A mostly instrumental recording with wordless vocals from all four Beatles, ‘Flying’ was recorded as incidental music for the Magical Mystery Tour film.
Originally titled ‘Aerial Tour Instrumental’, it was the first Beatles recording to have a songwriting credit featuring all four members.
In the Magical Mystery Tour film, ‘Flying’ was used to accompany landscape scenes of Iceland taken from an aeroplane. These sequences were unused outtakes from Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr Strangelove.
Paul McCartney revealed the background to ‘Flying’ in Barry Miles’ biography Many Years From Now:
‘Flying’ was an instrumental that we needed for Magical Mystery Tour so in the studio one night I suggested to the guys that we made something up. I said, ‘We can keep it very very simple, we can make it a twelve-bar blues. We need a little bit of a theme and a little bit of a backing.’ I wrote the melody. The only thing to warrant it as a song is basically the melody, otherwise it’s just a nice twelve-bar backing thing. It’s played on the Mellotron, on a trombone setting. It’s credited to all four, which is how you would credit a non-song.
Many Years From Now
In the studio
On 8 September 1967 The Beatles recorded six takes of ‘Flying’. It underwent various changes during the session, and a saxophone jazz solo was used during the lengthy coda, sampled from an unidentified modern jazz recording.
Take six featured drums, organ and guitar. Three organs, recorded then played backwards over the basic rhythm track, were then added, and John Lennon recorded the main melody on a Mellotron. Following this, all four Beatles taped their chanted vocals.
‘Flying’ was completed on 28 September, with the addition of more Mellotron from Lennon (the mellifluous melodies most noticeable at the end of the track), guitar by George Harrison, and various percussion instruments played by Ringo Starr. Lennon and Starr then compiled a series of tape loops, effects and backwards recordings.
At this point the tune was 9:36 long, so it was edited down to the more manageable form in which it appeared on the Magical Mystery Tour EP.