Magical Mystery Tour

Magical Mystery Tour album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 25-27 April, 3 May 1967
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 8 December 1967 (UK), 27 November 1967 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, piano, bass
John Lennon: vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar, percussion
George Harrison: vocals, lead guitar, percussion
Ringo Starr: drums, percussion
Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall: percussion
David Mason, Elgar Howarth, Roy Copestake, John Wilbraham: trumpets

Available on: Magical Mystery Tour

Recorded just four days after the completion of the Sgt Pepper album, Magical Mystery Tour was Paul McCartney's attempt to maintain momentum within The Beatles and to give them a new direction and sense of purpose.

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John and I remembered mystery tours, and we always thought this was a fascinating idea: getting on a bus and not knowing where you were going. Rather romantic and slightly surreal! All these old dears with the blue rinses going off to mysterious places. Generally there's a crate of ale in the boot of the coach and you sing lots of songs. It's a charabanc trip. So we took that idea and used it as a basis for a song and the film.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Inspired by Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters and their LSD-fuelled bus, McCartney decided The Beatles should try something similar. He devised a rough concept for the new project, which would involve the group travelling around the England in their own coach, filming whatever took place.

I used to go to the fairgrounds as a kid, the waltzers and the dodgems, but what interested me was the freak shows: the boxing booths, the bearded lady and the sheep with five legs, which actually was a four-legged sheep with one leg sewn on its side. When I touched it, the fellow said, 'Hey, leave that alone!' these were the great things of your youth. So much of your writing comes from this period; your golden memories. If I'm stuck for an idea, I can always think of a great summer, think of a time when I went to the seaside. Okay, sand sun waves donkeys laughter. That's a pretty good scenario for a song.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The resulting TV film was a mess, and critically panned, though the soundtrack double EP (expanded to a full album in the US) was a best-seller.

Magical Mystery Tour was co-written by John and I, very much in our fairground period. One of our great inspirations was always the barker. 'Roll up! Roll up!' The promise of something: the newspaper ad that says 'guaranteed not to crack', the 'high class' butcher, 'satisfaction guaranteed' from Sgt Pepper. 'Come inside,' 'Step inside, Love'; you'll find that pervades a lot of my songs. If you look at all the Lennon-McCartney things, it's a thing we do a lot.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The title track was McCartney's initial idea, based on ideas written on an overnight flight from America on 11 April, though what he took to the studio was little more than the title and three chords. He attempted to rouse the other Beatles into contributing lyrics, but their enthusiasm was low and later completed the lyrics alone.

Because those were psychedelic times it had to become a magical mystery tour, a little bit more surreal than the real ones to give us a licence to do it. But it employs all the circus and fairground barkers, 'Roll up! Roll up!', which was also a reference to rolling up a joint. We were always sticking those little things in that we knew our friends would get; veiled references to drugs and to trips. 'Magical Mystery Tour is waiting to take you away,' so that's a kind of drug, 'it's dying to take you away' so that's a Tibetan Book of the Dead reference. We put all these words in and if you were just an ordinary person, it's a nice bus that's waiting to take you away, but if you're tripping, it's dying, it's the real tour, the real magical mystery tour. We stuck all that stuff in for our 'in group' of friends really.

Magical Mystery Tour was the equivalent of a drug trip and we made the film based on that. 'That'll be good, a far-out mystery tour. Nobody quite knows where they're going. We can take 'em anywhere we want, man!' Which was the feeling of the period. 'They can go in the sky. It can take off!' In fact, in the early script, which was just a few fireside chats more than a script, the bus was going to actually take off and fly up the the magicians in the clouds, which was us all dressed in red magicians' costumes, and we'd mess around in a little laboratory being silly for a while.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In the studio

The first Magical Mystery Tour session took place on 25 April 1967. The Beatles spent much time rehearsing and improvising the song, with Paul at the piano suggesting ideas to the others in the group.

Eventually they recorded three takes of the basic rhythm track: two guitars, piano and drums. Take three was the best. After this they raided the Abbey Road sound effects collection, creating a tape loop of the sound of coaches to be added at the mixing stage.

On 26 April Paul recorded his bass part, and all The Beatles plus Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans played percussion instruments, including tambourine, maracas and cowbell. McCartney, Lennon and Harrison also taped extra vocals.

The following day still more vocals were added. Paul taped his lead, with backing from John and George. On this day the famous 'Roll up, roll up' introduction was recorded.

Magical Mystery Tour was completed on 3 May with the overdub of four trumpets. The session began by Paul McCartney humming notes to the brass players to let them know what he wanted, but he mostly failed to get his intentions across.

In the end the players were sent away while McCartney and George Martin worked out the notation on the piano in Abbey Road's studio three. One of the trumpeters, Gary Howarth, reportedly became so impatient that he wrote a score himself. According to Philip Jones, a friend of the session musicians, that was the idea that The Beatles ended up using.

