Thursday, August 20, 2009


Okay, okay, I'm taking the lame way out today. But I have to cover "Flying" someday. It may as well be today. And I've got it running in my head after spending the weekend watching Magical Mystery Tour a couple times for an upcoming film feature on Not Coming to a Theatre Near You, a site that I help to edit and occasionally write for (yes, that was a shameless plug for an upcoming project-- stay tuned).

Actually, you know what's funny? I think "Flying" is one of my husband's favorite Beatles songs. When I was watching the movie over the weekend, he came into the room at one point and was all like "hey, it's 'Flying!' Rock on!" Seriously, do you know anyone who does that? And my husband knows music way better than I do-- his tastes are much, much cooler. (Lots of Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin and so forth.) So I figured I needed to give "Flying" another listen. Perhaps there was something to it that I had simply never noticed before.

But before we talk about the track, here's a fun fact for you: the scenes featured in the Magical Mystery Tour video for "Flying" were shot by Stanley Kubrick and crew for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Isn't that weird? The Beatles kind of just pillaged them from a film library or something, so it was just happenstance that they were Kubrick's.

Anyway, yeah-- "Flying." It's one of only two officially released Beatles instrumental tracks (here's the other), and also one of the only Beatles tracks that gives a writing credit to all four Beatles, but all in all it feels less than singular. It comes off more as a curiosity than anything else. "Flying" was recorded under the working title of "Arial Tour Instrumental," which makes me think that maybe it was actually written FOR the planned scene in Magical Mystery Tour--I'm not sure of it, but that title seems weirdly prescient. This would have been weird-- rarely did the Beatles actually write a song specifically for use in a film scene, unless you count "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!", which really weren't even for scenes as much as they were for titles. Maybe that's why "Flying" seems so slight.

Anyway, as it sounds like, they apparently came up with this by jamming in the studio for a while. That's John on Mellotron, Paul and George covering guitars, and Ringo drumming. It's clearly been cleaned up quite a bit, so what we're hearing isn't literally a jam, but it has to have originated there. They must have just liked it enough to polish it for a track. So, okay. What could they have liked? "Flying" starts as a guitar number, with the whole first verse dominated by a slow bass groove and some intimate and, really, quite pretty guitar work. Once the Mellotron comes in on the second verse I get distinctly less interested, even though it's introducing what I suppose is the primary melody. And then on the third verse, when the vocal chanting enters, I'm much less into that then I am into the the thickened rhythm texture. Ringo's doing something different here, though I can't quite hear what-- but his drum part is more elaborate and oddly engaging. But you only get enough to be teased before the tape loops come in at the end and the whole thing dissolves in a cloud of meaninglessness.

I don't hate "Flying." I'm pretty much just indifferent. Maybe down the line I'll hear the magic my husband hears in this, but I don't quite yet... Oh well. I'll check out a more interesting song tomorrow.

"Flying," released in the U.K. side c track 2 of Magical Mystery Tour double EP, December 8, 1967; in the U.S. side A track 3 of Magical Mystery Tour LP, November 27, 1967.


  1. Kinda lukeworm; not hot, not cold. Don't love it, don't hate it. i could talk Beatles songs for a week and never get around to mentioning this one.

  2. You said it better than I could. :)