Aug 162007

A few of you have heard me rave about the 1971 German release of The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour in true stereo. A few of you have had a copy of this album foisted upon you by yours truly. The release was the first true stereo release of a Beatles album, and I believe it greatly benefits this cinematically conceived album.

In the coming days, I’ll be posting a track at a time from the German true stereo release. Each track will be posted as an .mp3 with full knowledge that this somewhat defeats your Moderator’s rare mind-meld with audiophiles. To further deflate any audiophile’s expectations, these .mp3s have been burned from my copy of the album. I take decent care of my albums – better than some, much worse than others. Despite these limitations, I’m confident that you’ll hear some of the differences from the original release and hopeful that you’ll feel some of the benefits of the true stereo mix.

I’ve been a fan of Magical Mystery Tour since receiving my standard US release as a boy, not too long after it came out. I’m still in awe of the cheesy booklet with stills from the BBC movie. Even seeing the movie a few times – a bit of letdown, at best – failed to dampen my enthusiasm. I’ve always liked it better than its celebrated and backlashed predecessor, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Magical Mystery Tour is loaded with cool playing, from Paul’s subsonic bass to George’s psychedelic guitar licks to the drumming style Ringo first touched on in the b-side “Rain”. John’s “Strawberry Fields” is never, for me, the single that, historically, preceded Sgt. Pepper, rather it’s the fantastic song that kicks off side 2. That’s how I grew up hearing it, and that’s how I’ll think of it. “I Am the Walrus” is also a show stopper. Long before I’d ever heard of standard-issue Roger Waters-led Pink Floyd (let alone the Syd version), Lennon blew my young mind.

In 1981, when a friend first played me the German, true stereo version of this childhood favorite, my mind was blown all over. The added space in these stereo mixes allowed for the appreciation of new textures. For more than any other Beatles album, I think the songs are constructed as textural pieces. The more the fabric of the songs rub up against you, the more there is to songs that, compared with previous Beatles releases, can sound like filler or retreads from prior releases.

This may sound preposterous to those of you who know me well, and I can understand why you might feel that way. Typically I hate the concept of remastered reissues that fundamentally change the way I hear mixes of songs I’d been hearing and loving for years. (Case in point: remastered reissues of Brian Jones-era Rolling Stones albums.) Also, typically, I’m loathe to buy the style over substance argument that allows people to go apeshit over Jellyfish records, but I’m not immune to loving a record almost solely for its style. (Case in point: The Pretty Things’ SF Sorrow.)

If this is all old news to you, sit back and enjoy the show – or lend a guiding hand to discussions that may follow. If this German release is new to you, I encourage you to check it out. Tomorrow you’ll find the album’s first track posted, the title track. Until then…


  25 Responses to “Magical Mystery Tour Reconsidered…In True Stereo”

  1. saturnismine

    looking forward to the mp3s, mod. thanks in advance.

    you know we feel differently about this record. i hear the beatles getting tired of psychedellia on mmt.

    so, if you don’t mind, a few comments in response to your essay:

    i hear a much greater variety of textures on the white album, where the beatles and george martin don’t always opt for the kitchen sink, as they do here.

    still, i agree with you about ringo’s drumming. very good point! he plays with a great ear for the textures you point out. it’s unbelievably subtle, and therefore vastly underrated.

    and “i am the walrus” might be one of the most uncompromisingly, viciously hallucinatory songs ever written. it’s a fucking masterpiece.

    that’s gotta count for something, right?

    question: how do you feel about the “title track”? i’m not playing devil’s advocate, or looking to make a monkey out of you. i’m genuinely curious. that song is rarely discussed. and since you’re a fan of the album, i’m wondering about your thoughts on it.

    roll up!

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    Similarly, I find the true stereo mixes of “Pet Sounds” done by Brian Wilson for the big boxed set to be wonderful improvements on the originals. That Kentonite masterpiece needs to sound as lush and orchestral as possible, and the new stereo mixes help.

  3. Mr. Moderator

    question: how do you feel about the “title track”?

    I will disclose my feelings on that track tomorrow morning. Stay tuned! I’m not copping out, but I’ll say my piece each morning and look forward to your comments. I think it will be fun and educational.