21 responses on “Magical Mystery Tour

  1. revloveR

    Hi all! Does anyone know what mix of this song was used in the ‘Anthology’? I have the original vinyl (Canadian) and the remasters, and the mix in ‘Anthology’ definitely has different panning; in my two versions the electric guitar is on the left with the drums, percussion, etc. In the ‘Anthology’ clip (chapter 7, 23:20-24:06,) the drums appear in both speakers, the percussion and piano remain on the left and the electric guitar is hard-panned to the right with the trumpets. By giving greater exposure to the electric guitar, piano and percussion in this way (the guitar and piano notes being in roughly the same range,) the mix “moves” more than the other one, creating more of a rock song. Does anyone A) notice this difference and B) know where to find this mix in its entirety? Thanks…

  2. BIRCHY

    i’ve just checked my Anthology and it’s not on there as i thought, but the version of this song in the film is different to the released version, maybe it’s this mix you refer to? as it has been widely bootlegged.

  3. ringoforpresident

    ‘Magical Mystery Tour is waiting to take you away,’ so that’s a kind of drug, ‘it’s dying to take you away’ so that’s a Tibetan Book of the Dead reference.’

    I love Paul as a musician, but quotes like this are just stupid.

    1. Gripweed

      It’s not so stupid… ingesting LSD and other psychedelics produces a state of consciousness paralel to the one the brain experiences when it is dying. Hence the tibetan book of the dead reference.

  4. Von Bontee

    Yeah, I feel that way too. It’s the same as with “Got To Get You Into My Life”, which I don’t really believe was a love-letter to pot, despite Paul’s claims. Paul, to me, seems to feel the need to prove his edginess and counteract any suggestion that he’s a lightweight – like it’s not enough to be a brilliant musician and songwriter

  5. Mat

    It really is, sounds like something that The Doors might do :] But what’s most impressive to me is drumming and this part, kind of 8 when Paul sings: “You got everything you need…”. It’s really good.

    1. Albert Cunning

      Love Me Do, Paperback Writer, What You’re Doing, Here There And Everywhere, Good Day Sunshine, Penny Lane — even When I’m 64 could also be mentioned, but you’re right; there aren’t *that* many…songs that Paul seems to give John more credit than John himself seemed to feel he deserved.

      John, it has to be said, did take *a lot* of credit. Was he right to? Possibly, but slightly more would be pushing it a bit, and I guess the same goes for Paul.

  6. Nolan Ransom

    I am one of the rare people who actually likes this song better than SGT. Pepper. You gotta love the raw, heavy guitar on Pepper but there is just something about MMT, especially on the remasters. Also, its obvious that the beatles (other than Paul, and maybe Ringo) quit on there potential on some of their later songs. Too bad because MMT could have really been a masterpiece. I love Johns chorus at the end. His voice tone really cuts into me and I absolutely love the second part where he says “…dying to take you away…” Just think how much better this song could have been if he and George werent so distracted by this point.

  7. Bungalow Bob

    I agree, Nolan. Just think about how much better the entire MMT ALBUM would have been if John and George had been at least a LITTLE more enthusiastic. I imagine these recording sessions being dominated by Paul (partly out of necessity), while John and George yawned and constantly glanced at their watches. If they had been more “into it,” the whole album would have ended up more, uh… “magical.” Of course, Paul probably DID come off like an overbearing alpha dog, so the distaction of the rest of the group is not surprising.

    1. Joseph Brush

      Frankly the only “magic” in the soundtrack portion of MMT for me is John’s “I Am The Walrus” and George’s “Blue Jay Way”. I am grateful for the contributions of the “distracted” ones.
      As for the 1967 singles portion of MMT, John’s contributions of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “All You Need Is Love” (plus his half of “Baby, You’re A Rich Man”) are outstanding to say the least.

      1. Alfian Rusdi

        I agree with you, Joseph Brush. I think “Strawberry Fields Forever” and especially “All You Need Is Love” are the great songs. But I don’t like Blue Jay Way.

      2. Dr. Cornelius

        well Fool on the Hill and Your Mother Should Know, not to mention the previously-released Hello Goodbye, are all very typical Paul songs with great sing-along qualities and each has a bit of weirdness to keep it in line with the whole concept of the film/album. Add the singles and it’s really a great, great album. I don’t know if it’s fair to single out the John and George compositions and simply write off Paul’s efforts on this one.

        1. Nolan Ransom

          I have to say that “Walrus” and “Strawberry Field” are phenomenal compositions by John and George Martin with the rest of the band doing their thing to back them up flawlessly. I just give Paul the slight overall edge in his contributions. He represents the frontman for me…Looking at all the beatles post work including Paul’s, it doesn’t even matter. Without all 4 of them together with the chemistry they had in relationship to one another, inspiring and demanding eachothers A+ game no matter what was going on, we wouldn’t even be having ongoing conversations like this 40 years later. Granted there are exceptions and if I ever get bored enough with their compact and complete catalogue, I would get a kick in naming the top 50 or 100 worst beatles songs. Paul would dominate that list as well but he also takes the cake in many of my all time favorite beatles songs. That’s why I love Paul’s work the most. He could afford produce some real clunkers because he could always make up for it ten times over with masterpiece after masterpiece. Hearing the remastered mono recording of MMT is really like experiencing this song for the first time for me. Comparing it to the 87’s is simply put an absolute disaster vs and absolute work of art. I always liked this song as a young boy. But I never loved it like the seemingly hundreds of other fantastic Beatles songs I got to experience over and over growing up.

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