- This vintage German pressing earned outstanding Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- Some of the best Beatles sound money can buy – Geoff Emerick, Eddie Kramer and Ken Scott all deserve kudos for their fine work here
- Wonderfully Tubey Magical sound for I Am The Walrus, Strawberry Fields Forever, The Fool On The Hill, Baby You’re A Rich Man, Penny Lane and more
- Until you play one of these True Stereo German pressings, you can’t have heard MMT sound as big and lively as this LP – we guarantee it
- A Top 100 album and Psych Masterpiece that still knocks us out to this day
The soft cardboard covers for these German pressings almost always show some seam wear. We will include the best cover we have at the time. Of course your satisfaction is always guaranteed.
Drop the needle on Fool On The Hill and you’ll see why we get so worked up over top copies that sound as good as this one does. This is a STUNNING recording, but you need a killer Hot Stamper pressing to appreciate just how well recorded the album is.
This German pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What the best sides of this Beatles Post-Pepper Psych Classic have to offer is not hard to hear:
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1967
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
What We’re Listening For on Magical Mystery Tour
Smoother and sweeter sound, with less of the grit and congestion that cause a host of problems on most of the copies we play.
A bigger presentation – more size, more space, more room for all the instruments and voices to occupy. The bigger the speakers you have to play this record the better.
More bass and tighter bass. This is fundamentally a rock record. It needs weight down low to rock the way Ken Scott, Geoff Emerick and Eddie Kramer wanted it to.
Present, breathy vocals. A veiled midrange is the rule, not the exception.
Good top end extension to reproduce the harmonics of the instruments and other details of the recording, especially the studio ambience.
Last but not least, balance. All the elements from top to bottom should be heard in harmony with each other. Take our word for it, assuming you haven’t played a pile of these yourself, balance is not always easy to find.
Our best copies will have it though, of that there is no doubt.
Turn It Up Man!
Of course Magical Mystery Tour is yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn It Up, so just do it! You’ll be glad you did.
It’s also right up at the top of our Rock and Pop Top 100 List. The Beatles have six titles on our list, the most of any single group or artist, which is only fitting: the hottest Hot Stamper copies of this album are Sonic Blockbusters the likes of which most audiophiles — especially the ones who don’t own top quality turntables — have never experienced. It just doesn’t get much better on LP than Magical Mystery Tour. (We criticize The Beatles on CD in a number of our Hot Stamper commentaries. The long and the short of it: they mostly suck.)
Size and Space
One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.
We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation.
Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have ever gotten to hear a copy that sounded that open and clear. And how many even dedicated audiophiles would have more than one of two clean German copies with which to do a shootout? These records are expensive and hard to come by in good shape. Believe us, we know whereof we speak when it comes to getting hold of audiophile quality import pressings of Classic Rock albums.
One further point needs to be made: most of the time these very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy do what this copy can, it’s an entirely different – and dare I say unforgettable — listening experience.
Click on the Track Listing tab above for track by track commentary that goes on for days. We discuss in detail what we’re listening for and what the best copies do well that the run-of-the-mill copies simply cannot. If you own a copy of the German MMT plays yours and listen for what we’re listening for. It’s all there in the track commentary.
Magical Mystery Tour
The fact that this is a key track should be obvious to anyone who has ever played the album. If you don’t have a good copy of the MMT this song will take your head off. Only the German pressings have any real hope of getting it right — the MOFI, British, Japanese, domestic, etc. are uniformly awful in my experience: aggressive and irritating, the worst being the MOFI I would guess.
The German ones break down into three groups – too smooth; just right; and a bit bright or thin. Now remember, almost every copy of this record I played had the exact same stamper numbers. You can’t tell one from another except by dropping the needle on them. There is no visual clue on the record to associate with the sound, no possibility of bias. What comes out of the speakers is all I had to go by.
And it’s easy to confuse the overly smooth ones with the best ones, because on the song MMT smooth is a good thing . But when is smooth too smooth? That’s where track two comes in.
The Fool On The Hill
This song is full of airy flutes, woodwinds and the like. They should sound harmonically extended, delicate and sweet. We talked about the sound of the flutes on another record recently, Blood, Sweat & Tears. It’s as a good a test for this album as it is for that one.
Having said that, what separates the killer copies from the merely excellent ones is the quality of the flute sound. When you can hear the air going through the flute, and follow the playing throughout the song, you have a superbly transparent copy with all the presence and texture of the best. If the flute sounds right Katz’s voice will too. The sound will be Demonstration Quality of the highest order. Want to shoot out two different copies of this album on side one? Easy. Just play this track and see which one gets the flute right.