    I’ve never heard those stereo Pet Sounds mixes. Maybe, Hrrundi, we are catching a whift of a future “Reconsidered…” series?

  4. alexmagic

    The feel of them getting tired with psychedelia is definitely there, and I think that’s what I like so much about the album. There’s a real sense of the four of them being literally tired and worn out that runs through most of it, and the few songs – Paul’s for the most part, probably worth saving comment on them until they get posted – that don’t still have dark touches in there that come out more as you listen to them. The White Album’s my favorite, but Magical Mystery Tour feels like a necessary step to get to the latter’s hangover/jet-lag/coming home from four corners of the world appeal. I guess Magical Mystery Tour probably isn’t a great album, but I love just about all the songs.

    I’m also generally hesitant to consider re-mastered, re-mixed Beatles songs…I still subconsciously fill in the pops and skips from my parents’ copy of Pepper every time I listen to “Lovely Rita” and all that, and someone not paying attention can ruin whatever charms even something like “You Know My Name” has, like the Anthology version where they blew the goofy rhyming part. That said, I enjoyed the remastered Yellow Submarine songs when they did that for the movie re-release.

    Of all of them, “Magical Mystery Tour” might be the song that would benefit most from an update. Is it the worst-produced/mixed, officially-released full song they have? I still like it, especially the “satisfaction guaranteed” guitar parts and the Ringo-led breakdown that leads to the piano fadeout, but the trumpets always seem too “flown in” and mixed higher than everything else, like the audio equivalent of a ‘70s Doctor Who special effect.

  5. saturnismine

    alex, we’re very much on the same page…you have sensed my feelings on the title track. mod, i look forward to your comments, and i, too withheld my opinions because i suspected that they should be saved for a discussion of each individual song.

  6. Mr. Moderator

    Really, I don’t meant to squash any present or projected conversation. I’m going to be out of the country beginning tomorrow afternoon with only occasional access to the Halls of Rock, so I have front-loaded my thoughts on this album. I’m digging what I’m reading so far. I believe many of us will be on a similar page. Carry on as you wish!I’m sure there will be more to come each day, including a discussion of the food group that each song represents.

  7. meanstom

    Looking forward to this.

  8. sammymaudlin

    Gotta say that I don’t hear the “getting tired” thing or perhaps I’m just interpreting it differently. What I hear is an effortless mastering of the psychedelic pop song. Whereas Peppers sounds to me a struggle, MMT sounds like the drugs have fully kicked in and there is no struggling with it whatsoever. Just pure windowpane pop tones.

    In fact so effortless that for the first time perhaps on any Beatles album to that date, there is a sense of a “band” for me that frequently comes close to actual “jam” sounding. Or at least a Beatles version of the concept.

    In terms of what I personally consider psychedelia (and I’ve come to feel that this must be defined individually as everyone has a different psyche) I opt for the white album as the best. But in terms of what the mainstream concept of what psychedlic music is (which is likely part tickling the psyche and more part razzmatazz studio alchemy), MMT is tops head and shoulders over Peppers.

    I would take a single of Strawberry Fields over the entire LP of Peppers. I don’t give a shit if it was recorded during the Peppers sessions. It isn’t on the record.

    And I’ll take any, ANY, song on MMT over When I’m 64 and/or She’s Leaving Home.

    I’ll try and restrain myself here for the song by song but wanted to voice my deep appreciation for the album as a whole. I don’t understand why it is so maligned. Perhaps the upcoming days will enlighten me but I think it gets a bad rap. I think its a better album as a whole and song-for-song than Peppers. Not to malign Peppers as it is great and has huge cultural signifance but it was a stepping stone to the mind blowing MMT.

  9. saturnismine

    it’s more than just a little disingenuous, all this “strawberry fields is on mmt, therefore it belongs to mmt, not pepper” nonsense.

    “strawberry fields” and “penny lane” were the songs that sparked the pepper recording sessions.

  10. sammymaudlin

    it’s more than just a little disingenuous

    I understand this POV. I really do. But the fact that the songs are on MMT is undeniable. No?

