August 29, 2012


The surrealism and satire boom in the UK during the 1960s, fueled by Peter Sellers, Beyond the Fringe, Richard Lester, John Lennon, and Monty Python were an integral part of a new perspective on life that wasn't afraid to confront social issues with humor and flair. Thinking outside the box led to so many qualities and creations that we hold dear today. Experimentation was essential for this growth, and sometimes the experiments pushed outside the envelope- an experience that can be challenging, but rewarding with the proper context.

The Beatles experimented often during their career, pushing pop music into uncharted territory and exploring the avant-garde. John Lennon collaborated with Yoko Ono on many experimental films and sound recordings. He also starred in Richard Lester's experimental surreal film, How I Won the War. George Harrison played with early Moog music and contributed the soundtrack to the movie, Wonderwall. Paul McCartney made a number of experimental films and tape-loops (later stolen) that inspired the sound collage on Tomorrow Never Knows. McCartney returned to experiment with electronic music and sound collage with the Firemen and Liverpool Sound Collage projects. And Ringo Starr pursued an acting career that included collaboration with Peter Sellers. (see various clips below). At the heart of The Beatles' success was perhaps their playful humor- a quality that originally secured their contract with George Martin, who had produced records for Peter Sellers and The Goons. Much of their work was steeped in play and a love of 'happy accidents' in the studio. The decade saw a boom in surreal British filmmaking. Imagery from Carroll's Alice loomed large and the Beatles were a part of this wave. Spy Vibers interested in exploring the world of 1960s surrealism further should check out the BBC Alice in Wonderland (with Peter Sellers, Peter Cook, and a soundtrack by Ravi Shankar), The Bed Sitting Room, How I Won the War (with John Lennon), The Knack... and How to Get It, Not Only But Also, Beyond the Fringe, and Monty Python's Flying Circus.

In 1967, The Beatles made an experimental film called Magical Mystery Tour. Although it left many viewers scratching their heads (even today), the movie is filled with treasured moments of the group presenting some of their greatest work and playing around with surrealist imagery and challenging movie conventions. It was not another A Hard Days Night, but it was an important work from a group of 1960s artists that we love BECAUSE they were willing to push the envelope and think outside the box. I believe that viewers going into the film, knowing that the movie is influenced by surrealism, Lewis Carroll, Lord of the Rings, and 1967 counter-culture, will find it an interesting experience.

Magical Mystery Tour has been remastered and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 9th (John and Sean Lennon's birthdays). Special features include director commentary by Paul McCartney, interviews, and many un-seen scenes. A collector's edition includes a reproduction of the 2-vinyl record EP (in glorious MONO!), and a book. There will also be a limited theatrical release starting September 27th. Roll up! Roll up! Don't miss it and keep your minds (and ears!) open. Here is the trailer and one of my favorite segments of the group performing I Am the Walrus in the film. 

Essential Beatles Experimental Work:
Revolver (Bealtes album)
SGT Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Beatles album)
Magical Mystery Tour (Beatles film)
The White Album (Beatles album)
Two Virgins (Lennon/Ono album)
Life With the Lions (Lennon/Ono album)
Wedding Album (Lennon/Ono album)
Lennon/Ono film shorts
Electronic Sounds (Harrison album)
Wonderwall (Harrison film)
The Magic Christian (Starr film)
How I Won the War (Lennon film)
Georgia Stone (Ono/Lennon track)
Liverpool Sound Collage (McCartney album)
Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest (McCartney album)
Rushes (McCartney album)

I had a chance to make a music re-mix a couple of years ago for Yoko Ono that won a contest she was holding with the Plastic Ono Band. I followed it up with an experimental short film that you can see here: The Sun is Down. I also made a tribute sound collage and film for John Lennon's 70th birthday, Lennon70

Check out our recent posts, including Neil Armstrong: One Last StepCelebrating 450,000 visitorsInterview with Playboy Bunny Deana, and our series, For Your Shelf Only, where guests share stories about collecting and show us some of their treasures. Series links: Jon GilbertRaymond BensonJeremy DunsPeter LorenzDavid FosterRob MallowsRoger Langley, Craig Arthur, Fleming Short, Matt ShermanCheck out my books Counting Sheep and Mort Walker Conversations

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