Released as a six-song double EP in the United Kingdom and an 11-song album in the US and elsewhere, Magical Mystery Tour was the soundtrack to the television film of the same name, which was first broadcast by the BBC on 26 December 1967.
In the wake of the death of Brian Epstein on 27 August 1967, The Beatles found themselves suddenly without direction. Whereas since 1962 they had been carefully guided by their manager, at the peak of their career they were unused to making their own business decisions or having absolute autonomy over their future.
On 1 September 1967, five days after Epstein’s body was discovered in his London home, The Beatles met at Paul McCartney’s house at 7 Cavendish Avenue in St John’s Wood, London. The previous day an announcement had been issued stating that the band would continue to be managed by NEMS Enterprises – now under the guidance of Epstein’s brother Clive – until further notice.
During the 1 September meeting The Beatles agreed to continue with Magical Mystery Tour, a project begun in April shortly after the completion of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Crucially, this was a time when McCartney began steering many of the group’s decisions, encouraging them to continue during a period in which they might easily have collapsed amid a lack of direction.
I was still under a false impression. I still felt every now and then that Brian would come in and say, ‘It’s time to record,’ or, ‘Time to do this.’ And Paul started doing that: ‘Now we’re going to make a movie. Now we’re going to make a record.’ And he assumed that if he didn’t call us, nobody would ever make a record. Paul would say, well, now he felt like it – and suddenly I’d have to whip out twenty songs. He’d come in with about twenty good songs and say, ‘We’re recording.’ And I suddenly had to write a fucking stack of songs.
McCartney’s concept for Magical Mystery Tour was to produce a television special about a group of ordinary people taking a mystery trip on a coach. The film would take in various locations in England and France, and would be mostly improvised and take advantage of the encounters they had on the road.
Magical Mystery Tour was Paul’s idea. It was a good way to work. Paul had a great piece of paper – just a blank piece of white paper with a circle on it. The plan was: ‘We start here – and we’ve got to do something here…’ We filled it in as we went along.
We rented a bus and off we went. There was some planning: John would always want a midget or two around, and we had to get an aircraft hangar to put the set in. We’d do the music, of course. They were the finest videos, and it was a lot of fun. To get the actors we looked through the actors’ directory, Spotlight: ‘Oh, we need someone like this, and someone like that.’ We needed a large lady to play my auntie. So we found a large lady.