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"Strawberry Fields Forever" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles. The song was written by John Lennon and credited to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership. It was inspired by Lennon's memories of playing in the garden of Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army children's home near where he grew up in Liverpool.[3]

The song was the first track recorded during the sessions for the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967),[4] and was intended for inclusion on the album. Instead, with the group under record-company pressure to release a single, it was issued in February 1967 as a double A-side with "Penny Lane". The combination reached number two in Britain, breaking the band's four-year run of chart-topping singles there, while "Strawberry Fields Forever" peaked at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 in America.

Numerous music critics consider it to be one of the group's best and most adventurous recordings.[5][6] Among the breakthroughs it established in studio techniques of the time, for a single release, the track incorporates reverse-recorded instrumentation and tape loops, and was created from the editing together of two separate versions of the song – each one entirely different in tempo, mood and musical key. The song was later included on the US Magical Mystery Tour LP (although not on the British double EP package of the same name).

"Strawberry Fields Forever" is one of the defining works of the psychedelic rock genre and has been covered by many artists.[1] The Beatles made a promotional film clip for the song that 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.[7][8]

Background and writing

The gatepost to Strawberry Field, which is now a popular tourist attraction in Liverpool The gatepost to Strawberry Field, which is now a popular tourist attraction in Liverpool Strawberry Field was the name of a Salvation Army children's home just around the corner from Lennon's childhood home in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool.[9] Lennon and his childhood 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 band played.[12] Lennon's aunt Mimi Smith recalled: "As soon as we could hear the Salvation Army band starting, John would jump up and down shouting, 'Mimi, come on. We're going to be late.'"[11][13]

Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever" and McCartney's "Penny Lane" shared the theme of nostalgia for their early years in Liverpool. Although both referred to actual locations, the two songs also had strong surrealistic and psychedelic overtones.[14] Producer George Martin said that when he first heard "Strawberry Fields Forever", he thought it conjured up a "hazy, impressionistic dreamworld".[15]

The period of the song's writing was one of change and dislocation for Lennon. The Beatles had just retired from touring after one of the most difficult periods of their career,[16] including the "more popular than Jesus" controversy and the band's unintentional snubbing of Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos.[17][18] 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' ",[19] and explaining that the song was "psycho-analysis set to music".[15]

Lennon began writing the song in Almería, Spain, during the filming of Richard Lester's How I Won the War in September–October 1966.[20][21] The earliest demo of the song, recorded in Almería, had no refrain and only one verse: "There's no one 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". He revised the words to this verse to make them more obscure, then wrote the melody and part of the lyrics to the refrain (which then functioned as a bridge and did not yet include a reference to Strawberry Fields). He then added another verse and the mention of Strawberry Fields.[22] The first verse on the released version was the last to be written, close to the time of the song's recording. For the refrain, 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."[23] The first verse Lennon wrote became the second in the released version, and the second verse Lennon wrote became the last in the release.

Musical structure The song was originally written on acoustic guitar in the key of C major. The recorded version is approximately in B-flat major; owing to manipulation of the recording speed, the finished version is not in standard pitch (some, for instance consider that the tonic is A).[24] The introduction was played by McCartney on a Mellotron,[16] and involves a I–ii–I– ♭VII–IV progression.[25] The vocals enter with the refrain instead of a verse.[5] In fact we are not "taken down" to the tonic key, but to "non-diatonic chords and secondary dominants" combining with "chromatic melodic tension intensified through outrageous harmonisation and root movement".[26] The phrase "to Strawberry" for example begins with a somewhat dissonant G melody note against a prevailing F minor key, then uses the semi-tone dissonance B♭ and B notes (the natural and sharpened 11th degrees against the Fm chord) until the consonant F note is reached on "Fields". The same series of mostly dissonant melody notes cover the phrase "nothing is real" against the prevailing F#7 chord (in A key).[26]

A half-measure complicates the meter of the verses, as well as the fact that the vocals begin in the middle of the first measure. The first verse comes after the refrain, and is eight measures long. The verse (for example "Always, no sometimes ...") starts with an F major chord in the key of B♭ (or E chord in the key of A) (V), which progresses to G minor, the submediant, a deceptive cadence. According to Alan Pollack, the "approach-avoidance tactic" (i.e., the deceptive cadence) is encountered in the verse, as the leading-tone, A, appearing on the words "Always know", "I know when" "I think a No" and "I think I disagree", never resolves into a I chord (A in A key)) directly as expected.[27] Instead, at the end of the verse, the leading note, harmonized as part of the dominant chord, resolves to the prevailing tonic (B♭) at the end of the verse, after tonicizing the subdominant (IV) E♭ chord, on "disagree".[24]

