Let's review the Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour

I've been somewhat surprised at the number of reviews rolling in the Beatles albums, now that they've finally been remastered and re-released. I guess a lot of "new media" outlets finally want a crack at the most famous band of all time (hey why not, everyone wants a little bit of that Beatle money) and now's as good a time as any.

The reviews I've come across have been pretty diverse. Pitchfork seems to have rocked the boat the least (which is surprising) giving a lone dud review to Yellow Submarine, but treating the rest of the catalog with nostalgic "we're-not-worthy" praise. I was half-expecting to see snark ruling the day. My vision included reviews like: With The Beatles Rating: 4.7 Review: Sorry, moptops.

The harshest reviews? Surprisingly the ones I've read are coming from what's commonly considered Beatles sacred ground. For example, British mag Q Magazine chose to give Please Please Me and Let It Be two-star (!?) ratings, ranking them the worst alongside the universally-hated Yellow Sub. Seriously, Q?

Honestly reviewing the Beatles is kind of a joke at this point. As a few of the Pitchfork reviews noted, the Beatles followed a basic outline that has been lampooned (hello, Rutles, B-Sharps) and stumbled into accidentally by countless bands since. It's impossible to hear one of the Beatles' records anymore without thinking "ohhh, this is their ____ album." Since their output didn't meander for decades and decades, it's very easy to pinpoint each album in the context of the times as well as how the band was working together as a unit.

But I'm gonna run through em anyway. To make it a more unique experience, I'll run them down in the order I bought them:

Album: Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Purchased: High School
One liner: After manager Brian Epstein had just died, The Beatles decided to take control of their own career and embarked on a travelogue-style movie (flop) with an excellent soundtrack - basically a collection of singles and odds-n-ends.

Review: Everyone knows you get into the psychedelic Beatles first. This is their most accessible period, and when a teenager realizes the band is cool and not just some "old people band." The first songs I heard on the radio and associated with the Beatles included "She Loves You," "Yesterday," "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Yellow Submarine." I wasn't crazy about any of these songs, and would never have thought the same band would be capable of "Come Together" which I always attributed to some other cooler, unknown band I hadn't checked out yet.

By the time high school rolled around, I started making my own money and bought my first CD player. Since I was no longer under my parents' (complete) financial control, I could get serious and also start buying my own music. Magical Mystery Tour was the third CD I ever bought, and the first non-Greatest Hits album (though technically it kinda is) in my collection. At the time, I was economical with my purchases - I wanted all the hits. The first songs that really drew me to the band were "I Am The Walrus," "Hello Goodbye," "Penny Lane," and "Strawberry Fields Forever." And look at that! All here on one handy collection.

At the point, I was vaguely familiar with the band's output. All of the first albums I bought I had heard on vinyl first. My dad had had been pretty good about teaching me about some of the great moments in music history, playing Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" for me on headphones; teaching me about Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars; and - in particular - playing Magical Mystery Tour through Abbey Road back-to-back-to-back-to-back for me on one very influential Sunday.

I bought this album at Target. Don't judge. I was, after all, a teenager in West Des Moines, Iowa. You get it where you can. I also remember there being some controversy with this purchase - my dad strongly disagreed with my favorite song on the album ("I Am The Walrus") thinking at the end of the song, the backing vocals were endorsing drug use by chanting "Smoke pot, smoke pot, everybody smoke pot." Later, thanks to a nerdy obsession in college, I discovered the actual lyrics were "Oom-pah, oom-pah, everybody's got one." Sure, the Beatles endorsed drug-use, just in other songs and in subtler ways. I do have to admit, even when I hear listen to the song today, I occasionally hear the ol' "smoke pot" version in my head. Maybe this is fixed in the remaster.

And so began my obsession with The Beatles (and music in general). My younger, frugal self probably would never have predicted that I would eventually go on to buy every studio album (and then some).

Rating*: For being my gateway Beatles album: 1,000 points. For containing at least two of my all-time favorite Beatles songs: 500 points. For being attached to a boring movie that isn't even interesting as a failure: -50 points.

Final thought:
When I was a little kid, this record cover use to really creep me out. "Who are these dudes and why are they dressed as animals? They seem way too happy to be dressed as animals." And in general, there's way to much goin' on there. I'm gonna put it on the line and say this is their ugliest album art.

Next up: Abbey Road

*This is a highly scientific ratings system that requires neither explanation nor questioning.


Mark said...

It's interesting to read your history here. I haven't bought any of the remastered cds yet, but MMT is probably going to be my first purchase as well.

Oddly, "Nowhere Man" and "When I'm 64" were my first Beatle obsessions when I was in grade school, but I quickly found myself obsessed with MMT and the peculiar booklet within it. Even though it was the mid-1970s, I still loved looking for evidence that Paul was dead.

I'll definitely be watching for your reviews on these remastered gems. I'm still a hardcore Beatles fan at heart.

Ronson said...

Hey Mark!

Yeah, I'm not sure when I'll actually drop down the cash to hear the remasters, but I imagine shelling out big bucks for the box set someday. It's been awhile since I've heard a lot of these albums.

Almost as cool as the music itself, the remasters also more closely represent the original artwork, complete with inserts. So the booklet that came with MMT will be included in the new versions. That's a pretty big draw for me. The artwork with the 1988 CDs is pretty lame.