As if there wasn’t enough evidence of the vast gulf between record industry marketing practices of the 1960s and today, consider this: less than six months after releasing an album that was recognized in the moment as possibly the greatest of all time, the Beatles put out another one.
Magical Mystery Tour, the soundtrack to a made-for-TV film, was released in time for Christmas 1967. In the UK, it was a double-length EP consisting only of the songs from the film. After briefly considering an EP release for the States, Capitol decided to do what it had done before—piece together a full-length album with tracks that had already been released as singles. The American Magical Mystery Tour eventually became the standard configuration, although it wasn’t released that way in the UK until 1976.
Magical Mystery Tour is not an organic whole like Sgt. Pepper was, or as cohesive as Revolver and Rubber Soul were. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good listen. The “leftover” tracks making up side 2 of the American Magical Mystery Tour are all pretty savory: “Hello Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane,” “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” and “All You Need Is Love.” Side 1 includes the title track, “Fool on the Hill,” and “I Am the Walrus.”
Although the Magical Mystery Tour album got the usual good reviews, the film did not. It was first shown in the UK on December 26, 1967—in black and white on BBC-1, which did not broadcast in color. The film loses much of its charm without its splashy colors. “Flying” would have been almost pointless.
A few days later, it was repeated in color on BBC-2, but by then, the negative reviews it had received upon its original broadcast had been widely circulated. It wouldn’t appear in the United States until 1976, when it was shown in a few theaters. It didn’t turn up on American television until the 1980s. Nowadays it looks appropriately trippy and charming, although Americans then and now miss the point of the mystery tour, popular in Britain at the time, when people paid to get on a bus for a day without being told where they were going.
The Magical Mystery Tour album hit #1 in America on January 6, 1968, and stayed at the top for eight weeks. It would be displaced by an album that contained one of the enormous hit singles of that most historic year—but nobody remembers it anymore. That’s in our next installment.