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.