The artwork for the UK and US editions of Magical Mystery Tour were largely the same, although the Capitol Records version had a yellow border and the song titles on the front cover. It also bore the words: “Includes 24-page full color picture book”.
The UK double EP had a gatefold cover, inside which was a 24-page booklet with photographs from the filming of Magical Mystery Tour, and a cartoon strip telling the story. A four-page lyrics section was also included in the centre of the booklet.
The US version had the lyrics in the gatefold, but the LP-sized booklet was a pull-out inside the album. The booklet was otherwise identical to the UK version, and made no mention of the five extra songs on the second side of the vinyl.
Both versions had the words “Apple presents” and an early version of the Apple logo on the inside of the gatefold. They also carried the credit: “Produced by Big George Martin”.
The walrus was… whom?
The front cover photograph featured The Beatles in the animal costumes they wore in the film: John Lennon as a walrus, Paul McCartney as a hippopotamus, George Harrison as a rabbit, and Ringo Starr as a chicken.
It was later claimed that it was, in fact, McCartney in the walrus costume, and that this accounted for Lennon’s line that “the walrus was Paul” in ‘Glass Onion’. However, the Magical Mystery Tour film clearly shows McCartney playing bass while wearing the hippo costume, and Lennon seated at the piano dressed as a walrus.
It has been claimed that McCartney wore the walrus costume as it fit him better than it did Lennon. However, both men were the same height and build. Furthermore, McCartney’s miming of his bass part in the film is in the same style in both the scenes with the group in costume and without, suggesting that no such switch took place.
Adding fuel to the imaginary fire, beneath the title ‘I Am The Walrus’ in the song listing is a handwritten “(“No you’re not!” said Little Nicola)”, a reference to Nicola Hale, a five-year-old girl who appeared in the film. This was likely an off-the-cuff comment of little significance.
As a further red herring, Starr wears Lennon’s granny glasses in the cover photograph, prompting some to believe that Lennon was, in fact, wearing the chicken suit.
The ‘Paul is dead’ myth
Various ‘clues’ in the Magical Mystery Tour songs and artwork were said to be a part of the ‘Paul is dead’ myth, which emerged in 1969.
- The front cover spelt the word ‘Beatles’ in stars. Held up to a mirror, this reveals a telephone number, 2317438, said to have belonged to a London mortuary.
- A number of photos in the booklet show McCartney without shoes, said to signify death: people tend to be buried without them.
- McCartney is shown in military uniform in one picture, behind a desk on which sits a sign saying “I was”.
- Ringo Starr’s drum head, in a still from the ‘I Am The Walrus’ sequence, appears to say “Love the 3 Beatles”. Next to the kit are McCartney’s boots (as on Abbey Road, he is barefoot), covered in what appear to be blood stains.
- A still from the ‘Your Mother Should Know’ sequence shows all four Beatles in white suits, dancing. McCartney is the only one to have a black carnation in his lapel; the others all have red ones.
- A cartoon of Paul labelled ‘The Fool on the Hill’ shows him with a crack in his head.
- At the end of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, John Lennon can be heard twice muttering ‘cranberry sauce’. This was misheard as ‘I buried Paul’.
While the Magical Mystery Tour film was almost universally slated by critics and the public, the soundtrack was far more warmly received. Aside from being a commercial success, it found favour with music critics of the day.
Although considered in some quarters to be a ‘poor man’s Sgt Pepper’, Magical Mystery Tour showed The Beatles at their most psychedelic. It was equally clear, however, that the drugs, fashions and experimentation never got in the way of their ability to write strong material, and some of The Beatles’ best moments – most notably ‘The Fool On The Hill’ and ‘I Am The Walrus’ – can be found on the collection.
Interestingly, Magical Mystery Tour is perhaps the only instance where Capitol Records’ decision to tamper with The Beatles’ output yielded undeniably positive results. The quality of the full-length offering was beyond dispute, and the title has become one of The Beatles’ truly essential releases.
Magical Mystery Tour is one of my favourite albums, because it was so weird. ‘I Am The Walrus’ is also one of my favourite tracks – because I did it, of course, but also because it’s one of those that has enough little bitties going to keep you interested even a hundred years later.