wouldn’t let that happen again, and would be triumphant on my birthday, and David Hirst and Chris Bart-Williams and Carlton Palmer and Chris Waddle et al would conjure me a day to remember forever.

But they didn’t. They drew. And it went to a reply five days later, which Arsenal won in ridiculous circumstances. And I instantly became much less interested in following football passionately, because it became very clear to me that all that romance and mythology and passion could very easily be struck down by ludicrous circumstances, that the good guys didn’t always win, and that even if you played ‘better’ you didn’t always get anything from it. So I needed a new hobby.

The other significant thing about May 15th 1993 is that my mum and dad bought be a ghetto-blaster type stereo thing, with a CD player. Previously I’d made do with an inherited cassette ghetto-blaster thing, and a cassette walkman I’d won on a kids’ TV quiz show when I was 10. But not I could have fidelity, invulnerability, and access to the enormous stacks of CDs that lined the shelves in the HMV where my brother worked. Out of love with football, gifted with a CD player, my passion and allegiances turned instantly, as fickle teenage passions often do, from one hobby to another; if you can call being in love with music a hobby.

One of the first CDs I had access to was this – The Beatles’ late-67 mish-mash EP-come-soundtrack-come-odds-and-ends thing, which rolled together Sgt Pepper leftovers and made-for-TV schmaltz with some amazing singles. My dad only owned a few handfuls of CDs, but this and Pepper were two of them, mystifyingly; he didn’t really like The Beatles that much and certainly wasn’t psychedelic in any way at all (other examples include Dave Brubeck, The Carpenters, Neil Diamond, and Queen; the latter also faintly incongruous). So I inherited (read: stole) Magical Mystery Tour and Pepper, and listened to them an inordinate amount of times, and preferred the less lauded one, possibly because it was groovier (that coda to “Strawberry Fields Forever”; “Baby You’re A Rich Man”).

21 years on, and it’s relatively clear to me now that Mystery Tour ended up being massively influential on my nascent musical taste: the abundance of weird codas that take tunes in totally different directions; the brass; McCartney’s enormous basslines; the faintly drifty instrumental filler; the eschewing of rhythm guitar; the synaesthetic sound palette that takes in everything you could imagine; the overt experimentalism that never excludes tunefulness; even the irritating schmaltz at the end. So much of this is now deeply embedded in the Pavlovian reactions I have to music that it’s quite weird going back to it now and considering it as a launch pad.

And oh man, do I still love “Baby You’re A Rich Man”. What bass, what drums, what crazy weird little organ fills. Amazing.

Tom listened: Even as a youngster, I always stuggled with The Beatles’ 1967 output. You’d think with a surname of Rainbow I would be more predisposed to the psychedelic end of the Beatles oeuvre but it has always left me cold. Listening to this again, for the first time in years, I found that little has changed. Sure there are a few pearls on MMT – as Nick rightly points out Baby You’re A Rich Man is one of the most under-rated Beatles songs and is deserving of all its latter day praise. It still feels cutting edge all these years later. I Am The Walrus is obviously brilliant but goes on too long. Strawberry Fields Forever is lovely and ground breaking and all that but I’ve probably heard it too many times and I love (unequivocally) the throw away Flying.

The rest veers, for me, from the tedious (MMT itself, Blue Jay Way, Hello Goodbye), to the mawkish (Fool on The Hill, Penny Lane) to the…well…the less said about All You Need Is Love and You Mother Should Know the better. To be fair, MMT was never meant to be more than a hotchpotch – cobbled together as opposed to meticulously crafted – but for me it represents the point at which The Beatles confirmed they had lost their way…only a year after the peerless Revolver too. The White Album’s mess hinted at a recovery, the dross to brilliance ratio being much lower and, as we’ve already discussed on these pages, Abbey Road is pretty great, but, for me, they peaked in ’66…in much the same way as English football (it appears Uruguay have nailed shut England’s coffin as I write).


Author: sickmouthy

Used to be fun but now my kid has cancer.

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