The Beatles had a heck of a 1967, with plenty of ups and downs to characterize the year. One big “up” was the success of Sgt. Pepper in June that helped to change the game for peers, fans, the music industry, and for The Beatles themselves. Another was the discovery of Transcendental Meditation, which initially helped them to gain perspective on their own fame and the demands of the material world. They would double-down on their involvement with it by joining their newfound guru, Maharishi Mehesh Yogi, in Rishikesh by the start of 1968. That’s another story.
But back to 1967. A big “down” in this very same year was the loss of their manager, Brian Epstein, who died due to an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in August while the band were away in Wales on a TM course. This set the band adrift in terms of their commercial destinations, an area that Brian had always tended as their manager. In fact, Brian had been their ballast as a unified group all around. By the end of 1967, they were on their own. So they decided to keep working.
They made a film, Magical Mystery Tour, that was shown on British TV on Boxing Day. Around the same time, they put out a couple of EPs with some new songs they’d worked up and had featured in the film along with a few that hadn’t been. A few of those songs were about their childhoods back in Liverpool, a theme which the film also touches on. Given the loss of their friend, it probably seemed like a good idea to reset things with such an affectionate nod to their roots during what must have been a very confusing and upsetting time. In so doing, they managed to create the most childlike and optimistic releases in their catalogue. It’s certainly their most “scouse” record, which is to say it’s overtly rooted in Liverpudlian culture.
Eventually, Capitol records who distributed Beatles releases in North America put all of the songs on the EPs together into a bang-up full album called, well, Magical Mystery Tour. And for once they were dead right to do so, so much so that Parlophone and Apple included the album in the cannon of official Beatles releases (so, we did too!). It’s a record that John Lennon once called his favourite Beatles album “because it’s so weird”.
Joining us this time around for our magically mysterious tour of the Beatles discography is British TV expert, visual artist, and film history author Jim Sangster, who as it happens is also from Liverpool. He even recorded his part of the episode while being only a short hop and a skip from Woolton, the site of the first meeting between Dirk and Nasty themselves. This is appropriate in that this really is the most Liverpool of The Beatles’ albums by some distance. There’s lots of cultural references to unpack here, and Jim’s the man to help us do it even when it gets graphic (which it does). We also review the aforementioned film Magical Mystery Tour, famously pasted by critics at the time. Only this time, it’s our turn!
Listen to the episode right here.
And from here, Good People, I must leave you until the dawn of 2017 (or thereabouts) when, if the stars align as they should, I will return with a mix of new songs to kick off our New Year. The podcast will continue, too of course. Until then, happy holidays everyone. Thank you all for joining me in 2016 by reading, subscribing, leaving your comments, and sharing on your social feeds. Until we meet again, friends …