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notes on ...

Notes on "Magical Mystery Tour"


Notes on ... Series #122 (MMT)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: D Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Refrain | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Bridge (instrumental) | Verse (slower tempo) |
                  | Refrain | Refrain | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "Magical Mystery Tour", Track 1 (Parlophone CDP7 48062-2)
  Recorded: 25th-27th April, 3rd May 1967, Abbey Road 3
UK-release: 8th December 1967 (2-EP "Magical Mystery Tour")
US-release: 27th November 1967 (LP "Magical Mystery Tour")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note This song works so effectively as the "overture" to both the film and EP for which it is was written by virtue of its upbeat, yet somewhat stuffy, stylized pomp-and-circumstance production values.
  Next note The relative sparseness of the raw materials used in this track provide a subtle clarity to the music that allows a novel harmonic trick in the key structure, which otherwise might be lost in the background, to stay right in your face where it belongs.
  Next note Rhythmic motifs and shifts of tempo are also used on this track toward formally articulative ends, something you don't find much in the work of the Beatles, at least to this point of their career.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note We've got yet another example of high center of gravity with respect to home key in the way the song is in D Major, judging from its beginning and ending, yet so much of it "sounds" like its in the key of E Major. By uncanny coincidence, we find a lot of the same ambiguity here between I and V-of-V that we saw last time in "I Am The Walrus"! You may also want to take a look at "Drive My Car"; the latter exploits tonal ambiguity between keys that involve a different "relationship" but the general strategy being pursued is analogous and worthy of parallel study.
  Next note The refrain has what you'd call a "tune", but the verses are melodically built more out of a wallpaper-plus-antiphony effect.


  Next note The original backing track has an almost acoustic, folk-rock sound to it created by those energetically strummed rhythm guitar chords on the downbeats of each verse measure, but this stands in strange contrast to the pomposo trumpets of the refrains, and the cocktail lounge feeling given to the instrumental bridge and the outro: a good example of nouvelle cuisine in the early Late Period.
  Next note The vocals are primarily in a block three-part harmony that was recorded slow in order to sound high, fast, and strident on playback, an effect that mixes nicely with the trumpets.
  Next note The panning effect of the coach motor is embarrassingly obvious but also sufficiently unprecedented for the group that we are obligated to mention it it any event.
  Next note Note how rhythm and tempo assist here in the articulation of form:
  • Intro: dotted rhythm of dum-da-dum with the emphasis on beats "one" and "three".
  • Verse: hard driven four in the bar with emphasis on beats "two" and "four".
  • Refrain: non-dotted emphasis on beats "one" and "three".
  • Second half of the song (following the instrumental): in a tempo approximately half the speed of the first half!
  Next note The trumpet part is arranged with typical attention to detail:
  • The dotted note figure played by them in the intro returns at the end of each refrain.
  • The accelerating repeated note figure in the middle of the refrain starts out as eighth notes changing to sixteenth notes (hard on the tongue!), but in the slower half of the song, this changes to quarter notes and a partial doubling of the vocal's slow triplets on the phrase "dying to take you away ..."
  • For the second and third verse, only, the trumpets play a simple octave on the note E on every third beat.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is six measures long, but is to be parsed as a four-measure phrase rhetorically extended on behalf of Paul's ranting carnival barker:
                                     ------------ 2X -------------
      |D             |A             |E             |-             |
   D:  I              V              V-of-V

   or is it

   E:  flat-VII       IV             I

   [Figure 122.1]
  Next note The serious tonal ambiguity of the overall song is manifest right here at the beginning; do we start on the I chord and end on V-of-V, or is this a variation on the "Hey Jude"-chord progression that starts on flat-VII and ends on I?

First Verse

  Next note The verse is sixteen measures long and built out of a vamp-like four-fold repetition of the same phrase:
       --------------------------- 4X ----------------------------
      |E             |-             |G             |A             |
   E:  I                             flat-III       IV
                                 D:  IV             V

   [Figure 122.2]
  Next note The I -» flat-III progression contains a tangy cross-relation the Boys had always liked. Take a look back at "Please Please Me" (in the same key, no less), though it's far from the only example you'll find in the canon. You sense the home key as being E Major at this point by virtue of repetitive insistence more than anything else; note that the V chord is avoided here.
  Next note The "roll-up" phrase is sung in all four phrases of the verse. The latter pair of phrases are punctuated by a fanfare-like antiphonal phrase sung, respectively by John, George, and Paul in that order. In the interest of avoiding foolish consistency, George offers a talking blues lick in place of the arpeggioed figure the others sing.


  Next note The refrain is a straightforward eight measures in length. The home key pivots on the A Major chord at the end of the verse into D Major which is clearly established in this section by a complete V -» I cadence that is somewhat ponderously set up by the descending bassline:
 Bassline: |D           |C-natural   |B           |Bb          |
   Chords: |D           |-           |G           |g           |
        D:  I            V4/2 of IV   IV6/3        iv6/3

           |A           |A           |D           |-           |
           |D           |A           |D           |-           |
            I6/4         V            I
                                  E:  flat-VII

   [Figure 122.3]
  Next note You cannot avoid feeling that the descending bassline is used in this case, in part, for its purely climactic cliché value. But take a look at the much earlier "Any Time At All" (in the same key, no less!) where I dare say they are using it in all sincerity for its connotations of the fatefully inevitable.

Instrumental Bridge

  Next note The mood suddenly, briefly changes in this ten-measure bridge into something like cocktail lounge or stage band music:
      |B           |-           |f           |-           |
   E:  V                         ii7

                                              1  2  3& 4  |
      |B           |-           |f#          |-      G#   |
       V                         ii7

      |A           |B           |
       IV           V

   [Figure 122.4]
  Next note Harmonically, we veer back in the direction of E Major, with its V chord that was missing earlier making an appearance.
  Next note Your expectations are slow/fast/slow fooled in this section, primarily the result of the harmonic rhythm. At the start of this bridge, not only is the arrangement taken down a notch, but also the harmonic rhythm slows down to chord changes every other measure. When the last two measures shift back to a chord change every measure, introduced as they are by that syncopated G# in the bassline of the previous measure, you feel thrown into over drive. But the latter feeling doesn't last long, since the tempo is then slowed down again starting with the next verse.


  Next note The climactic gesture of the refrain is compounded by its two-fold repetition at the end.
  Next note The outro is an even more intensely lounge-like passage than the earlier bridge. The only chord in this section is the D-Major home key chord over which were are treated to piano noodling and some gentle windchimes or bells.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note I consider the album recording as authoritative for purpose of our studies, though the film version rates a couple of footnotes:
  • Paul uses a different "voice" for the spoken part of the intro and the spiel itself is a bit different; "hurry, hurry ..."
  • Rhythmic emphasis by the drums of patterns on the off-beat are mixed more prominently.
  • The bridge includes a curiously bored-sounding voice over from John followed by some applause that is abruptly terminated at the end.
  • The final sections include extra appearances of the coach noises and the applause returns for the outro.
  Next note One rough edge of a detail that surprisingly sounds the same in both mixes is the "mystery tour ..." backing vocal heard in the first half of the bridge. In each case, it sounds abruptly terminated from the mix, and the small part we do get to hear sounds sloppily declaimed out of unison. I think this is one of the more intriguing mysteries this side of the infamous "Day Tripper" Gap. Anyone have a primary source to which we may refer?
  Alan (120296#122)
Copyright © 1996 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.