KTOM: The Top 500 Sings in Modern Music History…Song #382: The Magical Mystery Tour/I Am The Walrus by The Beatles.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #382: The Magical Mystery Tour/I Am The Walrus by The Beatles.

In the year of my birth, 1964, an American author named Ken Kesey set forth with a band of family and friends who came to be known as The Merry Pranksters. Driving in a decaled-up van known as “Further” and armed to the teeth with all sorts of mood-altering chemicals such as LSD, Kesey and his gang set out to expand their consciousness and live a life that went beyond the confines of the expectations society placed on its citizens. There was a book written about this journey that was relatively famous, called, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Trip” by Tom Wolfe. At the time of Kesey’s travels, media was not the 24-7, real-time enterprise that it is today. However, several journalists did cover the story and printed their reports in newspapers and magazines around the world. One of the people who was following the exploits of The Merry Pranksters with interest was a young man named Paul McCartney. A lot had happened to The Beatles by the time Kesey began his journey. Beatlemania was in full bloom in the UK. The Beatles had already had several hit albums and many #1 hits under their belts. Like Elvis, The Beatles began making movies to help expand their commercial reach. *(For any young folk reading this, in 1964, there was no Internet, there were no websites for bands to promote themselves, there were no music videos nor YouTube nor Instagram nor TikTok or any other form of social media). In addition to their music careers, the members of The Beatles were, also, starting their exploration of Eastern Mysticism and expanding their own consciousnesses via meditation, as well as, drugs. The final big change in the Beatles story arc was that their manager, Brian Epstein, who had guided the early days of their careers with a firm but, gentle hand, had passed away. The combination of all of these events formed a “perfect storm” of sorts for the band when it came to deciding what projects to focus on next. So, when Paul McCartney pitched the idea of a TV movie about a fantastical bus trip called “The Magical Mystery Tour”, the band signed on.

The premise of the movie was that The Beatles would invite viewers to board their bus. The bus would then make several stops along the way and the band members would engage in silly, satiric adventures suited to the setting. There were a total of six songs written for this movie. The first song was the title track, “The Magical Mystery Tour”. It was written and performed mainly by Paul McCartney. It is a whimsical invitation to board the magic bus. The final song written was “I Am The Walrus” by John Lennon. The story behind “I Am The Walrus” was that word had filtered back to The Beatles that the lyrics to their previously-released songs were being studied in schools/universities for their “literary merit”. John Lennon, in particular, thought that this was an absurd state of affairs and set out to create a nonsensical song that would defy closer, scholarly examination. He based the gibberish-laden lyrics upon such literary tales as the poem, “Jabberwocky” and, more specifically, a Lewis Carroll poem called, “The Walrus and the Carpenter”. Ironically, in attempting to create a nonsense song, Lennon actually created one of the most literature-rich songs in their whole musical catalogue.

“The Magical Mystery Tour” movie was savaged by critics when it aired. Claims that the movie was “self-indulgent nonsense” stung the band mates and was part of the reason that they decided to put more of their efforts into travelling to India and away from the UK. “The Magical Mystery Tour” was the beginning of the end of the height of Beatlemania. This movie soundtrack also put the band at odds with their record company. As noted earlier, six songs were recorded for this movie soundtrack. Six is an unusual number because it is too many for an EP (extended play albums had no more than four songs) and too few for a full-blown album (which usually had 8-10 or more). So, to “solve this issue”, the record label decided to create a double-album by adding on several singles that had been previously released or that were slated for future albums. So, if you were to look up the soundtrack to “The Magical Mystery Tour” on Spotify or Goggle, you would see songs listed like, “Strawberry Fields”, “Hello/Goodbye”, “Penny Lane” and “All You Need is Love” and, not surprisingly, you would think that this was a whopper of a soundtrack. But, truth be told, none of those songs were actually in the movie which, in retrospect, even McCartney acknowledged as being more of a lark than a polished project.

“The Magical Mystery Tour” movie was the first real taste the members of The Beatles had at being in total creative control of their work. As such, they learned many lessons that they applied to later masterpieces such as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. To put a final bow on the movie, just like Ken Kesey had his band of Merry Pranksters touring with him in America, McCartney invited a group of Monty Python-esque singers called, “The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band” aboard the bus with him. These folks sang a song in the movie that was based on a pulp fiction novel called, “Death Cab for Cutie”. Why this is important is that, for starters, “Death Cab For Cutie” is the name of the band coming up in the very next post. When Keri saw this band name, she remarked at how odd it was and why would anyone named themselves that? Well, my dear, the answer lay within the walls of the Magical Mystery Tour bus. “Death Cab For Cutie”…the band…are fantastic, as you will soon see. In the movie, the song sung by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band is symbolic of the silliness that marked the movie as a whole. I will share it with you below. As well, we will listen to Paul McCartney’s “The Magical Mystery Tour”, as well as, John Lennon’s, “I Am The Walrus”. So, climb on board, everyone, the Magical Mystery Tour is about to begin. Enjoy.

