Number 34 on this glorious, oh glorious, countdown of my Top 40 albums is Magical Mystery Tour, the first of several Beatles albums on this countdown, because my goodness gracious The Beatles are absolutely incredible. First and foremost, I don’t feel I have to advocate (and it is probably one of those “trying to fit an ocean inside of a cup” moments) for The Beatles greatness, but it is pretty fun to do, so what the heck? The Beatles majesty lies in two main facets: incredible melodies and a sophisticated harmonic lexicon.
First, their melodies. Paul, John, (and even George sometimes), have written some of the most genius and memorable melodies in the history of all music. Yes, all music. Dating back to baroque, renaissance, medieval, anything. Some of the best melodies in the history of music itself. Why? Why are their melodies so absolutely fantastic, even flawless? Honestly, I think the explanation for the absolute genius of so many of their melodies is a mixture of a uniquely high amount of inherent skill and trial and error in the pre-famous Beatles period. Most Beatles fans probably know this, but The Beatles spent an impossible amount of hours together performing, song-writing, and practicing (over 10,000 hours I believe). This time allowed them to hone their craft well beyond the level of honing most artists complete possibly in their entire career much less before their career even begins. And, as I said before, they had such great inherent ability that even if one did hone their craft for that long, chances are he/she may not achieve Beatles greatness anyways.
An interesting factoid about the beauty of their melodies from the perspective of music theory. The music theory textbook I studied for two years as a music major outlined five rules to follow to create a pleasing melody. Of course, there isn’t really a formula, but for a budding music theorist/young musician you need a place to start. These five items are as follows:
1. A melody should be rhythmically simple with the duration of most notes being equal to or longer than the duration of the beat. Additionally, the melody should fit into the meter of the song with important words and syllables on more important beats.
2. Every melody note should belong to the chord that is to harmonize it. If it does not, the melody should resolve from this dissonance in an acceptable and pleasing manner.
3. A melody should be primarily stepwise and should have an interesting, clear, and simple shape with a definite focal point.
4. A melody should avoid big leaps or leaps of uncommon intervals. If a melody does employ leaps, ideally they should either outline a triad or resolve stepwise in the opposite direction of the leap.
5. A melody should follow the rules of tendency tones. For example, if a melody includes the leading tone, it should resolve to the tonic as expected.
I include all of these cumbersome and sometimes awkwardly worded rules to say, nearly every single Beatles melody follows these rules. Essentially, you can pick out a Beatles song at random and literally use it for a clinic on a well-composed melody. Not only are the Beatles melodies pleasing to our rock n roll ears or our 60’s Pop tendencies, but they are masterful works that follow the rules of melody writing without sacrificing any creativity or beauty.
Second, the Beatles harmonic lexicon is exceptional. Again, I believe this arises from their inherent ability as well as their many, many hours of practice. However, another facet of the harmonic beauty of the group is each song-writer’s diversity in song-writing style NOT at the expense of a cohesive sound! George’s Skiffle background and his experimental Indian influence, John’s earlier super pop songs that develop into strange and beautiful explorations of the rock genre, and Paul’s absolute mastery of the power pop song (Power Pop is what I refer to as Pop or Rock music that includes an incredible amount of musicianship without breaking the genre of pop or rock) all combine to create an iconic and memorable sound that we all want to listen to over and over again.
Alright, I could go on, but let’s finally get to the album: Magical Mystery Tour. Magical Mystery Tour is one of the more overlooked Beatles albums. People often remember it as the weird or experimental one, but in actuality, it is tied with Help! for The Beatles album with the most Number One Singles: Three! Additionally, Magical Mystery Tour has a higher percentage of number one hits than any Beatles album: with 27% of the songs on the record having gone to number one on the Billboard charts. Those songs, of course, are “Penny Lane,” “All You Need is Love,” and “Hello Goodbye.”
Moving on from dry statistics. This, obviously, is one of my favorite Beatles albums. (Because it is on this list! Doi!!!!!!!!!) “Magical Mystery Tour,” “The Fool On the Hill,” “I Am the Walrus,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” are all iconic Beatles songs from this album. So, between the Number Ones and these, it’s already is pretty packed with incredible songs. It is the remaining four songs on the album where I think the feeling of this being the “weird” Beatles album comes from. I would like to say a few words about each of these songs.
Track 3. Flying
Flying, as far as I know (from what my Dad told me and what I actually know about the Beatles) this is the only Beatles song without words. It is a simple, relaxed take on twelve bar blues. Many people I know consider this to be a throwaway drug song. While it is quite possibly drug inspired, it is still the Beatles and it is far from a throwaway. It is pretty interesting instrument-wise, and it is incredibly pleasant to listen to. I believe it is a beautiful segue out of “The Fool on the Hill,” almost a brief glimpse into the Fool’s mind.
Track 4. Blue Jay Way
Alright, my affinity for Blue Jay Way is a bit far-fetched I have to admit. I think Blue Jay Way is a great song hidden underneath layers and layers of unsatisfying weirdness. The chorus actually includes a remarkably catchy melody (“Please don’t be long” etc.). I think this song has a lot of potential either as an ethereal keyboard-based song or possibly a hard rock endeavor. Maybe something I will get to experiment with someday and see if I can unlock the good song hidden underneath the vocal effects and Indian influence.
Track 5. Your Mother Should Know
I freakin’ love this song. It is one of Paul’s fake folk songs. Awesome melody, really satisfying harmonic progression, and it is just pure Paul light-hearted fun. One of my favorites.
Track 10. Baby You’re a Rick Man
This is an interesting song. I think that I probably like it a lot because of it’s inclusion in The Yellow Submarine movie, which I think is completely fantastic despite the fact that it probably isn’t. But I still submit the movie, and this song, are an awful lot of fun! And honestly, sandwiched between two of the most popular Beatles songs ever recorded, I think it is a nice, strange, fun reprieve.
My final words on Magical Mystery Tour pertain to the work of George Martin on the record. Over half of this album includes songs with orchestral instrumentation, and George Martin played a huge role in that aspect of the Beatles music. I think “Strawberry Fields Forever” especially showcases Martin’s brilliance of peppering a song with strings and brass without stripping it of being a rock song. He is an integral part of quite a lot of the second half of the Beatles career and I believe Magical Mystery Tour is where he shines the most.
Well, there you have it! The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour coming in at Number 34 on the Top 40 albums countdown! I know I said I was going to post this earlier in the week, but given it’s length I couldn’t complete it until today. You can expect Number 33 on the countdown sometime mid-next week. I am only one week behind, so if I can get both 33 and 32 next week, I will be back on track! Have an excellent few days, and be sure to enjoy some great music!