Magical Mystery Tours -- the definitive account on working with the Fab Four but there's much more to see on this tour!
Magical Mystery Tours is a new book on the Beatles that has its author, Tony Bramwell, wearing his heart on his sleeve. He seamlessly interweaves tales of his life as the Beatles' personal assistant with his observations about working with other pop stars. This potent mix makes Magical Mystery Tours a fascinating "must-read" book for your pop/music library.
Tony Bramwell began working for Brian Epstein and the Beatles shortly after the Fab Four recorded their first single, Love Me Do, for Parlophone records. Prior to Beatles stellar rise to fame, he was friends of three of the band members. He is one of the few people who was allowed participate within the Beatles "inner circle" and whose relationship with the boys continued beyond the band's breakup.
The reader will find Bramwell's book is chock-full of "intimate details" on the band -- some with stunning new revelations!! What is amazing, though, is that for the most part his recollections are pretty accurate when weighed against other previous tomes written on the Beatles.
Here are a couple of the many surprises found in the book...
The first one will delight those Beatle historians interested in details about the "Paul Is Dead" hoax. Without giving the complete story away, someone from Apple records had apparently called in to radio WKNR in Detroit and impersonated Paul McCartney in an attempt to quell the "Paul is Dead" rumors which began to surface in the Fall of '69. Bramwell identifies who the mysterious impersonator was that did the double-take on Paul McCartney. The author then weighs in by analyzing whether the plan worked to convince people that Paul is alive and well or does it merely fuel more speculation from Beatle fans that McCartney is dead?? (Reviewers note: The Ottawa Beatles Site has an audio excerpt from the WKNR broadcast that Bramwell is referring to. To listen, please click here. For more extensive audio coverage on the P.I.D. hoax, please click here.)
A second delightful surprise is learning that Tony Bramwell was directly responsible for Paul McCartney getting commissioned to write the opening theme song for the movie "Live and Let Die." Bramwell actually proposed the idea to Bond Producer Harry Saltzman. He recalls in his book how the events unfolded: "Broccoli and Harry, who were joint producers and owned the Bond franchise, were barely speaking. They had started a loose system where they took turns to produce the next Bond. Before the bust-up, Harry told me that he and Cubby had intended to go the usual route and get John Barry to do the score." At this point in his book, the author begins to recall the actual discussion that would see McCartney composing "Live and Let Die." "Why not try something different?" Bramwell suggests to which Saltzman who then replies with a simple clear-cut "John Barry is good" answer. But Bramwell persists with his idea and interjects with "I know he is. But what about Paul McCartney? He's always wanted to do the music to mainstream films." To which Saltzman responds back with: "Great idea," he said. "Do you think Paul will do it?"
So there you have it -- Beatle fans have Tony Bramwell to thank for this classic McCartney song being realized. "Live and Let Die" is the second biggest solo rocker recorded next to "Maybe I'm Amazed." Certainly, McCartney has performed this number on countless occasions. His concerts are famous for the exciting "on-stage" pyrotechnic display during "Live and Let Die" - the exploding fireworks and lighting effects creating a "James Bond" cinematic experience for his appreciative audience.
In "Magical Mystery Tours," Bramwell writes objectively about his manager, Brian Epstein. Since Brian is no longer with us, this book is about as close as Beatle fans will ever get to understanding Brian's personal life (his penchant for gambling and homosexuality) and the good (and bad) business decisions he made for the Beatles. In terms of the latter, the author covers the slanted business deal that Dick James made with Epstein. This arrangement gave James and his silent business partner, Charles Silver, up to 51% of the Beatles publishing royalties while leaving John and Paul with 20% each with Brian getting 9%.
Bramwell writes an interesting short segment on how the movie deal for A Hard Day's Night came about along with how the contractual royalties were arranged (again, another Epstein misfire!) Also described in great detail is how Epstein, under the overwhelming pressures of running NEMS, seriously considers selling off the Beatles to Robert Stigwood. "Brian suddenly made up his mind to secretly sell a controlling interest in NEMS to Stiggie and his partner, David Shaw, for half a million pounds...it was an incredibly small sum," writes Bramwell. "It was also badly thought out because Stiggie was an undischarged bankrupt in his homeland of Australia. The previous summer, Shaw had also been publicly named in a big bond-washing scandal," states Bramwell. In the end, both Stigwood and Shaw fail to come up with the required capital to take over NEMS and the Beatles.
