The fact that the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper in 1967 and then also managed to get out Magical Mystery Tour later the same year is pretty astonishing. That this is the better of the two albums is even more impressive, and that it is not regarded as such is pretty disappointing.
Originally released as two EPs, this soundtrack from the failed film contains some of the group's best pop material. It's a very "Paul" Beatles album, and quite a focused effort considering its cinematic companion, which is a (very entertaining) piece of incoherent claptrap. Through my many ups and downs with the Beatles, going from loving them unconditionally to being highly critical of them and back toward admiring them Magical Mystery Tour has always pretty much remained the same in my estimation. I loved it as a kid, I loved it as a teen, I love it now.
Cynics will point immediately to "Flying" and "Blue Jay Way" as a means of proving this is a warmed-over collection compared to the "inspired" Pepper, but really, both of those songs are a good deal hipper than anything on Pepper. The strolling instrumental "Flying" in particular has always been one of my favorite "pet Beatle songs." And the fact that it sits at track three, and "Blue Jay Way" at track four, is daring this is not an album that peters out at all, it's paced ingeniously.
A pair of Paul's finest moments are here: the sublime, perfect "Your Mother Should Know," along with the equally amazing "Hello Goodbye" two songs I would never trash no matter how frustrated I get with Uncle Paul and his increasingly doddering exploits. Just listen to the bass line on "Your Mother Should Know" and how the melody distracts you from the fact that, once again, Paul knows his song is strong enough that he doesn't need to finish the lyrics. Typically, the third or fourth verse will be a "doo doo doo doo" verse; the man knows when pure melody is enough.
"Hello Goodbye," too, features an amazing arrangement listen to the drums and running guitar lines, just marvelous. The title track, which opens the disc, is another justified classic listen to the background harmonies, simply as creative as can be. The great strength of this disc is that, even moreso than Pepper, the songs themselves are as strong as concrete, but the arrangements are so thoughtful and rich that you could listen to them hundreds of times and never get tired, 'cause you'd always be hearing new things. Let the pop nerds have their Pet Sounds, this is the Beatles' best pop album.
Lennon's bits are pretty great here too, my fave being "Baby You're a Rich Man," one of the most seriously underrated Beatles songs there is. It is one of the more overtly "psychedelic" songs they ever did, but they never really went far enough out to sound too dated. Great percussion on that, and a bustling bassline to boot. "I Am the Walrus" is adventurous, though not one of my favorites what I do like about it is that it's essentially a comedy song, but it sounds too "cool" to be heard that way. "Penny Lane" is overplayed, sure, but hard to dislike.
"All You Need is Love," even more overplayed, but still enjoyable, and you have to agree it's an ideal closing track. "The Fool on the Hill" has never done much for me, but I hear it now as kind of a defensive song, a la "Silly Love Songs," Paul trying to assert his coolness factor when everyone dismisses him as a lightweight. He really carries this album, too, and I for one don't equate pop with lightweight. You don't gots to rock me like a hurricane to get my attention; I like the subtle majesty of a good arrangement. Egad, no wonder everyone around here calls me "Gramps." Well, that, and I have to wear an adult diaper since my moped crash.
The one big fault I have with this disc, and it's really more of a comment on the Beatles CDs in general, is that they really should be remastered with current equipment these discs came out in 1987, which in the CD age is genuinely prehistoric. Especially in the wake of the excellent Yellow Submarine Songtrack, which features several of these songs in mixes that are quite stunning, the need for brilliant new Beatles CDs is painfully apparent.
I'd buy 'em all again and be thankful for the opportunity to blow another $250 doing so. The packaging is so primitive looking, especially with the "Compact Disc Digital Audio" logo everywhere, and the sound is clean but flat. The Beatles deserve better, and so do the consumers.
Review by Joseph G. Millionaire