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Strawberry Fields Forever

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The original 45 sleeve for

The original 45 sleeve for "Strawberry Fields Forever" (rear)

source: planetmellotron.com

Strawberry Fields Forever

Working title: It's Not Too Bad
Written by: John Lennon (100%) (credited as Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: November 24, 28-29, December 8-9, 15, 21, 1966 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: November 28-29, December 9, 15, 22, 29, 1966; October 26, 1971
Length: 4:10
Takes: 26
Musicians: John Lennon: lead vocals (double-tracked), rhythm guitar (1964 Gibson J160E), mellotron (1964 Mark II), piano, bongos
Paul McCartney: bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S), mellotron (1964 Mark II), timpani
George Harrison: lead guitar (1961 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster), surmandal (swordmandela), maracas
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig), timpani, percussion
Mal Evans: tambourine
Neil Aspinall: guiro
Terry Doran: maracas
Tony Fisher: trumpet
Greg Bowen: trumpet
Derek Watkins: trumpet
Stanley Roderick: trumpet
John Hall: cello
Derek Simpson: cello
Norman Jones: cello
First released: February 13, 1967 (UK: Parlophone R5570), February 17, 1967 (US: Capitol 5810); double a-side with "Penny Lane"
Available on: (CDs in bold)
  • Magical Mystery Tour (UK: Parlophone PCTC 255, US: Capitol (S)MAL 2835, Parlophone CDP 7 48062 2)
  • The Beatles 1967-1970 (UK: Apple PCSP 718, US: Apple SKBO 3404, Apple CDP 0777 7 97039 2 0)
Highest chart position: US: 8 (February 25, 1967), UK: 2 (March 2, 1967)
History:
  • This odd epic was a very personal song for John, written by him in Almeria, Spain, in the fall of 1966 while doing location filming for Richard Lester's anti-war comedy How I Won The War, in which he had his first non-Beatle role. At this time, the song began life as a gentle folkish number which John envisioned being delivered in conversational, almost "talking blues" style.
  • Even at this early stage, the lyrics dealt with Lennon's isolation from the world, his certainty that his mind existed on a different plane than most others. This is evident in the original lines "No one is on my wavelength, I mean, it's either too high or too low / That is, you can't, you know, tune in -- but it's all right. / I mean it's not too bad." Obscured slightly for humility's sake and made more poetic, these lines would eventually, just before recording, become the second verse: "No one, I think, is in my tree / I mean, it must be high or low / That is, you can't, you know, tune in -- but it's all right. / That is, I think it's not too bad."
  • The main image of the song came from Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army orphanage located on Beaconsfield Road in Woolton, Liverpool, England. John often played in the woods near there, and the highlight of his social calendar as a child was the annual "fete" or fair held on the grounds, which Lennon would attend with his Aunt Mimi. Given the untimely death of his mother, Julia, the site must have served as a metaphorical retreat from the horrors of the world. The use of the image also fits in with the early theme of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, which dealt with a return to childhood. (This is borne out by the original 45 sleeve of the single, which featured childhood photos of the group.)
  • The song was begun in an apartment in El Zapillo, the beach section of Almeria, then, when wife Cynthia moved the couple to a nearby house called Santa Isabel, the first home demos were recorded. In early November 1966, John returned to his "Kenwood" home in London, where he further workshopped the song on tape.
  • Recording for "Strawberry Fields Forever" began on November 24, 1966, envisioned as a gentle ballad. However, John was unsatisfied with this arrangement, and sometime between November 29 and December 6, he asked George Martin to come up with a new arrangement featuring brass and strings, to which heavy percussion was later added. Pronouncing himself dissatisfied with both versions, John asked Martin to edit the beginning of one song (Take 7) with the end of another (Take 26). The producer thought this impossible, but after experimenting with a variable-speed tape machine, he found a way to slow down take 26 (in the key of A major) enough to bring it into the correct tempo and pitch with take 7 (in C major... this was also sped up to match it, but only very slightly).
  • The result is actually two edits -- one at 55 seconds into the song, where the chorus is brought in where the original third verse would have gone, and one at 59 seconds, where John's vocal can clearly be heard morphing into the new arrangement. Despite Martin's efforts, the second part of SFF is actually a semitone lower than the original piece.
  • The flute-sounding instrument at the beginning of the song is called a mellotron, a primitive sampler of sorts in which actual tapes of orchestral sounds (in this case, flutes) are manipulated by a keyboard. This represents the first use of the instrument by a rock band. Paul McCartney performed the mellotron intro, which Lennon wrote separately on harmonium sometime in 1964. The instrument is also used to provide "strings" in the early part of the song, and can be heard on the last fade-out, in flute setting, played backwards.
  • George Harrison can be credited with the introduction of the surmandel (swordmandela), an Indian version of the zither; Ringo's hi-hat is also recorded backwards for extra psychedelic effect (this is heard best in the last verse). The famous fade-in after the song "ends" appears to have been George Martin's creation; it is the first "double fade" in pop, and very possibly recording, history. The clanging sound heard during the final fade-in is produced by two trumpets and John's guitar, playing in unison.
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