The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film is being reissued on bluray and DVD, and I'm a bit excited.
Eric Idle's Rutles sent up this phase of the Beatles' career as their 'Tragical History Tour'. It was considered their first major misstep: after the untimely death of manager Brian Epstein, and Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - heralding swingin' London for the mainstream - being put to bed, Paul McCartney wanted to keep the band busy. And so he conceived the idea of taking the band and a collection of randoms on a bus ride.
Macca's vision was probably inspired by Ken Kessey's Merry Pranksters – a bunch of hippies who used to travel the US on a bus, spiking bins full of Kool-Aid with acid for the enjoyment of Grateful Dead fans ('Deadheads'). That particular countercultural phenomenon was documented in the Tom Wolfe book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (and I am forever grateful to lifelong buddy Paul Davies slinging me that tome in high school).
Accompanying the Beatles were the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. If you are unfamiliar with them, rest assured, the Bonzos are the missing link between the Beatles and Monty Python. They were the 'house band' that would feature in every episode of Do Not Adjust Your Set, a precursor to Monty Python's Flying Circus featuring Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and the animations of Terry Gilliam. Macca would go on to 'produce' (ie, attend sessions produced by Gus Dudgeon, and put his name to the single – though not his name for fear of overshadowing the band, rather the pseudonym 'Apollo C. Vermouth') their single 'I'm The Urban Spaceman'. Bandmember Neil Innes would go on to write the songs for and appear in Idle's The Rutles in the late 70s. Oh, and offer the John Lennon piano ballad pisstake, 'The Idiot Song', for Python live vehices City Centre, Drury Lane and Hollywood Bowl.
Another passenger was the inspired surreal dadaist, poet Ivor Cutler as Mr Bloodvessel. The scene in which John Lennon shovels food onto his table somewhat pressages the Mr Creosote scene in Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life.
Magical Mystery Tour appeared on Boxing Day 1967 as a telemovie, and was, for the most part, condemned as pointless whimsy. Part of the problem was that it was filmed in colour, but seen by most in black and white. Another part of the problem was that the audience wasn't for the most part tripping. Or even mildly stoned. Nor had they the distance of 45 years during which to realise everything Beatles-related was of value.
The music, on the other hand, was mostly brilliant. Detractors (including John Lennon in this case) will dismiss the 'granny music' of the old-time pastiche that is 'Your Mother Should Know'. (But members of the Monkees' camp must have appreciated it – see and hear Davy Jones's effort, 'Daddy's Song', in the Monkees' own Magical Mystery Tour, Head: written by Beatle fan/friend Harry Nilsson, it does the old-time pastiche, and is filmed with similar cabaret overtones.) Others have trouble sitting through George Harrison's droning 'Blue Jay Way'. I must admit, I love both.
The soundtrack was quite a treat in its day. Initially, it existed as a double EP: two 7-inch vinyl discs bearing three songs each, housed in the covers of a deluxe colour book. The track listing consisted of 'Magical Mystery Tour' and 'Your Mother Should Know' on side one, 'I Am The Walrus' on side two, 'The Fool On The Hill' and 'Flying' on side three, and 'Blue Jay Way' on side four.
In the US, an album was created by bunging the the six songs on side one, and a bunch of singles on side two. These were: 'Hello Goodbye', which would be the flipside of the 'I Am The Walrus' single; 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny Lane' which had been a stand-alone single prior to the Sgt Pepper album; and 'Baby You're A Rich Man' and 'All You Need Is Love', a stand-alone single (with 'All You Need Is Love' on the a-side) earlier in 1967. The beauty of the US album was that it included the booklet - but in the larger 12-inch format, rather than 7-inch.
Australia was also serviced with an album, courtesy of the World Record Club. Highly collectible now, it was a bit cheap in its time: rather than having the same cover as the British double EP, or, as in the US, a variation thereof, it used a graphic from the booklet. But it did not contain the booklet.
And when that album was later replaced by the US album in Australia, it still did not come with the booklet.
Why is the booklet important?
It is rich with graphics - including what my buddy Nick O'Sullivan spotted, many years ago, as a little tribute to Mike Nesmith of the Monkees.
It also has a bunch of 'Paul McCartney is Dead' clues: the one animal in black, the one black carnation, the numerous hands above his head blessing him, the blood-stained sandles, the sign on his desk which states 'I Was'. (I'll include the graphics when I come home from work and can pretty up this post some more. Check back in 12 hours.)
For this reissue, there are numberous cool extras including a commentary track from director Paul McCartney, archival interviews and all-new ones with Macca and Ringo, deleted scenes, remastered soundtrack and deluxe editions.
Two issues arise at this point:
Will any re-editing take place to make the film more cohesive? Or present it in a better light? When Apple released The Beatles First US Visit earlier this millennium, it was a re-edited version of the Maisles brothers' documentary What's Happening. One scene cut out involved the young Macca talking about being wary of commercialism. That was in 1964, before the Beatles pretty much re-defined the concept.
And will we finally get a reissued, remastered (and, let's face it, most likely re-edited) Let It Be, as was promised a decade ago, when the album Let It Be… Naked was delivered instead?
Time will tell.
Meanwhile, here's a link to the re-issued deluxe boxed set with the vinyl, blu-ray, DVD and booklet.
And while you await its arrival in the post, you can at least enjoy the trailer for the remastered film!
Roll up! Step right this way…!