Today the Magical Mystery Tour double EP went on sale in the UK. I recently acquired one of these, and I must say it is quite a nifty little item: two 7-inch discs containing three songs each and a 28-page full-color booklet with lyrics, pictures, and cartoons.

As for the music itself, says Bob Spitz,

Whispers of dissatisfaction murmured through the underground ranks. Knocks like “trivial” and “soft” accompanied reviews.

And this is not unfair. Taken on its own, the EP release contains only one indisputable stone classic, “I Am the Walrus” — which is also the only John song. Of the rest,

  • The title track is infectious and fun, if not exactly revolutionary. My main quibble, as stated previously, is that it overpromises — to differing degrees depending on the context in which you hear it.
  • “Your Mother Should Know” is a rooty-tooty Paul number that I could do without.
  • “Flying” is a rare bird in the Beatles catalog — an instrumental composed by all four Beatles. Some consider it a throwaway; I personally am disproportionately fond of it.
  • “Blue Jay Way” is a worthy, if failed, experiment. I appreciate what George was trying to do here, but I’m ready for it to be over long before it is.
  • As for “The Fool on the Hill,” this is one I have a hard time making my mind up about. It is a lovely melody, well played, well mixed…but something about it whispers “trivial” and “soft.”

Meanwhile, in a lovely bit of symmetry, this second Friday in December also saw the release of the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request. Generally considered the Stones’ answer to Sgt. Pepper, Satanic Majesties is as far as they went into psychedelia; after this they decided that it was not their metier and made the much bluesier Beggars Banquet.

Stones fans tend to dismiss Satanic Majesties, and the Stones themselves are not overly fond of it: Keith calls it “a load of crap” (more or less his opinion of Sgt. Pepper as well), while Mick says “There’s a lot of rubbish on Satanic Majesties. Just too much time on our hands, too many drugs, no producer to tell us, ‘Enough already, thank you very much, now can we just get on with this song?’ ”

And yes, Satanic Majesties meanders down some roads to nowhere, and is the only Stones album that could accurately be described as “twee.” But it is not without its merits. It has some great songs, from the relatively well-known “She’s a Rainbow” and “2000 Light Years from Home” to hidden gems like “The Citadel” and “In Another Land.” AllMusic’s Richie Unterberger says:

Without a doubt, no Rolling Stones album – and, indeed, very few rock albums from any era – split critical opinion as much as the Rolling Stones’ psychedelic outing. Many dismiss the record as sub-Sgt. Pepper posturing; others confess, if only in private, to a fascination with the album’s inventive arrangements, which incorporated some African rhythms, Mellotrons, and full orchestration. What’s clear is that never before or after did the Stones take so many chances in the studio…In 1968, the Stones would go back to the basics, and never wander down these paths again, making this all the more of a fascinating anomaly in the group’s discography.

Like Sgt. PepperSatanic Majesties is as famous for its cover as for its music. The cover image is “lenticular” (3D), appearing to move according to the angle from which you view it. The faces of all four Beatles are also hidden on the cover. And this brings us down for a soft landing, so I’ll leave you with one last factoid: the working title of this album was Cosmic Christmas. Have a Satanic Christmas, everybody!

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