"Magical Mystery Tour" is the vastly under-appreciated intro to the vastly under-appreciated movie. By most accounts, it came at a time when Paul McCartney was beginning to assert himself as the driving force behind the Beatles projects and former leader John Lennon was preoccupied with personal issues. Blanket statements are difficult to make, but the prime driving force behind "Magical Mystery Tour" appears to have been McCartney.
Filming was chaotic, and there was no real script. The idea was to gather a bunch of funny or at least eccentric people on a bus, drive around southern England, and wait for funny things to happen.
The funny bits didn't really materialize, and the intervals between classic Beatles songs were tedious to many viewers. Fortunately, there were several legendary music videos (though not known as such at the time) sprinkled liberally throughout the production which kept the show going despite the lack of any discernible plot.
A more fundamental problem was that the Beatles were relying on razzle-dazzle color to make an impact. Everyone wore flashy threads, and the backgrounds were full of vibrant hues. The major television networks in the United States were rapidly converting to color shows, and it was "the thing to do." However, there were few color television sets, and viewers saw different shades of gray. For instance, it was impossible to tell that Paul's nose was colored the same as his wizard's cape - not that that was particularly funny or notable, but it robbed the viewers of the intended full effect.
The film aired on BBC-TV the day after Christmas 1967 - Boxing Day - in England after much hype. Everyone eagerly anticipated the Beatles' next masterpiece. Fifteen million people watched it - a phenomenal number of people and a large fraction of the country's population.
Unfortunately, the film was panned at the time. However, there are lots of iconic visuals in "Magical Mystery Tour" that became associated with the Beatles legend. the whole concept was just way ahead of its time, and several clips in the film later became genuine classics.
The soundtrack to "Magical Mystery Tour" was a typical Beatles success. It was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy in the United States - a rarity for the Beatles - and is certified for over 6 million sales in the United States by the RIAA, 600,000 in the United Kingdom by BPI, and 400,000 in Canada by Music Canada. Not too shabby, any band would love to have those kinds of sales figures.
Capitol decided to release an album in the United States divided in half, with one side devoted to soundtrack selections and the other containing the singles released earlier in 1967. The Beatles never intended to create an album and weren't too happy about this decision, but it was a very wise decision from a commercial standpoint.
Side 1: Soundtrack Songs (all new releases)
- "Magical Mystery Tour" Paul McCartney with John Lennon 2:48
- "The Fool on the Hill" Paul McCartney 2:59
- "Flying" (Harrison/Lennon–McCartney/Starkey) (Instrumental) 2:16
- "Blue Jay Way" (Harrison) George Harrison 3:54
- "Your Mother Should Know" Paul McCartney 2:33
- "I Am the Walrus" John Lennon 4:35
- "Hello, Goodbye" Paul McCartney 3:24
- "Strawberry Fields Forever" John Lennon 4:05
- "Penny Lane" Paul McCartney 3:00
- "Baby, You're a Rich Man" John Lennon 3:07
- "All You Need Is Love" John Lennon 3:57
The "Magical Mystery Tour" EP (just the soundtrack songs) was released on 8 December 1967 in the UK and the album was released on 27 November 1967 in the United States. In the States, it stayed on top of the album charts for eight weeks at the start of 1969 and remained in the Billboard 200 until 8 February 1969. The UK EP hit No. 2, held out of the top spot on the Record Retailer chart only by the Beatles' own "Hello, Goodbye" single - hardly a disappointment. The EP did hit No. 1 for a week in the Melody Maker chart.
There is no question that "Magical Mystery Tour" is legendary and has overcome any initial disappointment experienced by viewers in 1967. The "Magical Mystery Tour" remains a top-selling catalog album and even occasionally returns to the Billboard 200 albums chart, such as on 27 October 2012. "Magical Mystery Tour" is worth having in any record/cd collection.