Magical Mystery Tour was a rare misstep by The Beatles. But the music saved the project from becoming a total bust. Here’s how it went down.
Magical Mystery Tour was a rare misstep by The Beatles. But the music saved the project from becoming a total bust. Here’s how it went down.
The Beatles’ story has become something of a fairy tale. Four teenagers from Liverpool form a rock and roll band and conquer the world. They transition from loveable mop tops to psychedelic hippies to disgruntled bandmates in less than eight years. They influence dress, speech, film, design, and much more. They leave behind the unforgettable music that has touched every generation since the 1960s.
Yet, what has always excited me about the Beatles’ story is how impossible it was that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr would ever become The Beatles. For one thing, they came from Liverpool – a northern port city that was more known for its comedians than its musicians. The thought that a band out of Liverpool could make it on the world’s stage was laughable. They wouldn’t even be able to make it to London! Moreover, the four Beatles came from extremely poor backgrounds (you might call Lennon’s upbringing middle class, but barely). They had no formal musical training, although McCartney’s father was a bandleader. Harrison wasn’t even eighteen when The Beatles left for Hamburg to begin their remarkable transformation. Starr spent more time in hospitals than in school.
What they lacked in formal training and parental support, they made up for with their curiosity, their wit, their enthusiasm, and their work ethic. And of course, their fantastic ears. All four of The Beatles individually and collectively soaked up all the music they could find – from jazz standards to American R&B and country & western. Teaching themselves to play instruments so that they could reproduce their favorite songs became a full-time passion. No other band playing the Cavern or the Reeperbahn had as extensive and varied a set list as The Beatles. No other band played as long and as hard, putting in their proverbial 10,000 hours with little sleep, little food, and a lot of amphetamines.
You couldn’t dream up a more unusual supporting cast than the people who helped the Beatles on their journey. There was Mona Best, the Indian-born housewife who used her surprise winnings at the racetrack to create a coffee club where her son and his friends could hang out. Her Casbah Club became one of the first places that the early Beatles could perform. Allan Williams, another club owner who ran a striptease joint on the side, became the Beatles first manager and helped them get their first Hamburg job. Bruno Koschmider, a former circus clown who hired the Beatles to turn his Hamburg strip club into a music club. Brian Epstein, a Jewish homosexual (in predominantly Catholic Liverpool) who had failed at every step (as a student, as an actor, as a data entry clerk) but somehow convinced the Beatles he could manage them and make them “bigger than Elvis.” George Martin, a classically trained producer who didn’t care much for pop music and whose Parlophone record label was on the verge of being shut down when he was introduced to the Beatles.
It is a fairy tale, full of twists and turns, and crazy coincidences. And it’s a tale that I explore in detail in my new film Deconstructing the Birth of the Beatles. From their teenage years in the late fifties until the time they record their first single in 1962, “Love Me Do,” Deconstructing the Birth of the Beatles explores the amazing events and fascinating characters that helped John, Paul, George, and Ringo on the long and winding road to becoming The Beatles.
Just in time for the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ White Album, Apple Corps has partnered with Hamilton lead producer Jeffrey Seller and the Second Stage Theater to bring a new musical to Broadway this Fall: Revolution 9, The Beatles Musical. Films and plays based on Beatles’ songs are nothing new — from Across the Universe to Cirque du Soleil’s Love. However, Revolution 9! The Beatles Musical takes a different approach. Rather than feature multiple Beatles songs, Revolution 9’s plot is based on a single song, “Revolution 9” from The Beatles’ 1968 self-titled album (commonly referred to as the White Album).
Like most musicians, the songs of the Beatles were my gateway to learning songwriting. As soon as I could find my way around the piano keyboard, I would spend time picking out the melodies and chords of “Let It Be,” “Yellow Submarine,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and so many more Beatles songs. I can remember playing Beatles chord sequences over and over again, trying to unlock the secrets of those memorable songs. Often, I would try and write my own songs using some trick I stole from the Fabs.
When I create my Deconstructing the Beatles lectures, I try and make them enjoyable for all viewers, whether they are musicians or not. But I’ve also longed to dive deeper into the songwriting of the Beatles, exploring some of the techniques they used to make their songs so memorable. Now, with Deconstructing the Beatles Chords and Progressions, I get to share some of the wonders of the Beatles’ songwriting.
Take a song like “Day Tripper.” It starts out like a straightforward 12-bar blues based around a great guitar riff. And many other songwriters would have stuck to the 12-bar blues pattern. But, not Lennon and McCartney. They extend the form, throwing in unexpected chords and creating heightened tension. The excitement of the bridge, where the Beatles hold onto a dominant chord for what seems an eternity, is an extension of what the Beatles learned from songs like “Twist and Shout” (the “ahs” that build before each verse) and then reproduced in songs like “Please Please Me” (“come on, come on”).
The Beatles would often blur tonality in their songs, shifting seamlessly between major and minor chords and moving entire sections of a song into a different key. Like Lennon and McCartney, Harrison used these techniques in songs like “Savoy Truffle.” It’s hard to figure out what key that song is in since it starts in E major, ends in G major, passing through E minor along the way. Looking closely at how Harrison creates this puzzle is fascinating.
All songwriters and musicians can learn a tremendous amount from the songwriting mastery of the Beatles. And Deconstructing the Beatles Chords and Progressions is a good way to start.
This November marks the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus.” Written primarily by John Lennon for the TV movie Magical Mystery Tour, “I Am The Walrus” features a cryptic Lennon lyric with a bizarre chorus, an innovative arrangement from producer George Martin that includes sprechgesang (don’t worry, I’ll define it in a moment), studio trickery from engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott, and an excerpt from Shakespeare’s King Lear. All of this adds up to create The Beatles’ psychedelic masterpiece. Here are ten things you may not know about “I Am The Walrus.”
Scott Freiman is our go-to Beatles expert here at CultureSonar and for good reason. Not only is he able to articulate the genius behind the Fab Four’s various compositions but his knowledge of music in general and The Beatles in particular is very, very deep. (They hired him at Yale, you know.) On the eve of the release of four Deconstructing The Beatles films exploring their landmark albums Sgt. Pepper’s…, Rubber Soul, Revolver and The White Album, we caught up with the esteemed lecturer with a quick online Q&A. Click here to learn more about the Deconstructing The Beatles films. (Enter PREFAB for your 10% discount.)
Q: You’ve filmed four multi-media presentations exploring four Beatles albums so far. Which record held the most surprises for you when you were researching it? How so?
A: I find surprises with every album I research. I had never realized the pressure The Beatles were under to record Rubber Soul. Thirty days in which they basically wrote, recorded, and mixed an entire album. And what an album! I loved uncovering the individual loops that were “live mixed” to create “Tomorrow Never Knows” on Revolver. Hearing the individual Indian instruments in “Within You, Without You” and juxtaposing them against Martin’s string arrangement made me gain a new appreciation for the song.
Q: I imagine your audience occasionally shares some fun facts. Was there a piece of trivia that a fan once shared at one of your Beatles lectures that really tickled you?
A: Many people tell me about their personal experiences seeing The Beatles in person or discovering their music. One of the best stories I heard was of a young girl visiting England who was invited to come to Abbey Road for a video shoot. It turned out to be the filming of the “Hey Jude” video. After the video, George Harrison offered to drive her home. She said no, but often wonders what it would have led to!
Q: What was it like teaching “The Beatles in the Studio” at Yale? Were most of the students hardcore fans coming in?
A: I had 15 students from all over the world. The students knew the majority of The Beatles’ music, but they had no historical context. To them, “Here Comes the Sun” and “I Saw Her Standing There” were all just Beatles songs. Throughout the class, I tried to show them how The Beatles evolved as a group. I worked them pretty hard, too. Each student wrote three musical analyses where they looked at a single song from multiple perspectives — history, recording, chord structure, song structure, etc. I learned quite a bit from my students!
Q: When did you realize you’d crossed over from being a Beatles fan to being a Beatles fanatic?
A: I’m not sure I would call myself a fanatic! I’m just someone who loves the creative process. When I first became a producer, I re-read some of my more technical Beatles books while listening to outtakes and early takes that I had collected. It was incredibly exciting to see songs and albums evolve. I never expected that my passion would interest so many people, but I’m thrilled it does!
Q: Do you have a favorite Beatles movie?
A: I’ve got two. A Hard Day’s Night is the obvious choice. Not only a great music film, but a remarkable piece of cinema, too. But, I have to also pick Yellow Submarine. I have great memories of watching it with my young children, and it helped to make them all Beatles fans like their Dad.
Q: What’s next for Deconstructing The Beatles?
A: We’ve already filmed three more lectures — one on the Birth of the Beatles, one on the 1963 Beatles, and one on Magical Mystery Tour. We’re hoping to get those to theaters in early 2018. We’re planning to film additional lectures next summer, including Abbey Road. And I’m just beginning work on a graphic novel about The White Album, which I am co-writing with one of my favorite Beatles authors, Kenneth Womack.
It may have a childlike spirit, but “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” reveals a fully mature songrwriter at the peak of his powers. Here’s an appreciation of that groundbreaking track.
Rubber Soul was a race against the clock, as The Beatles had only 30 days to write, record and mix an album — from scratch! That the result was a masterpiece makes the story even more remarkable. The latest film in the “Deconstructing The Beatles” series tells the tale.
The Beatles had “big ears” that were open to influences from all sorts of music — and it showed on their very first single. They were the first in Rock n’ Roll (we think) to use chord changes that later appeared everywhere.
Beatles enthusiasts rejoice! Early versions of “Sgt. Pepper” songs and new Fab Four tracks have been discovered…
When you think of The Beatles' Revolver, 12th-century religious music is probably not the first thing that leaps to mind. Here's one reason why it should.
The Zombies' 1968 masterpiece Odessey and Oracle - recorded at Abbey Road Studios - is more than just the big hit "Time of the Season." It shows just how deep Zombies really were. If you only know the hits, you need to check this out.
When we suggested a Hendrix connection to "A Day in the Life," you had A LOT to say about it. Here are some responses to the most frequent questions and comments.
The chord changes in "Hey Joe" may have helped Paul McCartney write the clever transition in "A Day in the Life." Plagal cadence, anyone?
The Next Beatles. It’s a phrase that has gotten tossed around a lot since the breakup of the world’s most famous band. For those bestowed with this accolade, it was a considerable compliment. Sometimes, it was also a curse. After all, who could possibly match the songwriting and musicianship of The Beatles, let alone their humor, camaraderie, and cultural influence? There never will be another Beatles, but there are bands that are “Beatlesque.” What makes a band “Beatlesque?” Almost every rock group (not to mention modern jazz and classical musicians) has been influenced by The Beatles, so we need to narrow the criteria. First of all, let’s eliminate other British Invasion bands that were coming up around the same time as The Beatles. That leaves out The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Zombies, and numerous others. Second of all, they’ve got to be a band — not just a singer/songwriter with a backing band. We’re looking for multiple songwriters and multiple vocalists. Three guitars and drums are ideal, although we’ll accept the occasional keyboard
There’s been a huge response to our post on 31 Concept Albums You May Have Missed. Many of you wrote in to suggest concept albums that we may have missed. So, if you haven’t had your fill of concept albums yet, here are the top readers’ choices based on the comments we received.
In February of 1967, The Beatles released a groundbreaking double A-side single. On one side was a Lennon song, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” that had been transformed in the studio thanks to the contributions of the other Beatles along with producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick. On the other side, was McCartney’s imaginary stroll down one of Liverpool’s main thoroughfares, “Penny Lane.”
Forty years ago, Stevie Wonder released a sonic masterpiece, Songs In The Key Of Life. Songs was one of the most ambitious albums ever with a gestation period of two years. The double album and bonus EP are a collection of thought-provoking lyrics, perfect performances, intricate arrangements, unforgettable melodies, and hooky choruses. Its existence is even more amazing when you consider that most of the instruments and vocals on the album were performed by the 26-year-old Wonder himself, working days without food or sleep
As long as there have been records, there have been concept albums. As early as Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, with its songs about lost love, Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass’ themed albums (Going Places, Whipped Cream and Other Delights), and Ella Fitzgerald’s Songbook albums, each dedicated to a specific songwriter or songwriting team, music lovers have always been drawn to an album with a unifying concept.
During the recording of Beatles for Sale, Paul McCartney was making polite conversation with his driver. “How’s it going?” asked Paul. “I’ve been working eight days a week,” responded the driver.