Strawberry Fields Forever

"Strawberry Fields Forever"
US picture sleeve
Single by the Beatles
A-side"Penny Lane" (double A-side)
Released13 February 1967 (1967-02-13)
Format7-inch record
Recorded29 November, 8–22 December 1966
StudioEMI, London
Producer(s)George Martin
The Beatles singles chronology
"Yellow Submarine" / "Eleanor Rigby"
"Strawberry Fields Forever" / "Penny Lane"
"All You Need Is Love"
Audio sample

"Strawberry Fields Forever" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles. It was released in February 1967 as a double A-side single with "Penny Lane". The song was written by John Lennon but credited to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership. Lennon wrote the song in Almería, Spain, where he was filming a role in the anti-war comedy How I Won the War. He drew inspiration from his childhood memories of playing in the garden of Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army children's home near to where he grew up in Liverpool.

The song was the first track recorded during the sessions for the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, starting in November 1966, and was intended for inclusion on the album. Instead, with pressure from their record company and management for new product, the group were forced to issue the single, and then adhered to their philosophy of omitting previously released singles from their albums. The double A-side peaked at number 2 on the Record Retailer chart, behind Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me", thereby breaking the band's four-year run of chart-topping singles in the UK. In the United States, "Strawberry Fields Forever" peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. To the Beatles' displeasure, the song was later included on the US Magical Mystery Tour LP.

Lennon identified "Strawberry Fields Forever" as his highest achievement as a member of the Beatles.[6] In an effort to satisfy Lennon's requirements, the band recorded three separate versions of the track. The released recording was created from the editing together of two separate takes – each one entirely different in tempo, mood and musical key – and incorporates reverse-recorded instrumentation, tape loops and a fade-out/fade-in coda. The finished recording also includes Mellotron, a cello and brass arrangement by producer George Martin, and an Indian swarmandal. The discarded first version of the song was issued on the 1996 outtakes compilation Anthology 2.

"Strawberry Fields Forever" represented a departure from the Beatles' previous singles and a novel listening experience for the contemporary pop audience. While the song initially divided and confused music critics and the group's fans, it is one of the Beatles' most influential works in the psychedelic rock genre.[7] The band's promotional film clip for the track, featuring experimental techniques such as reverse effects, stop motion animation, jump-cuts and superimposition, is similarly recognised for its influence in the medium of music video. The Strawberry Fields memorial in New York's Central Park is named after the song. Richie Havens, Todd Rundgren, Peter Gabriel, Ben Harper, and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs featuring Debbie Harry are among the many artists who have covered the track. In 1990, a version by the Madchester group Candy Flip became a top-ten hit in the UK and Ireland.

Background and writing

Entrance gates at Strawberry Field, near Lennon's childhood home in Woolton, Liverpool

Strawberry Field was the name of a Salvation Army children's home close to John Lennon's childhood home in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool.[8][9] Lennon and his friends Pete Shotton, Nigel Walley and Ivan Vaughan used to play in the wooded garden behind the home.[10][11] One of Lennon's childhood treats was the garden party held each summer in Calderstones Park, near the home, where a Salvation Army brass band played.[12] Lennon's aunt Mimi Smith recalled: "There was something about the place that always fascinated John. He could see it from his window … He used to hear the Salvation Army band [playing at the garden party], and he would pull me along, saying, 'Hurry up, Mimi – we're going to be late.'"[11]

Lennon began writing "Strawberry Fields Forever" in Almería, Spain, during the filming of Richard Lester's How I Won the War in September–October 1966.[13][14] The Beatles had just retired from touring after one of the most difficult periods of their career,[15] including the "more popular than Jesus" controversy and the band's unintentional snubbing of Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos.[8][16] Like "Penny Lane", which Paul McCartney wrote in late 1966 in response to Lennon's new song,[17] "Strawberry Fields Forever" conveys nostalgia for the Beatles' early years in Liverpool.[18] While both songs refer to actual locations, McCartney said that the two pieces also had strong surrealistic and psychedelic overtones.[8] George Martin, the Beatles' producer, recalled that when he first heard "Strawberry Fields Forever", he thought it conjured up a "hazy, impressionistic dreamworld".[19][nb 1] As with his Revolver compositions "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "She Said She Said", "Strawberry Fields Forever" was informed by Lennon's experiences with the hallucinogenic drug LSD, which caused him to question his identity and seek to dissolve his ego.[20] Lennon talked about the song in 1980: "I was different all my life. The second verse goes, 'No one I think is in my tree.' Well, I was too shy and self-doubting. Nobody seems to be as hip as me is what I was saying. Therefore, I must be crazy or a genius – 'I mean it must be high or low' ..."[21][22] He termed the song "psychoanalysis set to music".[14][19] In McCartney's view, the lyrics reflect Lennon's admiration of the nineteenth-century English writer Lewis Carroll, particularly his poem "Jabberwocky".[23]

The earliest demo of the song was recorded in Almería, and Lennon subsequently developed the melody and lyrics in England throughout November.[24] Demos taped at his home, Kenwood, demonstrate his progress with the song and include parts played on a Mellotron,[24][25] a tape-replay keyboard instrument he had purchased in August 1965.[26] On the first Almería recording, the song had no refrain and only one verse, beginning: "There's no one on my wavelength / I mean, it's either too high or too low". Lennon revised these words to make them more obscure, then wrote the melody and part of the lyrics to the chorus (which functioned as a bridge and did not yet include a reference to Strawberry Fields). After returning to England in early November, he added another verse and the mention of Strawberry Fields.[27] The first verse on the released version was the last to be written, close to the time of the song's recording.[28] For the chorus, Lennon was again inspired by his childhood memories: the words "nothing to get hung about" were inspired by Aunt Mimi's strict order not to play in the grounds of Strawberry Field, to which Lennon replied, "They can't hang you for it."[29] The first verse Lennon wrote became the second one in the released version of the song, and the second verse he wrote became the last.

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