The link to the video for “The Magical Mystery Tour” by The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the video for “I Am The Walrus” by The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the video for “Death Cab for Cutie” by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Beatles, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History….Song #390: Love Me Do by The Beatles.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #390: Love Me Do by The Beatles.

Liverpool sits on the west coast of England in the Borough of Merseyside. It is a seafaring city, for the most part. On a clear day, one can see the southeastern coast of Ireland from the docks. It was in this city of almost half a million people that one of the most momentous events in the entire history of modern music occurred way back in 1957.

Not far from the coast there sat a church. In that church was a gathering that featured a local band known as The Quarreymen. The lead singer of The Quarreymen was a teenage boy named John Lennon. In the audience that day was another teenage boy named Paul McCartney. Impressed by Lennon’s performance, McCartney approached him and told him that he, also, knew how to play guitar. Lennon lent his guitar to McCartney and asked him to play. McCartney obliged. He played a Bluesy song by Eddie Cochran. Lennon was as impressed with McCartney as McCartney had been with Lennon. An invitation to join The Quarreymen was offered by Lennon and accepted by McCartney. Thus began the most prolific musical partnership in the entire history of recorded music.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney were both heavily influenced by the early US Bluesmen such as Muddy Waters, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, along with early Rock n’ Roll stars such as Elvis and The Everly Brothers. Initially, Lennon and McCartney honed their skills by imitating their heroes. After much practise playing the songs they loved, it only seemed natural to them to try their hand at writing their own material. So they did. Over the course of their career as partners, John Lennon and Paul McCartney co-wrote hundreds of songs, that ended up selling over 600 million copies worldwide, making them the most successful songwriting partnership of all time. One of the things that separated them from other successful songwriting duos (such as Rogers and Hammerstein, for instance) was that both men wrote lyrics and both men worked on the musical structure of their songs, as well. They was no set division of labour; where one wrote the words and the other wrote the tune. A Lennon-McCartney song was a true creation of equals. In fact, in 1962, the two young men forged an agreement that stated that they would share songwriting credits for all songs, regardless as to the percentage of effort either put into a specific song.

The Quarreymen evolved into The Silver Beatles and, eventually, simply, The Beatles. Along with George Harrison and drummer, Pete Best, The Beatles honed their chops in local clubs, as well as, in Germany. Thinking it was time to actually put out a record, Lennon and McCartney approached several producers; eventually, meeting up with a man named George Martin. When Martin first heard them play, he was unimpressed by their music. However, he was impressed by the chemistry of the players within the band and by the charisma that Lennon and McCartney, in particular, exuded outwardly and, so he agreed to work with them. Fortunately for all concerned, their was no ego involved and the members of The Beatles readily agreed to try the advice offered by Martin. One of the single, most important moments in the entire evolution of modern music happened next.

In the early 1960s, record companies had their talent compartmentalized within their organizational structure. In all cases, artists and bands never performed their own music. They were always handed material created by teams of writers and forced to use those songs if they wanted a record to be made on their behalf. The Beatles were the very first Rock n’ Roll act in the UK to write their own songs. Initially, Sir George Martin balked at Lennon and McCartney’s insistence that they release two of their own songs, “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me”. But, to his credit, Martin saw something special in this band and reluctantly agreed to give them some leeway. Thus, the boys were allowed to record and release, “Love Me Do”. In doing so, The Beatles set a precedent that acts such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks and others followed and, as a result, the studio-system was broken for good and all artists became freer and more independent in producing their own work.

It was this same sense of empowerment that shook the US music industry, too, when “The British Invasion” swept up upon their shores and stages. “Love Me Do” was the first single released by that band called, The Beatles. It reached #1 on the charts and opened the door for the start of Beatlemania in England and around the world. The song is a simple song, as far as structure and lyrical composition goes but, it is noteworthy because of the use of the harmonica by John Lennon off of the top of the song. The harmonica was a deliberate instrument choice because of its association with Blues music in the US.

What amazes me about the story of The Beatles is how innocuous it all was in the beginning. Two teenage boys at a church picnic, playing around with guitars, was how it started. How easy it would have been for Lennon and McCartney to have failed to connect or to have rubbed each other the wrong way that day and never have gotten together at all. As well, how many people have goofed around in garages and basements of homes, covering the songs of their heroes and never doing more with it than that. Finally, how many of us have shoeboxes filled with stories, poems and songs that no one will ever see until we die and someone is cleaning out our “junk”. At any point in the early days of their friendship, any number of things could have derailed the process that resulted in “Love Me Do” being released. I think we are so fortunate that they found each other and believed in each other and found mentors (like George Martin) who believed in them, too. We are all richer as a result.

Obviously, every journey begins with a first step and, in the case of The Beatles, “Love Me Do” was that first step. As our list grows closer to #1, we will re-visit The Beatles several more times so, no worries about them appearing way back here at Song #390. This isn’t over for The Beatles just yet. This is merely the beginning of the most famous musical journey of all-time. Here is, “Love Me Do” by The Beatles. Enjoy.

The link for the video for “Love Me Do” by The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Beatles, can be found here.

Thank you to KEXP for supporting new and emerging talent with the same fervour as they do for established stars. A link to their website can be found here.