Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Strawberry Fields Forever
|"Strawberry Fields Forever"|
|Single by The Beatles|
|From the album Magical Mystery Tour|
|Single Released||13 February 1967 (UK)|
17 February 1967 (USA)
|Single Format||vinyl record (7")|
|Recorded||24 November 1966|
Abbey Road Studios, London
|Chart positions||2 (UK)|
|The Beatles single chronology|
|"Eleanor Rigby"/"Yellow Submarine"|
|"Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane"|
|"All You Need Is Love"|
"Strawberry Fields Forever" is the title of a 1967 song recorded by the Beatles. Widely considered to be one of the group's best recordings, it is also one of the defining works of the psychedelic rock genre. Although conventionally credited to both John Lennon and Paul McCartney, "Strawberry Fields Forever" is known to have been composed solely by Lennon.
The single was first released on February 13, 1967, in the United States and on February 17, 1967 in Britain, as one side of a double A-side single, teamed with the McCartney composition "Penny Lane". In the U.S., both songs were also subsequently included on the LP Magical Mystery Tour, which was only released as a six-track double-EP in the UK. The LP format is now the official version in the Beatles discography.
The two songs were recorded in early 1967, the first fruits of the extended sessions for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and both were originally intended to be included on the LP. They were also the first works released by the Beatles after their retirement from touring.
After their final American tour, the group had taken a lengthy break over the last months of 1966. Under pressure from EMI and Capitol, who had not had any new Beatles material to release for some time, George Martin rush-released the two songs to fill the gap, and it would be four more months before the album was completed and released.
Composition, music, and lyrics
Lennon began writing the song in late 1966, while in Spain filming Richard Lester's How I Won The War. He can be heard playing the introductory chord sequence on a keyboard in the film of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show which was released in 2004.
Lennon and McCartney's songs shared a similar theme of nostalgia for their childhood in Liverpool and both referred to actual locations there, but they also had strong surrealistic and psychedelic overtones. The title of Lennon's song referred to the Salvation Army orphanage in Woolton, which was called Strawberry Field, where he and his childhood friends Pete Shotton and Ivan Vaughan used to play in the trees behind the orphanage.
The period of its composition was one of momentous change and dislocation for Lennon: the Beatles had just retired from touring after one of the most difficult periods of their career, including the infamous "bigger than Jesus" controversy and their disastrous tour of the Philippines; Lennon's marriage was failing; perhaps most significant of all, he was using increasing quantities of drugs, especially the powerful hallucinogen LSD. The Beatles had also recently stopped performing.
The song's groundbreaking production and complex arrangement gave clear evidence of the band's near-total mastery in the studio and their increasingly avant-garde approach to their music. Although there are no obvious references to drugs, the song's style and tone and oblique, stream of consciousness lyrics were undoubtedly influenced by his experiences with acid. This is also suggested by the electronic treatment, "through implied contrast with the 'normal' timbres previously used in pop songs, which are about 'real life' (love, dancing, and so on). The use of collage, together with the irregular rhythms and lurching harmonies, may signify 'in the unconscious' (which often manifests itself in irrational jumbles of material). Finally, the heterogeneous texture, the ever-changing relationships of instruments, may on one level simply suggest 'influence of art music'." (Middleton 1990, p.28)
The released version of the song is actually an edit of two different performances. The band recorded multiple takes of two quite distinct versions of the song. The first version was (reputedly) an attempt to emulate the acid rock sound of American bands like Jefferson Airplane, and it featured a relatively basic instrumentation including keyboard, guitars and drums. By the time they cut the second version, recorded some weeks later, Lennon had opted for a much more complex arrangement, scored by George Martin and featuring a brass section and a string quartet.
Reviewing the various takes, Lennon decided that he liked the first minute of Take 7 (the "acid rock" version), and the ending of Take 26 (the "chamber" version). He wanted the finished master to combine these sections from the two versions, so he nonchalantly gave producer George Martin the task of somehow joining them together.
The problem was that both takes were played in slightly different pitches and tempos. So, one take had to be sped up slightly, and the other had to be slowed down, but fortunately for Martin and his engineers, the two takes proved to be almost exactly half a tone apart in pitch and so were reasonably easy to combine. The edit is subtle but detectable, at one minute into the song, though some CDs may show the edit at 59 seconds.
The coda makes (further) use of collage and "The structure is also disrupted by the way the regular phrase-lengths and pulse usual in popular songs are subverted. In the first phrase, for example, the normal eight bars are stretched to nine. Throughout the song the rhythm of the vocal follows not the regular periods of dance music but the irregular accents of the words. The harmonic language has become more complex, less predictable too." (ibid, p.28)
Undoubtedly spurred on by the recent, dazzling Beach Boys single "Good Vibrations", "Strawberry Fields Forever" was clearly intended to be the most musically and technically advanced pop record released up to that time. It featured extensive overdubbing, the prominent use of reverse tape effects and tape loops, and extensive audio compression and equalisation. The slight pitch-shifting caused by the splicing together of the two versions also gave Lennon's lead vocal a subtle "off-kilter" quality. As well as the standard guitar-bass-drums (keyboard) backing, the arrangement also included piano, slide guitar, woodwinds, a brass section, a string quartet and some very unusual instruments including the swarmandel, an Indian stringed instrument which provided the sitar-like sound at the end of each chorus.
