Let Me Take You Down

I was in the kitchen of our house in Germany, an Army Brat, when I heard the invitation for the first time. The transistor was on the mantlepiece in the main room and it pulled me right in and made me feel that Nothing is Real. This time it was more “bloody hell, this is the new Beatles single? Wow!” I don’t think any single Beatles track ever captured me with its imagery and its setting quite so thoroughly first time out. I leant against the mantelpiece listening attentively and was just about to move when the Ringo-driven coda kicked in. When I did finally move away from the fireplace I was dazed; not sure of what I had heard and wondering how I could hear it again. Almost five years of invention and this was, yet again, a completely new Beatles. Conversely, I remember Penny Lane lighting up the front room the following day back in February 1967 and being so breezy and clean that it made housework feel like fun.  

So here’s an anachronism in the back catalogue, after finally uniting the US and UK album releases with Sgt Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour was released as a double EP in the UK, it was, of course the best selling double EP that year and in all history, but as an album in the States, which my brother bought some years later because the bonus tracks make it a classic. I now see Magical Mystery Tour as completing the Beatles psychedelic trilogy following Revolver and Sgt Pepper.

In fact my own experience of hearing Magical Mystery Tour was as a double EP, with its fabulously glossy booklet stapled in, given to me as a Christmas present, just like Twist and Shout was exactly four years earlier. My story is about hearing I Am The Walrus, for some time now my all-time favourite Beatles track, on New Years Eve. As three of us went from house to house, cadging drinks, everybody was playing Hello Goodbye and I Am The Walrus. Especially abroad with Army families it was an act of faith to play the Beatles. Even when it sounded a bit “wierd”, as some people commented about Walrus, it was still a way of identifying with home.

At the time I found the double EP soundtrack somewhat mystifying, I Am The Walrus sounded like one of the greatest tracks of all time even then, especially then, but the rest of the tracks weren’t that strong. My Mum loved the title track and Your Mother Should Know, and the Fool On the Hill. She was very happy that she had bought it for me, and she loved playing the first EP on her record player. Unfortunately all the best tracks were on EP1, so I played Blue Jay Way and Flying on my own (stereo) record player whilst she played the Mumsy side. It was however a very desirable cultural artefact, out-packaging Sgt Pepper, and one to show off to your friends.

Being in Germany I missed the Boxing Day BBC TV transmission of the film, heavily criticised at the time because, as Paul says on Anthology, it was a colour film shown in black and white. I finally saw it when it seemed to be playing late every Friday night in the Student’s cinema at the University of Colorado in Boulder some twelve years later, and found it charming; especially the Walrus sequence. So my memories of hearing Magical Mystery Tour are that all the English families in Germany bought the single and played it repeatedly over Christmas, sometimes along with side 1 of the double EP (the title track and Your Mother Should Know). And it was particularly popular where families shared the record player where whole families sang along at parties all through Christmas and New Year.

When my brother bought the album the bonus tracks were impressive; Hello Goodbye, Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane, Baby You’re A Rich Man and All You Need is Love, plus they got the track sequence brilliantly right on Side One making the whole album flow wonderfully, and you didn’t have to change the EP three times. It was a feel good album that always cheered us up even though it drew a curtain on their psychedelic recording career.

At the time however it didn’t feel like it was the end of Beatles psychedelia, in fact psychedelia in popular culture seemed to reach a apotheosis with the film Yellow Submarine released in the summer of 1968. It is a brilliant summation of the counter-cultural tendencies of the Beatles, although psychedelia was presented as enabling us to realise our own faux-Edwardian pre-World War One ideal of listening to the Lonely Hearts Club Band playing on a bandstand all summer long; and defeat the Blue Meanies. It was a wonderfully twee and British psychedelia full of nostalgia for the wonderlands of our childhood, like a Pied Piper at the Gates of the Odeon. It was indeed way too much, and yet still we got home in time for tea; thanks George.

I thought the new Beatles songs were as strong as those on Magical Mystery Tour, but the album was a soundtrack with one side of orchestral music by George Martin, so we didnt buy it. Where was the proposed EP when you needed it? And it turned out that British psychedelia was to follow Pink Floyd’s childlike Piper at the Gates of Dawn anyway. However I do remember being really impressed by Hey Bulldog when I saw the film in the summer holidays of 1968. Now I am impressed that it was the last track they produced collectively, taking just 10 hours to create it from scratch at Abbey Road whilst making a film to support the single release of Lady Madonna. But It’s All Too Much was probably The Beatles track that most captured the West Coast psychedelic vibe and the film sequence captured it perfectly. And my brother and I agreed on guitar-driven a Beatles track at last.

There is a YouTube version of this post at A Beatles YouTube Album.

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3 Comments

  1. Bakuvia said,

    September 7, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Good entry, F. I liked the intro and the story about the fireplace. 🙂

  2. L said,

    September 10, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    My favorite Beatle song of all time (I’m 57). I always thought he was saying “living is easy with eyes closed, it’s understanding all you see.” Only years ago I came upon the lyric “misunderstanding all you see.” I always thought he meant living is easy with eyes closed, but it is understanding all you see that is hard. Remember when we did NOT know the lyrics? i.e. Before Sgt Pepper

  3. fred6368 said,

    September 10, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Hi L, Thanks for the comment. Did you like The Misunderstood? I’m 58 and was about to play SFF as I replied to you as the Remasters have just arrived but! Yet again I am standing in the middle of my front room listening to Strawberry Fields, not in my tree, and yet again the tingles are running up and down my spine. It is a spine tingling piece of music, words, imagery and emotion isn’t it? The Remasters do refresh the music. In the UK we are still amazed that it was the first Beatles single NOT to go to number one at the time…


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