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(Credit: Greg Chow)

Music

The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne on his favourite Paul McCartney song

Wayne Coyne has made himself world-renowned as the principal songwriter and frontman of Oklahoma’s psychedelic rock group, The Flaming Lips. The excentric creative seems as if he was born destined for the stage to bring vibrant sound and colour to his band’s devoted fans, but the young Coyne’s path would have been quite different had he not fallen under the spell of Paul McCartney and The Beatles. 

The Flaming Lips formed in the early 1980s and set off on a mission to develop a new direction for the psychedelic sound of the ’60s. This era was home to a plethora of formative psychedelic rock groups, including Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane, but no band had the same life-changing impact as the Fab Four. 

In 1969, Coyne was just eight years old, excitedly crowding the family record player with his older brothers, ready to hear a new Beatles album they had bought. The plain white packaging was perhaps initially concerning after the colourful design seen on the previous album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but after a spin on the turntable, all doubts were cast aside. The Beatles (AKA The White Album) was an immediate hit with Coyne, who was blown away by the vast scope of the double album.

Coyne once said of the 1968 album: “My older brothers and I loved it growing up … they loved The Beatles, and their friends all loved The Beatles, and so, me being eight years old around people who are 15, 16 years old … that really zapped my young mind…. For the longest time, being a very young person when all that’s happening, I just felt that The Beatles are great music, and they’re popular music, and whatever they do must be what music is.”

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While The White Album had the most pivotal impact on the youngster, when picking out his favourite Paul McCartney composition for a feature published in Stereogum, Coyne looked back to The Beatles’ 1967 film soundtrack, Magical Mystery Tour and its vibrant, playful introduction title-piece. 

“Paul’s ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ is the perfect ‘non-song’ song,” Coyne opined. “It positions itself as an introduction (similar to the opening track on Sgt. Pepper’s) but in the end is so catchy and full of life and energy that you don’t really care to wait for what it’s introducing… you’re already satisfied.”

He continued: “Paul works great this way. He’s one of the greatest songwriters ever, but he can really make a throwaway song into something amazing. I say throwaway… I always got the sense that ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ was kind of like a TV show theme song. The song has a lot of info it’s trying to get to you, and it’s not that concerned with emotional context. But in Paul’s hands, he can’t help but make it, along with the rest of the Beatles and George Martin, one ecstatic moment after another. Three minutes of ear candy that leaves you (like all great candy) wanting more.”

“The opening where (I think it’s Paul) he’s saying ‘Step right this way…’ It’s the kind of thing a singer would do (I say that cause I’ve done it) when he’s just having fun saying whatever is coming into his head as he imagines the setting he’s crafting for the audience. And we also are reminded of Ringo being possibly the greatest drummer of all time. Man!! It’s exciting even if you don’t really know what they are excited about.”

“Maybe this was meant to be a way that the Beatles, who had stopped touring and playing live shows, could kind of perform with an audience in mind. It seems Paul, more than the rest of the Beatles, missed the energy of Beatlemania even if he was also trying to get away from it. And, unlike some of the struggles we see in the [Peter Jackson] Get Back doc, the rest of the group seem to gladly jump right in and lend a special charm wherever needed. It’s hard to say what George Harrison is actually playing (maybe it’s maraca), but just a little texture or little rhythm can add a uniqueness that is subtle but full of flavour. I always say it’s like adding salt to french fries. The french fry is doing most of the work… but in the end, without the salt, it’s kind of bland. Ha!!”

“So… ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ the song is not bland!! Not even for one second!! And… the Beatles, with their collective endless imaginations, kind of saw a future where going to see your favourite band is a big (joyous, zany, drug-fueled party on wheels) adventure. Which a lot of young and not-so-young music lovers do every summer. Travel around (flying in aeroplanes or driving themselves) trying to meet some eccentric freaks, eat some freaky food, see some wondrous sights, be sleep deprived, fall in love, see your favourite band for the fiftieth time. I think Paul meant it as the Beatles are on a Magical Mystery Tour. But nowadays, it’s the audience that wants to be on a magical mystery tour of their own design.”

Listen to the “ecstatic” ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ below.