A Magical Mystery Tour: It’s All Too Much

I was going to write something about the Beatles festival on BBC 2 at the weekend – the first TV screening of Magical Mystery Tour since 1967, an Arena documentary about the making of the film, plus a workmanlike survey by Stuart Maconie of the cultural context of the Beatles first release, Love Me Do, in 1962. But Fred Garnett has done such an excellent job on his blog that I thought I’d simply repost his superb survey of this cultural artefact that

captured the spirit of its time and, yet again, provided another cultural breakthrough … this surreal slice of English holiday nostalgia inspired by The Goons … a fantastic cheery summer of love trip …

Suffice it for me to say that this overview rivals the Arena documentary for its musical perceptiveness, noting that

it was fuelled by several factors as well as a belief in the value of the psychedelic consciousness, not least being nostalgia for the good old days out of their childhood.

whilst at the same time

It responded to many aspects of the sixties avant-garde (it’s real crime I guess); surrealism, Goonery, experimentation, playing with form.

Best of all, Fred reminds us of that great overlooked psychedelic masterpiece, ‘It’s All Too Much’, which ranks alongside the Beatles greatest psychedelia – Strawberry Fields Forever, I Am The Walrus, Tomorrow Never Knows, and Rain.

One last thing … Fred he mentions a really interesting TV programme, presented by musical expert Howard Goodall, in which he analyses the technical reasons why The Beatles were so great.  Watch it in six parts on YouTube here.

Footnote: Jarvis Cocker on The Beatles:

The whole point of the Beatles is that they were ordinary. Four working-class boys from Liverpool who showed that not only could they create art that stood comparison with that produced by “the establishment” – they could create art that pissed all over it. From the ranks of the supposedly uncouth, unwashed barbarians came the greatest creative force of the 20th century. It wasn’t meant to be that way. It wasn’t officially sanctioned. But it happened – and that gave countless others from similar backgrounds the nerve to try it themselves. Their effect on music and society at large is incalculable.

Love Me Do: first faint chime of a revolutionary bell

According to Robert McCrum, writing in The Observer last week, ‘the 60s arrived with the sound of a bluesy ‘dockside harmonica’: the launch of ‘Love Me Do’ on Friday 5 October. The Beatles’ raw working-class candour, mixed with Lennon’s riff, went into the nation’s teenage bloodstream like a drug. Well, we do love our anniversaries, and journalists love a neat turning point.

But it didn’t seem like that at the time – and anyway ‘Love Me Do’ didn’t enter the charts until 15 December, rose only to number 17 and remained in the Top 20 for only two weeks.  I had turned 14 that year, addicted to Radio Luxembourg and the pop charts.  My memory – for what it’s worth – is that ‘Love Me Do’, while interesting and catchy, didn’t stand out that much from a lot of the other stuff in the charts at the time.  It was to be another five years before I came to Liverpool as an undergraduate, but for older teenagers already familiar with the Beatles’ shows at the Cavern, ‘Love Me Do’ was a pale shadow of what they sounded like live.

In fact, the week that ‘Love Me Do’ was released the nation’s teenagers were getting high on the space-age sound of ‘Telstar’ by The Tornados, the record named after the Telstar, the first communications satellite, which had been launched into orbit on 10 July that year. Written and produced by Joe Meek, the effects were created in Meek’s recording studio in a small flat above a shop in Holloway Road, North London.  Coincidentally, Our World, the first live, international television broadcast to be relayed by satellite, which was broadcast on 25 June 1967 to what was the largest worldwide TVaudience ever at the time, featured The Beatles performing ‘All You Need Is Love’.

Back in December 1962 when ‘Love Me Do’ entered the charts, the big hits were ‘Lovesick Blues’ by Frank Ifield, ‘Swiss Maid’ by Del Shannon and Elvis’s ‘Return To Sender’ – The Beatles first single sounded fresher than that lot. John Lennon’s wailing harmonica, the first sound we heard on ‘Love Me Do’, was unusual but not unprecedented – it sounded a lot like the one on Bruce Channel’s ‘Hey Baby’ that had risen to number 2 back in April. The harmonica on that record had been played by Delbert McClinton; the Beatles shared a bill with Channel and McClinton at the Tower Ballroom in Wallasey on 21 June 1962.

What I’m getting at here is that, unless you had seen The Beatles live, at the end of 1962 they sounded good – but not that good.  All that changed in March 1963 when ‘Please Please Me’ roared up the charts.  What I really remember, in the months of Beatlemania that followed, is the truly shocking, raw sound of ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Twist and Shout’ blasting from the radiogram as we listened to Two-Way Family Favourites on the Light Programme. That’s when the sixties began.

According to Ian Macdonald’s brilliant and vital Revolution In The Head, ‘Love Me Do’ was made up by McCartney while sagging off from the Liverpool Institute four years earlier.  He wasn’t sure how to finish it and showed it to Lennon, who may have contributed the ‘rudimentary middle eight’.  The song was recorded – along with awful Mitch Murray song, ‘How Do You Do It’ (eventually palmed off on Gerry Marsden’s outfit) – in EMI’s Abbey Road studios on 4 September 1962.

George Martin was producing, and liked the sound – apart from Ringo’s drumming, the problem being that his drumming was actually looser than was considered acceptable at the time.  So it was re-recorded a week later with an EMI session musician on drums.

Despite what I’ve said about my memory of hearing ‘Love Me Do’ at the time, Ian Macdonald averred that it sounded ‘the first faint chime of a revolutionary bell. A new spirit was abroad: artless yet unabashed – and awed by nothing’.  I’ve come across no better description of the spirit of the sixties.