The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine (Beatles Album Series)
by Bruce Spizer and others
498 Productions, LLC
ISBN-13 : 978-0983295785
$29.99, available from most booksellers
1978 was the year that your PopCulteer made the transition from being a comic book/animation/comedy nerd into becoming a comic book/animation/comedy/music nerd. That was the year that I discovered my previously latent love of music, beginning with The Beatles. I had been a fan of the Yellow Submarine movie since day one, and Beatles music had always played a bit part in my life, simply by being in the background for much of it. But in 1978, music become much, much more important to me.
The catalyst was All You Need Is Cash, starring The Rutles, the Neil Innes/Eric Idle parody of The Beatles that was produced by Lorne Michaels and set the record for the lowest-rated television program on a major network when it debuted on March 22, 1978. The presence of a member of the Monty Python troupe, along with the producer of Saturday Night Live, drew me in, but strangely enough, I was more turned on by the music than the comedy. I made my way to Budget Tapes & Records and bought the soundtrack album (which was already in the cut-out bin) and started listening intently. Then I wanted more.
So I borrowed my sister’s copies of Let It Be and the “Blue” Best-of album, and within a month I was a rabid Beatles fan. I started reading every book I could get my hands on so that I could get all the jokes from All You Need Is Cash, and that started me on a path I still follow.
At the time, the big Beatles book was The Beatles: An Illustrated Record, by Roy Carr and Tony Tyler. This book had the gimmick of being printed nearly the same size as an LP, 12 inches by 12 inches, and presented a chronological trip through the history of The Beatles, together and solo, with a running timeline, contemporaneous reviews of each record and plenty of sidebars filled with extra information. It was a fun way to learn the history of the band, and despite a few major flaws, it’s always been a favorite of mine. It was updated with new editions in 1978 and 1981, but after that there were no further updates. I kept hoping that we’d get an updated edition again, but since both authors have shuffled off this plane of being, that seems rather unlikely now.
The whole reason I mention that is that The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine, is the first volume I’ve picked up of Bruce Spizer’s Beatles Album Series of books, and it manages to recapture the fun, the joy and the excitement of The Beatles: An Illustrated Record without the snarkiness and negativity that kept that book from being the definitive guide to The Beatles. This book takes me back to my early days of being obsessed by The Beatles.
Spizer manages to be even more comprehensive, quoting dozens of contemporaneous reviews of the Beatles’ albums, singles, TV shows and movies, without inserting himself into the process. By devoting an entire book to each album (or two, in this case), he has much more room to explore the differences between the releases in different countries, and does a great job of setting the scene. A generous helping of extra chapters look at Canadian releases, unreleased projects, fan recollections, pictures sleeves, Yellow Submarine merchandise, the studio sessions and more. This is really a complete package.
With his focus on one album or period per book, he manages to keep a firm timeline without sacrificing the structure of the book. I will eventually be adding his entire series to my already overstocked library of books about The Beatles.
See, when I became a fan, I started obsessively reading everything, from the Marvel Comics unauthorized biography by David Anthony Kraft and George Perez to the 1968 authorized bio by Hunter Davies to Beatles Forever by Nicholas Shaffner, I started grabbing every book on the band that I could find. By the late 1980s, I would pick up a book in the store, flip through, find a dozen mistakes and put it back (unless it was by Mark Lewisohn or one of the other reliable Beatles scribes). Hell, I even found a glaring error in the first five minutes of Peter Jackson’s Get Back (the intro has Ringo joining the band in the wrong year). So it’s a real treat to come across a book that is so immaculately fact-checked, cross-referenced and annotated as The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine.
The fact that this volume shines the spotlight on one of my favorite eras of Beatledom, the period between Sgt. Pepper and The White Album, which is coincidently one of the most overlooked periods of the band’s history, is a bonus. Many folks tend to jump over this big chunk of 1967/68 to go from one landmark album to the next, and in doing so one of the band’s most creative and innovative periods gets overlooked.
Of course, lately folks have been immersed in the recording of the Let It Be album, but this period is when the band was free to run wild, unencumbered by artificial deadlines and inner pressures. This book covers a rich and fertile period of The Beatles’ history.
I plugged this book in The 2021 PopCult Gift Guide without reading it. Spizer’s reputation and the subject matter told me that it’d be good, so I recommended it without reading it. Mrs. PopCulteer treated me to this book as part of my Christmas haul, and I haven’t been able to put it down since. The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine, and I’m guessing the rest of Spizer’s Beatles Album Series is a must-have for any fan of The Fab Four.
Selfishly, my hope is that when Spizer is finished with The Beatles Album Series, he considers doing a year-by-year (or two) book series on the band’s solo years.