On the best copies Paul’s voice is amazingly present. You should feel as though you could reach out and touch him. Which means there are two basic elements to listen for in this song, both of which must be proportional and balanced. First, the flutes must sound open and airy. Then, Paul’s voice must retain its lower-midrange body and warmth without sounding veiled or thick in any way, yet have excellent presence. Not too many copies, maybe one out of ten, can really pull it off. It’s amazing when they do though!
If the first track is alive but not aggressive, and Fool sounds the way I describe it above, the only thing left is The Walrus Test. Feel free to skip to the last track if you like.
Blue Jay Way
Your Mother Should Know
This song is a lot like Fool — it’s all about how full and present Paul’s voice is as long as the highs are extended and open and the tape hiss (of which there is plenty) sounds correct.
I Am The Walrus
The fact that this song evolved into a good test for side one came as a complete surprise to me. I never really took this track seriously from an audiophile point of view. But as I was listening to the various copies, I noted that the opening cellos and basses in the right channel were often tonally identical from copy to copy, but sounded quite a bit more lively and energetic on some pressings compared to others. Was it EQ? Level?
As I tried to puzzle it out, playing first one copy and then another, it became clear to me what was happening. The cellists and the bassists were just plain digging HARDER into the strings on the best copies. When you see live classical music, the cellists at the front of the orchestra are usually sawing away with abandon when the music is really going. They dig their bows hard into the strings to make them vibrate as loud as possible. To make their instruments heard in the back row it becomes a matter of muscle, of pure physical exertion.
So armed with the copies where the string players are working the hardest, I checked the other tracks. Sure enough, the opening cut, MMT, jumped out of the speakers with the most energy I had heard on any copy. As I went through the tracks one by one, they had the most life of any of the copies I had been listening to. To use a word that was popular at the time, the music was HAPPENING.
This was the final piece to the puzzle. Tonality always comes first. Frequency extension; lack of distortion; rich, powerful bass — these are important qualities as well. But the life of the music is in the micro and macro dynamics, and that is what I had not been paying sufficient attention to in the shootout. That was until I listened to Walrus and heard the players working up a good healthy sweat. Then I knew I had a hot stamper. And when I played the not so hot stampers, the string guys sounded like session musicians picking up a paycheck. Where was their passion? Didn’t they realize they were making a Classic?
If you get the right pressing they sure were!
Pretty bright as a rule on even the best copies. It will also tend to be slightly aggressive. I wouldn’t feel confident judging most copies by this track. Having said that, if everything else afterwards sounds right, this song should be working at its best too.
Strawberry Fields Forever
Should be right on the money tonally. One of the best sounding tracks on side 2. It’s very unlikely you have EVER heard Strawberry Fields Forever sound like this. Amazingly sweet and spacious. Practically Demo Disc Quality.
Penny Lane has a HUGE amount of upper midrange and high frequency information that is difficult to master properly. If you get a copy that does not have the extreme highs that are needed to balance out the more aggressive upper midrange information, Penny Lane will tear your head off.
Baby You’re A Rich Man
This track should be Demo Disc Quality on the real Hot Stamper pressings. As I was playing this song for the shootout, the thought occurred to me that if I had one track to play to someone to demonstrate what a thrill it is to have a big, expensive stereo, it would be hard to pick a better song than Baby You’re A Rich Man. The only other one that occurs to me off the top of my head is Sergio Mendes’ For What It’s Worth off of Stillness. The sound is wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling and BIG as LIFE. You can’t do that with screens and you can’t do that with smaller speakers and their smaller drivers. Once you’ve heard that sound it’s hard to get too excited about anything else.
All You Need Is Love
Another one that is on the thin and bright side. The mix the Germans picked for their MMT sounds like it isn’t quite finished to these ears.
After the death of manager Brian Epstein, the Beatles took a series of rather poor turns, the first of which was the Magical Mystery Tour film. Conceived as a low-key art project, the Beatles were oddly nonchalant about the challenges of putting together a movie. They’d assembled records, they’d worked on A Hard Day’s Night and Help!– how hard could it be? Without Epstein to advise, however, things like budgeting and time management became a challenge, and this understated experimental film turned into a sapping distraction.
