Magical Mystery Tour album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starkey
Recorded: 8, 28 September 1967
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Ken Scott

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

John Lennon: vocals, organ, Mellotron, sound effects
Paul McCartney: vocals, guitar, bass
George Harrison: vocals, guitar
Ringo Starr: vocals, drums, maracas, sound effects

Available on:
Magical Mystery Tour

A mostly instrumental recording with wordless vocals from all four Beatles, Flying was recorded as incidental music for the Magical Mystery Tour film.

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Originally titled Aerial Tour Instrumental, it was the first Beatles recording to have a songwriting credit featuring all four members.

It was the only Beatles instrumental released by EMI. The group had previously recorded Cry For A Shadow in Hamburg in 1961, and 12-Bar Original during the Rubber Soul sessions in 1965.

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.
Paul McCartney

In the studio

On 8 September 1967 The Beatles recorded six takes of the song. 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.

On 28 September Flying was completed, with the addition of more Mellotron from Lennon (the mellifluous melodies most noticeable at the end of the track), guitar by Harrison, and various percussion instruments played by 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.

24 responses on “Flying

  1. Gustavo Solórzano Alfaro

    According to the article, the personnel should read:

    John: main organ, three backward organs, two mellotrons, vocals, sound effects and tapes loops.

    Paul: guitar, bass and vocals.

    George: guitar and vocals.

    Ringo: drums, percussion, vocals, sound effects and tape loops.

    I think most of the articles feature the personnel as presented by Ian McDonald. It would be better if every article is redoing according to Lewishon.

    1. Joe Post author

      I disagree on the last point. A lot of Lewisohn’s 1980s research has since been improved upon. Most of the articles do take their cue from Macdonald’s book, but with amendments when they come to light.

    1. Joe Post author

      Macdonald’s line-ups aren’t perfect, and I don’t use them exclusively. He did, however, correspond with Mark Lewisohn while writing Revolution In The Head, so I think the latter is probably more accurate. Also, Macdonald had a greater understanding of musicology than Lewisohn, so is more likely to have been able to pick out performances as being by particular band members.

      I try and draw on various sources, including Mark Lewisohn, Ian Macdonald and Walter Everett, and compile an accurate line-up based on their findings. I think it’s a far better method than sticking to one source from the 1980s. As it happens, I think Everett’s books are far more accurate than either of the others’.

  2. JP

    I always liked this trippy little track. I wondered how it was written – jointly by the band. Did they have a deliberate plan to do a primarily instrumental track, or did it just develop out of a jam session? Also, I wondered if Flying is considered by the band as Ringo’s vocal contribution to the MMT project, or did they feel Ringo didn’t need a song on this one? Considering that John only had one song on MMT, I guess Ringo didn’t merit one of his own (with only 6 new songs in the entire project).

    1. JoJo

      John had a lot more than one contribution on MMT…I am the Walrus, Strawberry Fields, Baby You’re a Rich Man, and All You Need is Love are all his…

      1. Drake 42681

        I think JP means that John had only 1 song because All You Need Is Love,Baby You’re A Rich Man and Strawberry Fields Forever were already released as singles
        and I Am The Walrus was not heard of

    2. Daniël Wolfpack

      ‘Magical Mystery’ isn’t really an album. It’s a compilation. An EP combined with some singles.
      It’s now considered an album, but not at the time.

  3. me

    hard to believe but i heard this song for the first time a few weeks ago. cannot get it out of my mind. such a beautiful thing knowing they did it so long ago.

  4. adam

    The footage used in MMT is from “Dr Strangelove” and not 2001. Kubrick filmed MILES of footage in the Arctic, most went unused. The proviso was that the Beatles could use as much as they wanted from Strangelove , as long as no frames were duplicated in MMT.

  5. Barry Smith

    According to McCartney, “Flying” was his song. Well, he wrote the basic melody. I’m curious what the contributions of Lennon, Harrison & Starkey were to the song.

  6. piston broke

    The first time I heard this was on a weird advert that commercial TV used, as a filler between shows, of shiny new Harrier Jump Jets. That would be interesting to see again.

  7. Marcus Kaufmann

    There is something noticeable for “Flying”! The Fabs must have taken the original idea (or Paul or John…), for more development, from the instrumental b-side of the 1960’s Chuck Berry’s single “I Got To Find My Baby”/”Mad Lad”! The similarities between “Flying” and “Mad Lad”, on the rhythm, on the time signature and on the beats on the compasses, are, from my humble point of view, evident! Best regards to all of you Beatle people!

    And Joe, as I said it before here somewhere sometime, you’re the man! Great, great, great job on writing, researching and compilation!

  8. Bongo

    I wish MMT would be considered as the original EP here (and everywhere in this Forum for that fact), and not the Capitol LP. We are talking about a historical EP & Movie, nothing to do with North America & Capitol Records.

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