(Above: An album cover that – I gotta admit – freaked me out a bit as a kid.)
Fifty years ago this week The Beatles released the LP Magical Mystery Tour. The LP is an interesting mish-mash, in a sense: Side One is the soundtrack of the made-for-TV film of the same name, and Side Two is a collection of positively amazing tracks.
It was one of my original albums as well when discovering the band. Shortly after getting my first record player, and then commandeering my parents’ 45s from their high school days, I raided their LPs as well. For several years I was allowed to play the LPs, which stayed in a cabinet in the living room near their hi-fi. By the time I was in about the fifth grade or so – we’re talking 1978 – the albums made the slow migration to my room, where they still remain despite my room moving many, many times in forty years.
One afternoon I learned the story of the “Paul is dead” rumor, and about all of the “clues” to be found in the LPs. There’s several on the MMT cover and in the booklet with stills and the story of the movie. It starts on the cover – the word “Beatles” is done in a weird font made of stars. Supposedly, if you turn the cover over, you see the phone number 537-1438. That’s Billy Shears’ number, you see, and he’ll tell you everything. (No, I never called it.) Much easier to spot is Paul’s black carnation amidst the red ones the band was wearing. Supposedly, they ran out of the red ones, leaving only a black one for Paul.
(“We’re out of naturally-occurring flowers. Please accept this dyed one instead.)
Much creepier to my way of thinking is a photo of John Lennon, smoking a cigarette while little Nicola blows up a balloon. He’s in front of a sign at a tour company that says “The best way to go is by M&D Co.” MDC = Mark David Chapman, Lennon’s assassin. Yeah, as an eleven-year old, I thought it was weird.
(Above: if you reach far enough, you can find a coincidence.)
I also remember finally seeing the film Magical Mystery Tour in high school, and being highly, highly disappointed. I didn’t get it. Later in life I watched it again, assuming that being more worldly, it would make more sense. Nope. I don’t expect that I’ll ever fully understand it, but I respect its place in the rock and roll canon.
The music, though, on the LP is outstanding. If we look past smash hits like “Penny Lane,” “Hello Goodbye,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” there’s still great music on this album. The film gives us pieces like “Fool On the Hill” – granted, I will always lean to the Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 version of this if for no other reason to see Lani Hall sing – and “Your Mother Should Know.” The latter is a song I dug out just this week and was reminded of how good a record it is. The second side includes “Baby, You’re a Rich Man,” the song supposedly about then-recently-deceased manager Brian Epstein. My association with the song now is its perfect use at the end of The Social Network, when Mark Zuckerberg as played by Jesse Eisenberg just wants Erica to take his friend request. And, of course, there’s the movie’s title track (covered decently by Cheap Trick), and “I Am The Walrus,” which is still fun to listen to all the way to the King Lear recitation at the end.
I’d love to share some of these songs with you. It still largely can’t be done online. The rights to the music are tightly controlled, and my usual practice of pointing you to a link to watch a video don’t work here. If, for some reason, you have either never heard the full LP or haven’t heard it in a while, I recommend you do – even if you do like I did at age nine and skip past “Flying.”