Producer: George Martin
Track listing: Magical Mystery Tour / The Fool on the Hill / Flying / Blue Jay Way /Your Mother Should Know / I’m the Walrus / Hello Goodbye / Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane / Baby You’re a Rich Man / All You Need Is Love
January 6, 1968
The triumph of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was soured by the death of the Beatles’ longtime manager Brian Epstein, who was found dead on August 27, 1967, in his London flat from an overdose of sleeping pills. He was 32. “We all knew that everything would not be quite the same again,” says producer George Martin.
Shattered by Epstein’s death, the Beatles buried their sorrow in their artistic endeavors and began work, with Paul McCartney at the helm, on a film called Magical Mystery Tour. The title track, recorded prior to Epstein’s death in April 1967, while the band was putting the finishing touches of Sgt. Pepper’s, was a logical progression.
In the U.K., Magical Mystery Tour was released as a six-song double EP, which included “Flying,” the Beatles first released instrumental recording and their first song to be listed as a group composition, and “I Am the Walrus,” a Lennon song inspired by Lewis Carroll’s poem
“The Walrus and the Carpenter” from Alice in Wonderland. The six-songs from the British EP made up the first side of the American album, released in November 1967. The film made its debut on the BBC, which televised it in black and white, on December 1967. It was later released theatrically in the America, but it was panned by critics on both sides of the Atlantic. While the film may have been little more than an oddity, the music was top-notch, especially when combined with collection of singles that made up side two of the American album. Two of those tracks, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane,” were recorded during the Pepper sessions.
“I’ve found that my initial gut reaction to a piece of music is almost always right,” says Martin. “When I first heard ‘Strawberry Fields Forever,’ I was captivated.” An early, simple version was recorded with John Lennon’s vocal and guitar. Later, drums and bass
and a slide guitar played by George Harrison were added, but Lennon wasn’t satisfied. A new version had to be recorded. This time it had an introduction played on the mellotron, and it started with the chorus. Eventually the vocals were double-tracked and brass and cello were added.
“Penny Lane,” recorded shortly thereafter, is “a curious mirror to ‘Strawberry Fields,'” says Martin. “Typical of the way John and Paul’s minds worked, it was Paul’s reply record to ‘Strawberry Fields.’ In their usual synchronicity, they had both been working on songs which were very evocative of their childhoods.” Both Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields were places in Liverpool frequented by Lennon and McCartney as youths.
The songs never made it on Sgt. Pepper’s because Epstein was worried about the Beatles’ standing on the charts. “He came to me and asked for a good strong single that would bring them back up, so I thought of the best possible coupling I could, I gave him ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Penny Lane’ back-to-back, stupid me,” says Martin. “With two A-sides, the radio play was split from the start. For the first time in four years, we failed to make it to Number One in England.”
Yet “Penny Lane” did hit Number One in America, as did “All You Need Need Is Love,” a Magical Mystery Tour track first performed live on June 25, 1967, as part of the international TV special “Our World,” which an estimated 400 million people watched. “Hello Goodbye,” a third Number One single, was also included on the album, making it a shoo-in as the Fab Four’s 11th Number One album.
THE TOP FIVE
Week of January 6, 1968
l . Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles
2. Their Satanic Majesties Request, The Rolling Stones
3. Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., The Monkees
4. Greatest Hits, Diana Ross & the Supremes
5. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles