It is generally agreed that, in London, the swinging 60s began with a series of posh dinner parties attended by eleven people, nine of whom had wealthy parents. Paul McCartney was one of the two working class oiks allowed in and no one can quite remember who the other one was.
There is however, an ongoing debate on when “the dream of the 60s” died.
For some it is the killing of Meredith Hunter by The Hells Angels during The Rolling Stones Concert at Altamont.
For others it is the slaughter of students at Kent State.
There is a case to be made that the murders of Robert Kennedy and MLK are both moments when “the dream” died.
But maybe the 60s ended in a much less dramatic manner. Could it be that “the dream of the 60s” was killed by the Magical Mystery Tour?
Paul McCartney found his calling for a few heady months in 1967, as a rocking psychedelic compere. On the first track of Sgt. Pepper, Paul energetically screamed that we should listen to the band, which brought the volume down a notch and winkingly suggested that we “sit back and let the evening go.”
On a mystery trip, of course.
The song was an overture for the first “concept” album and everyone bought it.
The idea Paul came up with for Sgt. Pepper was a neat one – the Beatles opened the album with a hard hitting song that grabbed the listener and told them they were going to go places with the band that they have never been before and have a great time for the next half hour or so.
It wasn’t a particularly big idea, but it was kind of fun and new.
Well, what does this have to do with the Magical Mystery Tour?
The month after the Beatles finished the iconic and eponymous Sgt. Pepper (March 6th, 1967), and well before the album even came out (June 1st, 1967), Paul was already onto the next album opener, which, like Sgt. Pepper, would provide the title for the album it introduced.
So, only five days after The Beatles mixed the Sgt. Pepper Reprise they began recording Magical Mystery Tour.
Magical Mystery Tour thus was really "Sgt. Pepper II”.
Paul obviously loved the idea of opening an album with a three or four chord rocker where he could play the carnival barker and commandeer the title for the album.
So Paul put his new song on the table, Magical Mystery Tour, and it is essentially the same song as “Sgt. Pepper.”
Think about it.
First Paul is yelling in February and March, 1967 that we should “hear the show”, here it comes, “let the evening go”, and then he is yelling (in an even higher pitch) in April, 1967 that we should “roll up” and be taken away by the “mystery trip,”.
In Sgt. Pepper we hear the crowds; in Magical Mystery Tour we can’t hear them, but that’s only because they are now in the bus – but we can hear the bus just fine as it pans from one ear to the other. Headphones, anyone?
It was already a formula in 1967, John must have noticed but at that point he was entirely occupied with other matters, probably smiled vaguely and concentrated on growing his moustache, completely engrossed in his own inner space.
The song itself, sharing as it does genetic material with Sgt. Pepper, is also a hard rocker, well, as hard rocking as the Beatles could be 1967, and it mixes strummed chords, horns, and a beautiful three part block harmony just like – well, you know.
Paul had reverted to hackery instead of invention. There was no need for The Monkees to copy The Beatles because The Beatles had already ripped themselves off. Pop was beginning to eat itself
The promise of being taken on another trip was, quite frankly, dull. The movie was awful and the reaction negative.
It is possible that the reason Sgt. Pepper was such a massive commercial success was that the masses wanted a leader and the unconscious message heard by The Great Unwashed was “The Beatles will lead you”.
But no one in The Beatles wanted to lead anyone. They were about to enter a stage of following and exploring in a messy, beautiful, idiosyncratic way. And thank Krishna they did.
So instead of revolution we got entertainment. Instead of the Khmer Rouge we got the iPad. And instead of a call to arms to overthrow “The Man” we got a re-working of a previous hit. Which is probably no bad thing.
But hey, it was the Beatles, it was Magical Mystery Tour, and it’s great.
Time to roll up, indeed.
Our version of Magical Mystery Tour is recorded in the 35-year-old tradition of Punk Rock. Aylam and Noam of The Historians added layer after layer of cruelly tortured, loud, ill-mannered guitars. The lyric, translated into Hebrew by Aylam loses its gentle English whimsy and is replaced by a casual brutality that one can only bow down before.
Where is their mystery tour going? We have no idea but it is probably wise to keep out of its way.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
The Historians were formed in 1993 in Tel Aviv, Israel, by Aylam Orian and Noam Knoller who met at Tel Aviv University Film School (or rather did Aylam put an ad in the local newspaper? Not sure…). In between making their student films, they played with a changing cast of musicians, managed to record some songs for a demo tape (An audiocassette! Ahhh… those were the days!), and then disbanded. In 2007, they decided to reunite. Why not? Aylam, now sporting an acting career in New York, and Noam, sporting an academic career in Amsterdam (plus a wife and 3 kids – who would have thunk??) have come back together to remaster some of the old recordings, and record the fresh Amsterdam Demos (this time not on a cassette tape!). The result: juicy punk rock… in Hebrew!