- Published in 1967
- Author: Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey
- Track 3 on “Magical Mystery Tour“
PAUL circa-1994: “‘Flying’ was an instrumental that we needed for (the film) ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ so in the studio one night I suggested to the guys that we made something up. I said, ‘We can keep it very, very simple, we can make it a 12-bar blues. We need a little bit of a theme and a little bit of a backing.’ I wrote the melody, otherwise it’s just a 12-bar backing thing. It’s played on the mellotron, on a trombone setting. It’s credited to all four (Beatles), which is how you would credit a non-song.”
About “Flying” (instrumental)
“Flying” is an instrumental which first appeared on the 1967 Magical Mystery Tour release (two EP discs in the United Kingdom, an LP in the United States). One of the few songs credited to all four members of the band.
Besides being the first instrumental the Beatles wrote since “12-Bar Original” in 1965, it was also the first song credited as being composed by all four members of the group, “Harrison/Lennon/McCartney/Starkey”. As with “12-Bar Original”, it followed the classic twelve-bar blues progression.
Under its original title of “Aerial Tour Instrumental”, “Flying” was recorded on 8 September 1967 with mellotron, guitar, bass, maracas, drums, and tape loop overdubs on 28 September. After the 28 September session, John Lennon and Ringo Starr created tape loops to replace the traditional New Orleans jazz coda that originally ended the recording. While the loops extended the song to 9 minutes and 38 seconds, the track was cut down only to 2 minutes and 17 seconds. A part of the loops was combined with an element of the ending jazz sequence to create “The Bus”, an incidental piece that was used in the TV movie at various points.
Lennon plays the main theme on his mellotron, accompanied by McCartney and Harrison (on guitars, with an overdub by McCartney on bass) and Starr (on maracas and drums). Lennon and Starr created a variety of tape effects to accompany the Beatles’ melody without lyrics. In the film, the music is accompanied by colour-altered images of Iceland landscapes taken from an aircraft, as well as some unused footage from Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This is the same version heard on the soundtrack of the Magical Mystery Tour film.
On some Beatles bootleg albums (such as Back-track 1), a different version features an added Hammond organ and strange whistling noises. The jazz-inspired ending is also present in this version, which runs around 2:08. Mark Lewisohn speculated this coda was “seemingly copied straight from an unidentifiable modern jazz record”, but it was played on a mellotron.
Meaning of “Flying” (instrumental)
Given the absence of lyrics, the meaning of “Flying” is open to interpretation and is largely subjective. The song is characterized by its dreamy and atmospheric quality, featuring overlapping melodies played on Mellotron and other instruments. The title “Flying” may evoke a sense of freedom, imagination, or the sensation of soaring through the air. The music itself has a hypnotic quality, which could be seen as a representation of the sensations one might experience during flight.
“Flying” is often appreciated for its evocative and calming nature. While it doesn’t have explicit lyrics, the music itself can conjure feelings of tranquility, wonder, and perhaps the sensation of floating or gliding through the air.
- John Lennon – wordless vocals, Mellotron, Hammond organ, sound effects
- Paul McCartney – wordless vocals, bass, guitar
- George Harrison – wordless vocals, guitar
- Ringo Starr – wordless vocals, drums, maracas, sound effects