Both the film and the album Magical Mystery Tour suffered from a lack of discipline. Increased drug use no doubt contributed, but aesthetic principles were at play as well. "Randomness as art appealed to all of the Beatles very much," wrote George Martin wrote in his 1994 book With a Little Help From My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper. "Sometimes, therefore, they would jam for hours in the studio, and we would be expected to tape it all, recognizing the moment of great genius when it came through. The only trouble was, it never did come through. This free-form associative tinkering happened a lot after Pepper on Magical Mystery Tour. It was a side of the Beatles that I found rather tedious. 'If you want to be random, let's be organized about it,' which was definitely not what they wanted to hear when they were in that mood" (page 138).
This indulgence led to the Beatles' interest in the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who advocated a much more spare and natural lifestyle through Transcendental Meditation. In February 1968, the band traveled to Rishikesh, India to pursue the holy man's teachings. At the Maharishi's suggestion, the Beatles formally renounced all drug use. It didn't last. But for the duration of their stay in Rishikesh, all four Beatles were sober. And even by Beatles standards, their Indian respite proved exceptionally fertile, with John, Paul, and George combining to write dozens of songs and song fragments. With no electricity, however, electric guitars were useless, and as a result many of their Rishikesh songs employ acoustic fingerpicking techniques and patterns distinctly different from their previous work, many of which found their way on to their next album, including “Blackbird”, “Dear Prudence”, and “Mother Nature's Son”.
It was also in India that Yoko Ono began to occupy John Lennon's mind. She would send him postcards saying things like, “I'm a cloud in the sky. Look for me.” Lennon, upon receiving these postcards, was supposed to look up, find a cloud, and think of Yoko. Apparently her tactics worked because in the ballad “Julia” (which is another acoustic fingerpicking song), Lennon sings, “ocean child calls me”, referring to Yoko (whose name in Japanese means “ocean child”) and her constant postcards.
The White Album was originally titled A Doll's House (after Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play of the same name) until the progressive rock band Family released their debut album titled Music in a Doll's House on 19 July 1968. (Frankly, A Doll's House might have been the better title given the albums rather disjointed content.) The new album was then changed simply to The Beatles, and the cover left blank white, to be known forever more as The White Album.
Martin, George. With a Little Help from My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper. Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY, 1994.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.