Friday, February 28, 2014

Music Review - Magical Mystery Tour - The Beatles

Magical Mystery Tour continues where Sgt. Peppers leaves off, blending in a huge variety of instruments and effects to make a kaleidoscope of sound. I really liked this one growing up though lately I've had a diminished opinion of the album, probably because I saw the film/TV special that initiated the creation of these songs. It's bad. Real bad. The kind of bad that was surely influenced by the drugs people were ingesting during that era.

But in hearing the album again I'm reminded that the music itself is quite good. Classic, even. There's the introductory fanfare of the title song followed by the somber "The Fool on the Hill" which contrasts a lilting flute against an earthy bass harmonica, a kind of sequel to "Nowhere Man". I always liked the flanged drums that are the focal point of "Blue Jay Way" but didn't care much for the instrumental that preceeded it. "Hello Goodbye", with it's simple lyrics and cheerful melody, not to mention it's abundant use of reverb, is another great "gateway" song for kids. While you're listening make sure you pay attention to Paul's ultra-bouncy bass line! Speaking of great bass lines, how about that "Baby You're A Rich Man" with the crazy, noodling synth tone? Everyone loves "All You Need Is Love" and maybe I've heard it too often but it never really grabbed me. I mean, I like it and all, with it's horns and harpsichord and cello and sweet strings, but its a non-realistic utopian prelude to "Imagine" lyrically and musically it's much too repetative for my tastes.

Now on to the three songs that comprise the meat!

"Penny Lane" is pure nostalgia. Lovely, blissful nostalgia. It's got bells, a flute, instantly recognizable horns, piano and a whopper of a walking bass line! It's a very strong McCartney song filled with easily digestible but complex musical choices* but Lennon deals him a one-two punch with...

Who can forget the stomping, chanting beat of "I Am The Walrus" with it's bizarre non-sequitur lyrics? Apparently Lennon was trying to write the most confusing lyrics he could muster and he certainly succeeded. Also unusual is that for the first two minutes the song is in true stero but after that it switches to a "faked" stereo because of studio limitations. Such choppiness wouldn't be tolerated even by a local band these days but back then, with things permanently commmited to tape that would take days to fix, such things were commonplace. It's not a bug, it's a feature.

It took forty-five hours to record "Strawberry Fields Forever." To me, that's just overkill. I mean, I can make a BABY in far less time... well, at least my part. But I digress. This is the song where Lennon liked two versions, a dreamy one and a rockier one, so he asked the engineer to figure out how to combine the two despite them being in different tempos and keys. And what a glorious mish mash it is! At the one minute mark the dream is interrupted by Ringo going donkey kong on the drums followed by crusty cellos... pure bliss!

* He's a clever one, that McCartney.

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