With the passing of Brian Epstein, according to Bramwell, the rot really begins to set in regarding the affairs of the Beatles and their personal lives. While Epstein might have set-up some bad business deals due to the lack of wisdom and experience in the pop world, "opportunism" really creeps in around the time Apple records is created. The author identifies in his book, the characters with "opportunistic intentions" and takes critical aim at Alexis Mardas (known as "Magic Alex"); The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; and in particular, Yoko Ono and Allen Klein.
For fans of Yoko Ono, the author's tirade about her might be a bit too much. I certainly had no problem with it. Perhaps its been the result of my own research over the years on Beatle lore. One thing that I've learned is that every person who was part of the Beatles "inner circle," really does have their unique story to tell as they remember it. They've had a chance to tell their story and now it's Bramwell's turn. Therefore, a reader's "tempered objectivity" will be needed here when reading through his chronology on John and Yoko. Here, the author reveals Yoko's original intentions for perusing John Lennon was because of his vast fortune. Bramwell also blames Yoko for the breakup of the Beatles and for interfering with the recording sessions. You may not agree with it, but that's how things unfolded from the author's point of view.
Enter Allen Klein, Chief Blue Meanie for Apple records, much to the delight of John, George and Ringo but very much to the chagrin of Paul McCartney. Klein's presence as manager running the Beatles' affairs puts additional strain between band members and for those employees working at Apple. "Klein wanted to get rid of everybody so he could cook the books and milk the company dry," recounts Bramwell. He continues that "Klein's tentacles were long. He tore everything apart. Within a few months of him taking over, I was the only member of the old staff left in the company." The mass exodus of the staff members at Apple is a sad footnote to the organization which really had some talented and bright people who suddenly disappeared. The void of talented staff really creates a problem later on as Allen Klein misses a golden financial opportunity for Apple and passes up on presenting the musical play, Jesus Christ Superstar.
Things really come to a head when Phil Spector, with the endorsement of Allen Klein, George Harrison and in particular John Lennon, support Spector's final mixing of the Let It Be album. The album which had been originally produced by George Martin, was now layered with choral vocal and string arrangements. The most obvious of the "Spector-tweaked" tracks being "The Long and Winding Road", a McCartney number in which the composer supposedly berated Allen Klein at Apple headquarters. The conversation was so loud between the two of them that according to Bramwell, Paul could be heard saying "It's not us anymore!" More dialogue follows in the book as this ultimately would be "the last straw" for the Beatles. Prior to Spector's production of Let It Be, they would record one more album, Abbey Road, to tidy things up.
The last 60 pages of "Magical Mystery Tours" delves into Bramwell's career in the music and film business from 1971 and to the present. There is lots of interesting material in this period and facts you never knew that connects up with the Beatles in one form or another and other interesting tid-bits about the industry in general. The book comes full circle on the final pages where he writes a wonderful tribute to his dear friend George Harrison.
Tony Bramwell's book, "Magical Mystery Tours," was written with the assistance of Rosemary Kingsland. This book deserves to be placed beside other classic Beatle tomes such as Larry Kane's "Ticket to Ride" or Spencer Leigh's "The Best of Fellas - The Story of Bob Wooler" or Yury Pelyushonok's "Strings for a Beatle Bass - The Beatles Generation in the U.S.S.R." Like these books, Magical Mystery Tours will have the reader finish one chapter and immediately want to jump over to read the next one. Simply put, this is book you can't put down once you begin reading it. Beatlemania was magical...and if you're a Beatles' fan, then Bramwell's "Magical Mystery Tours" is a welcome return back to that mania!
Rating: (Published by: Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2005.)
Book reviewed by: John Whelan, Ottawa Beatles Site, September 12, 2005.