|Genre Psychedelic rock|
|Released 27 November 1967 (US) (LP)
8 December 1967 (UK) (EP)
19 November 1976 (UK) (LP)|
Recorded 25–27 April and 3 May 1967
Label Parlophone, Capitol, EMI
"Magical Mystery Tour" is a song by the Beatles, the opening track and theme song for the album, double EP and TV film of the same name. Unlike the theme songs for their other film projects, it was not released as a single.
"Magical Mystery Tour" is credited to Lennon–McCartney, though written primarily by Paul McCartney. McCartney said it was co-written. John Lennon said, "Paul's song. Maybe I did part of it, but it was his concept." In 1972, Lennon said, "Paul wrote it. I helped with some of the lyric." The remaining lyrics explain in a general way the premise of the film: a mystery tour of the type that was popular in Britain when the Beatles were young. Lennon and McCartney expanded the tour to make it magical, which allowed it to be "a little more surreal than the real ones."
There are also other interpretations of the song as an explicit reference to drugs, since the Beatles were experimenting with acid in those years. Paul McCartney himself said about the song:
"Because those were psychedelic times it had to become a magical mystery tour, a little bit more surreal than the real ones to give us a license to do it. But it employs all the circus and fairground barkers, 'Roll up! Roll up!', which was also a reference to rolling up a joint. We were always sticking those little things in that we knew our friends would get; veiled references to drugs and to trips. 'Magical Mystery Tour is waiting to take you away,' so that's a kind of drug, 'it's dying to take you away' so that's a Tibetan Book of the Dead reference. [...] Magical Mystery Tour was the equivalent of a drug trip and we made the film based on that."
Recording began on 25 April 1967, less than a week after the final sessions for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song was not complete when the session began and much of the evening was spent in rehearsals, but by the end of the evening the basic rhythm track was complete. Bass guitar and vocal overdubs were added by the Beatles on 26 and 27 April. On 3 May, the brass fanfare and other parts were added in a disorganised session where the trumpet players began the evening without a score. According to Philip Jones, a friend of one of the players who was present, one of those players, Elgar Howarth, eventually took matters into his own hands and wrote a score out for them.
Also added to the final mix is the sound of the Bedford VAL14/Plaxton Coach (URO 913E), owned by Fox of Hayes and hired by The Beatles for the film. The screech of the tyres was done by Ringo Starr himself, when he drove the Bedford VAL around RAF West Malling at a high speed.
Release and reception
"Magical Mystery Tour" was released as the title track to a six-song double EP in the United Kingdom on 8 December 1967. In the United States, the double EP was stretched to an LP by adding five songs previously released as singles. During the CD era, the LP version was issued on CD in both countries.
Writing in the May 1968 issue of Esquire, Robert Christgau dismissed "Magical Mystery Tour" as "disappointing" and "perfunctory". In his book Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald wrote of the song: "While energetic, the result is manufactured, its thin invention undisguised by a distorted production tricked out with unconvincing time and tempo changes." Writing for Rough Guides, Chris Ingham describes it as "the bare bones of a song accompanied by faintly tired brassy parping".
Musicologist Walter Everett writes: "I agree with those who call 'Magical Mystery Tour' a warmed-over 'Sgt. Pepper'-type fanfare/invitation to what's to follow … The transcendent modulation is not accompanied by compelling enough lyrics or sufficient melodic interest … to rise to greatness." Richie Unterberger of AllMusic calls it "a pleasant, get-up-and-go tune, but not one of the Beatles' very best songs".