This is the album that Yellow Submarine should have been, or at least it could have been this good with a few more songs and less instrumental guff. The UK version was only a 6 track EP while th US added a few B-Sides to make it into a full record. McCartney wanted to make a film based on a trip the band took in a bus, but this never transpired. It would have been better to have mixed together old live footage of songs, new studio footage, and the general madness and fun and games that the band got up to in the early days. The result would have been pure self indulgence, and instead the actual result was more like an experimental art film, an unscripted hour of skits and sketches involving magicians. Luckily most of the music is good.
`Magical Mystery Tour’ opens the album both literally and conceptually with McCartney inviting one and all to join him for a fun filled trip. The music is light and energetic enough, mirroring Sgt Pepper’s reprise. It also has a bit of a Help! Vibe to it, and is upbeat and up-tempo. The song is full of brass, a few samples, and fairly formulaic lyrics. The speed changes quite a few times to keep things interesting and experimental.
`The Fool on the Hill’ is a gentle McCartney song which is unduly forgotten by many. The lyrics are interesting and the flute-like instruments add something new. The song’s meaning is open for interpretation and in today’s world of fools it is easy to attach faces to it.
`Flying’ is a nice enough, mellow instrumental song features a melody played on mellatron and mirrored by chanting vocals. It is better than most of Martin’s instrumental parts on Submarine, but it isn’t one you are likely to listen to over and over. Usually it is listened to together with Blue Jay Way almost as a single track.
`Blue Jay Way’ continues from Flying with trippy, effects laden vocals and spacey lyrics. It isn’t a favourite of mine and can be skipped along with Flying. Like many of the songs on Submarine it sounds better in the context of the film rather than on its own.
`Your Mother Should Know’ is another McCartney song with nice melody. It’s catchy enough, but fairly lightweight and for me it seems to be lacking something. I think it is stretched out too long and should have either been shorter or featured an extended ending with growing instrumentation.
`I Am the Walrus’ is a fairly heavy song in comparison to the rest of the tracks on this album and features nonsensical Wonderland-esque lyrics about nothing which turn out to be some of Lennon’s most inspired words. To turn nonsensical jargon into standard lexicon and phrases people around the world know and use takes skill, and the way they fit the rhythm of the music is special. The song has never been a favourite of mine as the melodies aren’t too great, but you can’t help but admire it.
`Hello Goodbye’ finds McCartney in usual gentle melodic form, a nice song with backing violins which has an almost Christmas feel. It is his song about life in its most basic terms featuring a yin-yang philosophy. It is an underrated song on a largely underrated album. The coda has a `hippies singing round the campfire feel’ which in this case isn’t bad.
`Strawberry Fields Forever’ is a drug fuelled, superbly crafted, psychedelic masterpiece. Again showing how the band were always at least one step ahead of everyone else, at least when they were at their best. Lennon’s lyrics are existential, trippy, psychological, and full of imagery. Written after various controversies, in the middle of much drug taking and failing relationships it speaks of nostalgia for youth, for simpler times, and for home.
`Penny Lane’ is the best song here, classic Beatles with that British, mundane every day Sgt Pepper feel. The melodies are memorable, the lyrics are among the best the band would write, and it is extremely well built. The experimentation is kept to a minimum yet marked by superb trumpet work.
`Baby you’re A Rich Man’ is a combination of two Lennon/McCartney previously unreleased songs and features a clavioline part which makes the whole thing sound quite bizarre when coupled with the lyrics. It’s a bit repetitive and doesn’t add much to the album.
`All You Need Is Love’ closes the album, not the first time the song has appeared on a Beatles album. John’s song of united love, everyone knows it and most will like it.
Magical Mystery Tour is among the band’s most underrated work, a mix of classics and forgettable stuff. The good stuff outweighs the bad though and the album as a whole is pretty good. People compare this with Yellow Submarine due to the trippy nature of most of the songs and the fact that both albums and films feature some sort of journey and adventure. This is the stronger of the two, while YS could have been made better by including some of the other tracks that were unreleased at the time. They may not have fit in with the album, but like Baby You’re A Rich Man here, they could have been reworked to fit. You probably won’t return to this album much but when you do you are sure to be treated to some welcome surprises.