This article is part of a series that we are doing on which Beatles album is the best. At the conclusion of the series, we will offer a poll on the main page asking you to vote on which one was your favorite.
To preface my review, yes, I believe that Magical Mystery Tour is the best of The Beatles musical canon. I did not get stuck with this album in this musical project of The Rock. I chose this album not because I think everyone should think it is the best but rather because of my personal association with it to my musical upbringing.
I also recognize that the Magical Mystery Tour is perhaps the most unconventional album in their catalogue. Well… actually, it’s not a technically an album. It’s a soundtrack written for a drug influenced cult movie about literally going on a magical mystery tour of adventures and camaraderie. Furthermore, it isn’t even an LP, but rather an EP, containing only six tracks in its original UK pressing. However, that being said, it is a complete piece where every track served is a musical masterpiece that exemplifies the epitome of their experimentation and talent unbound by the limitations of a traditional album structure.
The Beatles are one of the greatest bands to ever exist not only because of their music, but because of their story, breaking from the industry mold of bands and artists that preceded them, their sounds, and looks (all of this happening during a time of suffocating cultural stagnation within England). The Magical Mystery Tour is the strongest embodiment of The Beatles’ attitude. That same attitude that changed the course of the music industry, making “Beatlemania” and the Fab Four one of the most significant contributions to modern music.
The EP/soundtrack format allowed The Beatles to experiment with album structure, instrumentation, and lyrics. The closing track, “I am the Walrus”, is an intentionally nonsensical combination of three songs’ lyrics. The lyric “Mis-ter cit-y, police-man sit-ting” is written to “the rhythm of a police siren”, says John. George added a 16-piece choir with violins, cellos, and horns backing them as they simultaneously sung ho’s and he’s, whooping ompahs, “stick it up your jumper”, and “everybody’s got one”. Some argue that this cacophonous combination is a subliminal message that sounds like “everybody smoke pot”. The dramatic reading of Shakespeare’s King Lear at the end of the song is a spliced in radio transmission John had listened to during writing (perhaps an example of that suffocating cultural stagnation of England). Every aspect of the album was a triumphant accomplishment, resulting from their sonic experimentation.
The conventional formats and packaging of tracks was broken by the EP as well. It did not need to fit the mold of a 10-15 track album where ultimately contrived pop tracks like “Eight Days a Week” on Beatles for Sale (Lennon called it “lousy” and the group never performed it live) or filler songs like “Piggies” on The Beatles [White Album] can be cut. Each track is a well-crafted excerpt of the flow and tone of the album.
In an archetypal Beatles fashion, the title track, “Magical Mystery Tour”, opens grandiosely with an upbeat bang, making an entrance similar to “Back in the U.S.S.R.” or “Help!”. Vocal effects and overdubs accompanied by the brass fanfare help carry the lyrical chorus through the entire song, while the intricate straight-beat percussion contributes some variety through its switching between cutting to half- and full-time. The song closes and quickly fades to a piano outro that transitions beautifully to the dragging, heavy chords of “The Fool on the Hill”. Paul, the creator of the track, said it pertained to their spiritual mentor, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He didn’t think he was a fool. It speaks, instead to the “detractors” who called him a fool. The grooviness of the instrumental interlude “Flying” blows into the wispy flange winds of “Blue Jay Way”. George breaks the typical trading off of tracks between John and Paul with this contribution, a song about a road in Hollywood Hills where George had lived temporarily. A friend of his got lost on his way over, so George passed the time by writing the tune. McCartney’s final track on the album, “Your Mother Should Know”, pays tribute to maternal wisdom before Paul closes the EP with one of his greatest personal musical contributions “I am the Walrus”.
The result of all of this experimentation is the Magical Mystery Tour and the album sits at the climax of The Beatles’ career in between Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album. Thus, it is the strongest representative album of the group’s mature and developed sound. As I initially stated, though, this is not a true album and, therefore, not recognized in their official discography. Choosing otherwise, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would be my overarching pick. It usually tops the lists. But too many times growing up did I pay homage to this album by dancing absurdly about my living room on a sugar-induced high for me to not give Magical Mystery Tour the title of The Best Beatles Album.