Perhaps most distictive of all was the instrument (played by McCartney) that produced the flute-like sound in the song's introduction -- a Mellotron, the innovative British-made electronic keyboard which used eight second tape-loops of real instruments such as flutes and strings for each key. The Beatles were one of the first rock bands to acquire a Mellotron and "Strawberry Fields Forever" is believed to be the first use of the instrument on a pop recording. As a result of the Beatles' patronage, the instrument was rapidly taken up by other groups and used on other famous recordings of the psychedelic era by Traffic, Family and The Rolling Stones.
Contrary to belief of the Paul Is Dead hoax supporters, Lennon is actually saying "Cranberry Sauce" at the end of the song and not "I buried Paul". An alternate hearing yields the phrase "I'm very bored", which Lennon himself confirmed in a written interview before his death.
Promotion and reception
The song made it to number two on the British charts. Unfortunately for The Beatles, it was released as a "double A sided" single together with "Penny Lane", which meant that both the sales and airplay statistics were split between the two songs, instead of being recorded collectively. The number one single at the time was Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me".
The promotional film for the song is now recognised as one of the first and most successful conceptual music videos, featuring reverse film effects, stop motion animation, disconcerting jump cuts from daytime to nighttime and (among other things) the Beatles playing, then pouring paint over and smashing an upright piano. It was filmed on January 30, 1967 in Knole Park in Sevenoaks. The exact location is fairly easy to find, being on one of the main roads through the park with a recognisable tree. Though filmed at the same time as the Penny Lane video, it is considerably more groundbreaking and adventurous (which probably has to do with the harsher tone of the song). Both videos were selected by New York's MoMA as two of the most influential music videos in the late 1960s.
Music and lyrics
STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER- The Beatles E -7-7-7-7-7-7-5/4---2-5----0-4-2-0----- B -------------------------------------- G -------------------------------------- D -------------4/2--------------0------- A -7---6---5-------4------2-------4-0--- E -------------------------------------- (A) Em7 Let me take you down, cos I'm going to Strawberry Fields F#m7 D F# Nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about Dmaj7 A Strawberry Fields forever E(IV) G#m E7(II) Bm7 C#7 F#m F#m7 Dmaj7 Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see D E7 A F#m It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out D E D A It doesn't matter much to me CHORUS: (n.c.) Em7 Let me take you down, cos I'm going to Strawberry Fields C#dim D F# Nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about Dmaj7 A riff 1 Strawberry Fields forever E(IV) G#m E7(II) Bm7 C#m7 F#m F#m7 Dmaj7 riff 2 No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low D E7 A F#m E That is, you can't you know tune in but it's all right D E D A That is, I think it's not too bad ...CHORUS E(IV) G#m E7(II) Bm7 C#m7 F#m Always know, sometimes think it's me F#m7 Dmaj7 riff 2 But you know I know when it's a dream D E7 A F#m E I think a "no" will be a "yes", but it's all wrong D E D A That is, I think I disagree ...CHORUS (without riff 1) F#m Dmaj7 A Strawberry Fields forever Dmaj7 E F#m Strawberry Fields forever RIFF 1: RIFF 2: E -10-9------------------ ---------- B ------10-8-5----------- ---------- G -------------7p6------- ---------- D -----------------7----- -4-2-0---- A ----------------------- ---------- E ----------------------- ---------- Em7: 0 2 2 0 3 0 F#m7: 2 4 2 2 2 2 Dmaj7: x x 0 2 2 2 E(IV): x x 6 4 5 4 G#m: 4 6 6 4 4 4 E7 (II): x x 2 4 3 4 Bm7: 2 2 4 2 3 2 C#7: x 4 3 4 2 x C#dim: x x 1 2 1 2 Let me take you down, ícause Iím going to strawberry fields. Nothing is real and nothing to get hungabout. Strawberry fields forever. Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see. Itís getting hard to be someone but it all works out, it doesnít matter much to me. Let me take you down, ícause Iím going to strawberry fields. Nothing is real and nothing to get hungabout. Strawberry fields forever. No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low. That is you canít you know tune in but itís all right, that is I think itís not too bad. Let me take you down, ícause Iím going to strawberry fields. Nothing is real and nothing to get hungabout. Strawberry fields forever. Always, no sometimes, think itís me, but you know I know when itís a dream. I think I know I mean a íyesí but itís all wrong, that is I think I disagree. Let me take you down, ícause Iím going to strawberry fields. Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about. Strawberry fields forever. Strawberry fields forever.
- Alan Pollack's notes on Strawberry Fields Forever
- Song lyrics
- Golden Oldies of Music Video a presentation from New York's MoMA originally screened on April 17, 2003
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