  11. Personally, I’ve always wondered what SGT. PEPPER would have sounded like if those two songs hadn’t been yanked away by EMI execs for a single. Would have it stayed true to the original concept as a more personal, autobiographical record, like the Beatles’ PET SOUNDS. I strongly suspect I would like it much more in that incarnation.

  12. BigSteve

    I just went and checked the chronology for myself. The Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane single was released in Feb 67, the Sgt Pepper album in June 67, and the MMT album in late Nov 67.

    I was going to make my usual ‘you had to be there’ type comment, but things were happening so fast back then I don’t think anyone had this sense at the time about the clear precedence of the single, since the two songs came back around again on the album before the end of the year. And the argument I might make about MMT not really being an album but just a collection is undermined by the fact that almost all albums then were collections, since the album era was just beginning.

    It’s not like the movie had a unifying effect on the record — it wasn’t seen in the US till long after, and I gather it was shown a couple of times on the BBC and then disappeared. Reading up on it I can’t believe that movie is only an hour long. When I finally saw it seemed to meander endlessly. Maybe the photos included in the gatefold help(ed) to fix the image of the album in people’s minds too?

    My point is that I think this idea of thinking about whether MMT feels like an album is going to come up again. There will be advantages to thinking about the songs as separate entities, but most of us have experienced it as an album for a very long time. Also the UK release was a double EP, and the US album is I think the only case where the American version became the canonical one in the CD era.

    In the mp3 era will the album disassemble into its constituent parts again?

  13. saturnismine

    of course we can’t deny that “SF” and “PL” are on MMT.

    they’re physically on that album.

    but we cross a line when we talk about them as a part of mmt’s creative moment even though we know that they preceded even pepper. the beatles hadn’t even dreamed up the concept of mmt.

    so, as i said, to go on and on about how they’re a part of the mmt album, and therefore, they’re part of the reason why pepper isn’t as good as mmt smacks of disingenuousness to me.

    and believe me, i understand that people want to talk in terms of the listening experience when one platter is played as opposed to the other. but that leaves out what we know about what went into their making.

    the beatles were admittedly at sea with the movie concept, only produced five new songs to support it, and label execs had to come up with the idea of scrapping all those other songs together.

    are they great songs? sure! i LOVE them. and sequencing a collection of odds and ends is much easier to do when you have such great material laying around.

    but in the inspiration department mmt is light years behind pepper.

    and that has to count for alot, too.

    sammy, can you tell me which songs you hear them Jamming on?

  14. sammymaudlin

    Definitely valid when talking about inspiration to do so chronologically. I agree.

    As for the “jamming” (and it does need to be in quotes as isn’t like Almond Bros. jamming) I’ll try and call attention to it when I hear it over the course of the coming days.

    It might be better defined as a “looseness”.

  15. saturnismine

    cool, sammy.

    here’s why i asked:

    while people complain about pepper having so many bells and whistles, mmt has at least a comparable quantity, if not more.

    i’ve had to work hard to hear them PLAYING on mmt. it’s one of my favorite ways to listen to music, however…to hear the stuff that makes me see them playing in my mind’s eye.

    that’s why i commented about ringo in the song thread above. you can HEAR him!!

    but it’s harder for me to find that stuff on mmt than it is on pepper. for instance, “a little help” is basically a rhythm guitar, bass, and some drums, with very little else. so is the title track. “getting better”, with the exception of the bridge, which introduces a sitar, is relatively sparse compared to most of the mmt stuff, too.

    by comparison the mmt stuff is so tracked and double tracked and bounced and triple tracked that the fidelity suffers. why else would we need to hear the pristine german pressing in order to fully appreciate it?

    for that matter, my favorite mmt song is “flying”. it’s like a stoned out booker t. instrumental that does nice things with very little.

    i always like to listen with a new “head”, and so i was curious as to the parts of the record where you hear jamming, or as you say, “looseness”.

    this discussion will be rewarding, i’m sure. thanks for the response!

  16. BigSteve

    I was listening to the horns and thinking how unlike a rock or R&B horn section it is. I looked it up, and apparently it’s four trumpets. I was going to blame George Martin for the general whiteness (despite the fact that this is obviously from the Beatles’ most British period), and according to Wikipedia, one of the trumpeters finally wrote charts for the 4 of them, because they were trying to wing it and things weren’t coming together quickly enough.

