“The Beatles are turning awfully funny, aren’t they?” (HM Queen Elizabeth to Sir Joseph Lockwood, chairman of EMI, October 1967).
A shrewd observation, m’am.
Each Beatle dealt with the shock of Brian Epstein’s passing in his own way.
Ringo took to the bottle and began having serious thoughts of a new career in the movies.
George, having earlier swapped acid for Transcendental Meditation and the Maharishi, lengthened his stride along the path to Enlightenment and badgered the others to keep pace.
On the other hand, John, devastated by yet another loss of someone close, looked to numb his pain with heroin and started spending longer in bed with Yoko.
Only Paul with his usual breezy optimism reckoned things could carry on as before. All they needed was the right project; something everybody could get behind. And by happy chance, sitting in his “to do” pile was the very thing: a half-thought-through idea for a lysergic home movie made in the spirit of Ken Keysey’s Merry Pranksters and their bus trip across America only with a typically English twist. The Magical Mystery Tour.
The finished product was broadcast on BBC1 Boxing Day 1967 and for the first time, a Beatles offering was met with near-unanimous negative reviews, dismissed as a self-indulgent, incoherent sozzled mess.
The accompanying record, a 6 track double ep (later padded out to album-length by the inclusion of non-LP singles and B sides from ’67) was more positively received and the customary queue of artists intent on putting their own spin on the contents soon formed, with a gaggle of progsters (Spooky Tooth, Pip Pyle, Cranium Pie) and pranksters (The Residents, The Wilson Malone Voiceband) at the head.
Behind these were more family-friendly acts generously prepared to overlook those “funny turns”: Kenny Ball with a taken at face value reading of Your Mother Should Know, the samba stylings of Sergio Mendes and the none more wholesome Anita Kerr Singers.
As a bonus and for completeness, we’ve included covers of the four new songs from the Yellow Submarine cartoon soundtrack, all of which were recorded around the same time.
MMT marked the end of The Beatles psychedelic phase. As soon as the recording sessions were over, the four of them decamped to the Maharishi’s retreat at the foot of the Himalayas where, with only acoustic guitars (and Donovan) for company, they laid the foundations for their next release.
1 Cheap Trick-The Magical Mystery Tour
2 Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen-Your Mother Should Know
3 Spooky Tooth-I Am The Walrus
4 The Residents-Flying
5 Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66
6 Colin Newman-Blue Jay Way
7 Don Carlos-Hello, Goodbye
8 Pip Pyle-Strawberry Fields Forever
9 The Wilson Malone Voiceband-Penny Lane
10 Cranium Pie-Baby You’re A Rich Man
11 The Anita Kerr Singers-All You Need Is Love
12 Sun Dial-Only A Northern Song
13 Joy Unlimited-All Together Now
14 Boxer-Hey Bulldog
15 Steve Tillage-It’s All Too Much