Musically, however, the accompanying EP was an overwhelming success. The EP format apparently freed the band to experiment a bit, not having to fill sides of a 45 with pop songs or make the grand statements of an album. The title track is a rousing set piece, meant to introduce the travelogue concept of the film. The remaining four songs released exclusive to the EP are low-key marvels– Paul McCartney’s graceful “The Fool on the Hill” and music-hall throwback “Your Mother Should Know”, George Harrison’s droning “Blue Jay Way”, and the percolating instrumental “Flying”. Few of them are anyone’s all-time favorite Beatles songs, only one had a prayer of being played on the radio, and yet this run seems to achieve a majesty in part because of that: It’s a rare stretch of amazing Beatles music that can seem like a private obsession rather than a permanent part of our shared culture.
As a more laid-back release, the EP suggested the direction the band might have taken on the White Album had it remained a full band, happy to shed the outsized conceptualism and big statements and craft atmospheric, evocative pieces. In the U.S., the EP was paired with three recent double-sided singles, ballooning Magical Mystery Tour into an album– the only instance in which a U.S. release, often mangled by Capitol, became Beatles canon. With only the EP’s title track married specifically to the film’s themes, the overall effect of a title track/album sleeve as shell game was in line with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Of the three singles, the undisputed highlight is “Strawberry Fields Forever”/ “Penny Lane”, John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s tributes to their hometown, Liverpool. Slyly surreal, assisted by studio experimentation but not in debt to it, full of brass, harmonium, and strings, unmistakably English– when critics call eccentric or baroque UK pop bands “Beatlesesque,” this is the closest there is to a root for that adjective. There is no definitive Beatles sound, of course, but with a band that now functions as much as a common, multi-generational language as a group of musicians, it’s no surprise that songs rooted in childhood– the one experience most likely to seem shared and have common touchpoints– are among their most universally beloved.
The rest of the singles collected here are no less familiar: Lennon’s “All You Need Is Love” was initially completed up for an international TV special on BBC1– its basic message was meant to translate to any language. Harrison’s guitar solo, producer George Martin’s strings, and the parade of intertextual musical references that start and close the piece elevate it above hippie hymn. Its flipside, “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, is less successful, a second-rate take on John Lennon’s money-isn’t-everything theme from the considerably stronger “And Your Bird Can Sing”. It’s the one lesser moment on an otherwise massively rewarding compilation.
Much better from Lennon is “I Am the Walrus”, crafted for the Magical Mystery Tour film and EP but also released as a double-sided single with McCartney’s “Hello Goodbye”. One of Lennon’s signature songs, “Walrus” channels the singer’s longtime fascinations with Lewis Carroll, puns and turns of phrase, and non sequiturs. “Hello Goodbye” echoes the same contradictory logic found in the verses of “All You Need Is Love”, a vague sense of disorientation that still does little to balance its relentlessly upbeat tone. McCartney excelled at selling simplistic lyrics that risk seeming cloying, though, and he again does here– plus, the kaleidoscopic, carnival-ride melody and interplay between lead and backing vocals ensure it’s a much better record than it is a song.
In almost every instance on those singles, the Beatles are either whimsical or borderline simplistic, releasing songs that don’t seem sophisticated or heavy or monumental (even though most of them are). In that sense, they’re all like “All You Need Is Love” or childhood memories or Lewis Carroll– easy to love, fit for all ages, rich in multi-textual details, deceptively trippy (see Paul’s “Penny Lane” in particular, with images of it raining despite blue skies, or the songs here that revel in contradictions– “Hello Goodbye”‘s title, the verses in “All You Need Is Love”). More than any other place in the band’s catalogue, this is where the group seems to crack open a unique world, and for many young kids then and since this was their introduction to music as imagination, or adventure. The rest of the Magical Mystery Tour LP is the opposite of the middle four tracks on the EP– songs so universal that, like “Yellow Submarine”, they are practically implanted in your brain from birth. Seemingly innocent, completely soaked through with humor and fantasy, Magical Mystery Tour slots in my mind almost closer to the original Willy Wonka or The Wizard of Oz as it does other Beatles records or even other music– timeless entertainment crafted with a childlike curiosity and appeal but filled with wit and wonder.
On the whole, Magical Mystery Tour is quietly one of the most rewarding listens in the Beatles’ career. True, it doesn’t represent some sort of forward momentum or clear new idea– largely in part because it wasn’t conceived as an album. The accompanying pieces on the EP are anomalies in the Beatles oeuvre but they aren’t statements per se, or indications that the group is in any sort of transition. But if there was ever a moment in the Beatles’ lifetime that listeners would have been happy to have the group just settle in and release songs as soon as possible, it was just before and after the then-interminable 10-month gap between the Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. Without that context, the results could seem slight– a sort-of canonized version of Past Masters perhaps– but whether it’s an album, a collection of separate pieces, or whatnot matters little when the music itself is so incredible.