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Friday, February 10, 2012

Hello Goodbye b/w I Am the Walrus

It was perhaps inevitable following the incredible highs of Sgt. Pepper and the Our World broadcast that the Beatles had nowhere to go but down.  The songs that they recorded in the late spring and early summer of 1967 for the soundtracks of Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine were pretty lackluster, but it was the death of manager Brian Epstein on August 27th that put the group into a tailspin.  And even though they decided to push ahead with the Magical Mystery Tour project, it was an unfocused effort, well below the standard that they had set themselves earlier in the year.

Hello Goodbye - This song by McCartney was released in conjunction with the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack, but was not part of it.  While the yin/yang lyrics are an interesting idea, they don't really go anywhere.  However, Paul's innate musical ingenuity is on full display here.  Like Penny Lane, the track has multiple levels of sound, and something manages to catch the ear at almost every moment.  A different mix of the song is featured on Anthology 2 with a much more prominent guitar part from George, yet for some reason, the released version omits quite a bit of it.  In addition to Ringo's drums, numerous forms of percussion are used, including bongos, maracas, tambourine and conga drum.  George Martin added a score for two violas.  But the best part of the song is saved for last - the "hey la, hey la hey lo" chorus with Ringo cutting loose on his tom toms.

Fresh off of his stint on Magical Mystery Tour, Paul directed the promotional film for the single, which shows the group onstage at the Saville Theatre performing the song in various outfits, including their Sgt. Pepper regalia.

I Am the Walrus - Lennon's only composition for the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack was also chosen to be released as this B-side.  The lyrics are pure gobbledigook, written that way in part to confound those who were reading significance into the group's words that either wasn't intended or simply wasn't there.  The music - the sound - is fascinating and quite unlike anything else they ever recorded.

The rhythm track was recorded on September 5th.  It was their first time in the studio after Epstein's death, and according to engineer Geoff Emerick in his book Here, There and Everywhere, it was an understandably somber session, with Paul using a tambourine to help the usually-unflappable Ringo keep a steady beat.  Take 16 of this basic track, along with John's eerie lead vocal, is on Anthology 2.  Even with the sound this stripped-down, it would have been a remarkable release.

Weeks later, George Martin added two overdubs, the first being a 16 piece orchestra playing his most unusual score yet, featuring much sliding up and down from note to note as the musicians on Harrison's Within You Without You had done.  The second overdub was of a commercial group called the Mike Sammes Singers providing some truly bizarre backing vocals, also orchestrated by Martin.  At this point, the recording was complete...until John decided to take an active hand at the mixing stage.  Halfway through the song, he suddenly added a live radio feed into the mix, randomly and unknowingly settling on a BBC broadcast of Shakespeare's King Lear.  The voices that bubble to the surface from time to time are from Act IV, scene vi when Edgar kills Oswald, so that we hear such ominous phrases as "Bury my body," "O, untimely death" and "What, is he dead?"

An unintended result of the live feed was that the song could not be truly mixed for stereo due to the equipment limitations of the time, so in the stereo version, only the first half of the song is in true stereo.  Once the radio feed enters, the mix is in mono, but the mix moves from speaker to speaker to create a unique and disorienting effect.

The single, released late in November, was another worldwide number one.  In the UK, I Am the Walrus was also on the Magical Mystery Tour EP, released in early December.  In the US, both songs appeared on the Magical Mystery Tour album, released on the same day as the single.     

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