Even the Beatles themselves felt the pressure to build upon their success and top their landmark album, “Sgt. Pepper”. Approximately six months after the release of that album, they released their next album, “Magical Mystery Tour”. Musically there are some great moments on this album, even if it was ultimately compiled in somewhat of a disjointed manner. Side one is the soundtrack to their next film project, and both the film and most of this “soundtrack” was received with mixed results. Side two is a collection of songs that were mostly released as singles previously during the course of the year, and are a blend of highly recognizable Lennon and McCartney songs.
The title track, somewhat of a sequel to the opener to “Sgt. Pepper”, opens the album with fanfare, before we head into several songs that garner much less enthusiasm. I find “The Fool on the Hill”’ to be one of the more bland Paul McCartney Beatles songs, and “Flying”, an instrumental track, and George’s one song on this album, “Blue Jay Way”, don’t really grab me very much either. From that point on, whether this was intentional or not, the rest of the album becomes a back and forth between John and Paul.
I remain fascinated by the brilliance, collaboration, competitive rivalry and ultimately collapsing partnership that was the duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Differing personal and political philosophy, as well as differing musical direction, fully spilled over into their respective solo careers and personal lives. With that in mind, the next six songs really deliver an incredible alternating contrast of styles as they each continue to try and raise the bar. Paul starts it off with the less known but welcoming reflection song, “Your Mother Should Know”, followed by John’s iconic identity song, “I Am the Walrus”. Side two opens with Paul’s highly successful and upbeat “Hello, Goodbye”, and back to John for his psychedelic classic “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Paul counterpunches with another classic hit, “Penny Lane”, and then John comes back with “Baby, You’re a Rich Man.” In almost each case, the McCartney song is a relatively straight-up happy pop song, and the Lennon response is more experimental, distorted in sound, and some would argue more disruptive and provoking in thought and style. It really is a fascinating subplot within the remarkable talents of this band.
As unusual as this album was in content and in the way it was compiled and delivered, the album concludes very effectively as a united front with one more home run, John’s “All You Need is Love”. My favorite part of this song may be the outro when Paul chimes in with a nod to their seemingly distant past as he kicks into a slow chorus of “She Loves You”. They may have come at from four different angles and styles, but the Beatles remained united in their message of love over hate, a theme that was extremely prevalent during these turbulent times around the world.