"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Magical Mystery Tour" survives its critics

(Part 2 of 2)
 
A picture of the "Magical Mystery Tour" album cover could appear with the dictionary definition for "maligned." Maybe the problem was following "Sergeant Pepper" too closely. "Sergeant Pepper" was not only artistically significant, it was a breakthrough work.
"Magical Mystery Tour" includes some indisputably appealing stuff. One problem is that it lacks a sense of conceptual or thematic unity.
I have written two extensive posts on the 1967 baseball season. I was 12 years old. Well, the year 1967 was when the Beatles gave us "Magical Mystery Tour," at year's end. "I Am the Walrus" seemed to be the favorite song among my peers. It had a silly quality if you considered the animal name in the title. We were too young to consider much symbolism. "I Am the Walrus" wasn't even the 'A' side of a single. It was the flip side to "Hello Goodbye."
"Walrus" warranted inclusion in the contemporary movie "Across the Universe." It must have stuck in the minds of many.
The title song of the album was effective but we might overlook how much the instrumental aspect helped it. The organ! Also, the song had a psychedelic type of intro - that sound that spelled a certain other-worldliness.
The "Magical Mystery Tour" album has been maligned, and by that is meant: criticized without total justification. The Beatles probably could not have matched "Sergeant Pepper." But the quality of "Magical Mystery Tour" is anything but a weak encore.
My praise is in spite of the inclusion of "Strawberry Fields Forever," a piece I reject as overrated and somewhat sickening. I don't care about any symbolic or hidden messages in this tripe. The organ here, or synthesizer or whatever, just sounds mushy and unappealing. The song has no sense of tempo. The voice sounds like it's lost in some pathetic stupor. Nevertheless, if you're trying to appraise the album "Magical Mystery Tour" on its appeal or commercial reach, you'd have to cite "Strawberry Fields Forever" as a strong point.
There are forgettable songs on "Magical Mystery Tour." But the strong ones are very strong, like "Fool on the Hill," "Penny Lane" and "All You Need is Love." As with the title song, "Penny Lane" employs a fantastic and unique instrumental embellishment. "Embellishment" is perhaps not a generous enough term. The piccolo trumpet passage in "Penny Lane" is a defining element. I'm sure it's the most famous piccolo trumpet showcase ever.
"All You Need is Love" is in that collection of iconic Beatles songs, going beyond the realm of mere music. 
Was John Lennon really such a deep thinker or did he just seize on some popular philosophical thoughts of the day, thoughts that might actually have come from pop culture? Of course, pop culture reflects the deeper things that are going on in society.
"All You Need is Love" was written for the "Our World" global TV broadcast. I'm amazed at how the great songwriters can suddenly, almost impulsively, seize the inspiration to write a classic. Is it a button they suddenly push? They actually can't do this every day, so, what magically happens when the time arrives for the genius to spring forth? From what part of the brain does it spring? Is there some divinely-inspired element?
Someone at Abbey Road mentioned to John that the "Our World" show was only days away. John said "I suppose we'd better write something." He and Paul McCartney were both at work for this. Paul wrote something called "Your Mother Should Know." It was nostalgia-based and lacking in social meaning. The two readily agreed that John's "All You Need Is Love" was the winner.
Beatles historians agree that John penned this song quickly. Was it his idea to apply the rather unusual twist of the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise," at the beginning? What a legacy. Many of us to this day, when hearing the anthem (as in the Olympics), expect that segue into "All You Need is Love." What power songwriters have.
After that embellishment we hear the opening refrain which is like "Three Blind Mice." My goodness, the song has a (mostly) single-note chorus! Can you believe it? But it works, so I totally understand the appeal of this song in contrast with "Strawberry Fields." It's a sing-along type of chorus. No effort expended in memorization!
Lennon dropped a beat at the end of each verse line. Normally I don't like this type of thing, as when Wade Hayes recorded a cover of Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman." But with Lennon's masterpiece, I was hardly aware of this characteristic until I read about it. The trait gives the song a greater sense of momentum, although I generally view it as having a disrupting effect, as if there's unwarranted urgency to "get on with it."
I read that "All You Need is Love" went through 57 takes! Many overdubs were applied. Finally the Beatles played it live for the world, and I was a little bothered by John's gum-chewing, just like what we saw with Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice. Tice also gave us the pencil in the ear. He was a "maligned" Vikings coach. I'd like to know about Tice's dental bills. Of course, baseball is worse with all the tobacco.
The pre-broadcast session allowed the Beatles to come up with a basic rhythm track that we would hear behind the live performance on June 25. The recording, we learn, would "reduce the chance of an egregious error in front of millions." Aha! People had much more "stage fright" going on live TV back in those days. That's because TV had an exclusive quality. 
Today, TV is so fragmented, with an endless array of channels, people really think it's no big deal to be on TV. You don't instantly become a "celebrity" by "going on TV."
Being a child star on TV in the old days (like when I grew up) meant you couldn't even go to the grocery store without perhaps being mobbed. Today we see those young actors on the Disney Channel and I'm sure they can go anywhere unbothered.
Back when the Beatles played live, howling crowds would cover up their mistakes, to say the least. On "Our World" their performing would in fact be under a microscope. Today we'd say "big deal." But it really was a big deal then.
Historians tell us the Beatles actually were nervous that day. The performance went off without a hitch. Yes, the Fab 4 could still perform live if they wanted to.
Part of the problem with the Beatles performing live, was that many of the songs beginning with the "Revolver" album, like "Paperback Writer," were not easily performed live, rather they were crafted more in the direction of a riveting recorded sound. Know what I mean?
"All You Need is Love" belongs in the pantheon of classic musical moments. It proclaimed the counterculture of the time, certainly. It appealed to many people who had never paid much attention to the Beatles. It was a high point, and yet many historians are not apt to really applaud the "Magical Mystery Tour" phase of the Beatles' career.
Forget the film of the same name. Judging "Magical Mystery Tour" by the film would be like judging a major league baseball pitcher on his ability to hit. The film was really a low-key art project or an understated experimental film, an endeavor that became a needless distraction, really.
All hail the album, or should. I would have no problem saying "Magical Mystery Tour" is my favorite Beatles album, OK? All hail "I Am the Walrus." The walrus was Paul?
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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