    I’m wondering what’s up with the wind instrument multiples. Fool on the Hill has 3 flutes. Autumn Almanac had three trombones. Maybe the sound fits into a mix better or easier than a whole horn section or wind ensemble, which takes up more frequencies.

    And btw the barker at the beginning, what accent is that supposed to be? Is it ethnomusicological, as we were discussing the other day?

    The drums just sound so great, don’t they? Especially compared to the drums on their contemporaries’ records. Those other drummers must have thought, ‘why can’t I sound that good on our records, I guess Ringo is a genius too.’ Ringo was a fine drummer, but the engineering was brilliant too.

  17. mockcarr

    BigSteve, I’m beginning to think that’s another benefit of George Martin, because the Action’s drums (and everything else) are very clean too. However, it might just be Abbey Road or lack of extreme track bouncing. Having said that, I still enjoy many sludgey (Shel Talmy or otherwise) mid 60s Brit hits.

  18. saturnismine

    george martin CLAIMS to have been the engineer who invented cutting a hole in the front head of the kick drum for a clearer kick drum sound.

    i also hear it on stax stuff from about 65 on, however.

    certainly eddie kramer (who was present at beatles recording sessions) made great use of this technique on ‘axis bold as love’, where the kick drum suddenly comes through clearly, without any black noise or mud.

    bigSteve, it’s also evident from the literature that george martin was a more instructive (even invasive) producer than most, and often had ringo play patterns that he knew would suit the entire mix better and make the drums more audible.

    there are even instances where he’d have ringo go back and RECUT the drum track after the basic tracks AND overdubs had been laid down.

    this may shed some light on how perfect his drums sound at times.

  19. hrrundivbakshi

    I was just listening to the fine Action comp you gave me years ago, and thinking about how effing great it sounds. Georgie, all the way!

  20. hrrundivbakshi

    This is from Wikipedia, and I don’t get it, since I assure you these German mixes are vastly diferent from the CD versions I have. Boy, is this confusingly written:

    When standardising The Beatles’ releases for compact disc in the late 1980s, the American LP version (which was imported into the UK, peaked on the British album charts at #31 as an American import, and was issued by Parlophone Records in Britain in 1976) was included with the British album lineup instead of the British EP, with true stereo recordings replacing the earlier processed ones. (The true-stereo version of the Magical Mystery Tour LP was first issued in Germany in 1971, but the 1976 Parlophone issue used the Capitol masters with the fake stereo.) Capitol quietly reissued the Magical Mystery Tour LP using the German masters in the US with catalogue number C1-48061 in true stereo.

  21. hrrundivbakshi

    This does a fine job of *not* clearing things up:

  22. hrrundivbakshi

    Well, the answer seems to be in here somewhere. Seems the only *unique AND authentic* stereo mixes on Jim’s German pressing are “Penny Lane” and “Baby You’re a Rich Man.” In other words, Beatles-approved stereo mixes of the remaining songs were created and released in one form or another in the UK and the US. There were also bullshit stereo-ish things done, though by whom, when, and to which songs in particular I don’t know. The subjective assessment of the relative quality of these stereo mixes versus others is what’s relevant here, it seems.

    This whole “true stereo” label seems to be horsepoop.

  23. hrrundivbakshi

    Oops, meant to attach a geekfest URL to my last post:

  24. I’ve been listening to my CD of this in the car and will say that if they had the good sense to remove “Your Mother Should Know”, “Hello Goodbye”, “Penny Lane” from the sequence, it would hold together more as a really great late 60’s psych record. The three songs listed for me seem to much like a throw back to their older stuff. McCartney must have had doubts about his ideas and was playing it safe when they included these tracks…

    Just sayin’…

  25. BigSteve

    Mrclean, your comment reminds me that one of the weird things about 60s psychedelia was that it tended to be nostalgic rather than futuristic. You know, granny glasses and Edwardian suits and muttonchops and buckskin jackets. Not spacesuits. I think it was a reaction against the kind of progressivism that led to consumerism, which was seen as ‘plastic.’

    The MMT film was supposed to be based on the kind of bus tour families would take in the 20s. So that’s one excuse for the music hall-type numbers.

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