In the middle of the second chorus, the "funereal brass" is introduced, stressing the ominous lyrics.[5] After three verses and four choruses, the line "Strawberry Fields Forever" is repeated three times, and the song fades out with guitar, cello, and swarmandal instrumentation. The song fades back in after a few seconds into the "nightmarish" ending, with the Mellotron playing in a haunting tone – one achieved by recording the Mellotron "Swinging Flutes" setting in reverse[28] – scattered drumming, and Lennon murmuring, after which the song completes.[5][27]

Recording The working title was "It's Not Too Bad",[29] and Geoff Emerick, the sound engineer, remembered it being "just a great, great song, that was apparent from the first time John sang it for all of us, playing an acoustic guitar."[16] Recording began on 24 November 1966, in Abbey Road's Studio Two on a 4-track machine.[30] It took 45 hours to record, spread over five weeks.[31][32][33] The song was meant to be on the band's 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but was released as a single instead.[34]

The band recorded three distinct versions of the song. After Lennon played the song for the other Beatles on his acoustic guitar, the band recorded the first take. Lennon played an Epiphone Casino; McCartney played a Mellotron, a new home instrument purchased by Lennon on 12 August 1965 (with another model hired in after encouragement from Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues);[35] George Harrison played electric guitar, and Ringo Starr played drums.[36] The first recorded take began with the verse, "Living is easy …", instead of the chorus, "Let me take you down", which starts the released version. The first verse also led directly to the second, with no chorus between. Lennon's vocals were automatically double-tracked from the words "Strawberry Fields Forever" through the end of the last verse. The last verse, beginning "Always, no sometimes", has three-part harmonies, with McCartney and Harrison singing "dreamy background vocals".[22][37] This version was soon abandoned and went unreleased until the Anthology 2 compilation in 1996.

Four days later the band reassembled to try a different arrangement. The second version of the song featured McCartney's Mellotron introduction followed by the refrain. They recorded five takes of the basic tracks for this arrangement (two of which were false starts) with the last being chosen as best and subjected to further overdubs. Lennon's final vocal was recorded with the tape running fast so that when played back at normal speed the tonality would be altered, giving his voice a slurred sound. This version was used for the first minute of the released recording.

After recording the second version of the song, Lennon wanted to do something different with it, as Martin remembered: "He'd wanted it as a gentle dreaming song, but he said it had come out too raucous. He asked me if I could write him a new line-up with the strings. So I wrote a new score[38] (with four trumpets and three cellos) and we recorded that, but he didn't like it."[30] Meanwhile, on 8 and 9 December, another basic track was recorded, using a Mellotron, electric guitar, piano, backwards-recorded cymbals, and the swarmandel (or swordmandel), an Indian version of the zither.[39][40] After reviewing the tapes of Martin's version and the original, Lennon told Martin that he liked both versions,[41] although Martin had to tell Lennon that the orchestral score was at a faster tempo and in a higher key (B major) than the first version (A major).[27] Lennon said, "You can fix it, George", giving Martin and Emerick the difficult task of joining the two takes together.[42][43] With only a pair of editing scissors, two tape machines, and a vari-speed control, Emerick compensated for the differences in key and speed by increasing the speed of the first version and decreasing the speed of the second.[16] He then spliced the versions together,[41] starting the orchestral score in the middle of the second chorus.[42] (Since the first version did not include a chorus after the first verse, he also spliced in the first seven words of the chorus from elsewhere in the first version.) The pitch-shifting in joining the versions gave Lennon's lead vocal a slightly other-worldly "swimming" quality.[44]

Some vocalising by Lennon is faintly audible at the end of the song, picked up as leakage onto one of the drum microphones (close listening shows Lennon making other comments to Ringo). In the "Paul is Dead" hoax these were taken to be Lennon saying "I buried Paul."[45] In 1974, McCartney said, "That wasn't 'I buried Paul' at all – that was John saying 'cranberry sauce' … That's John's humour … If you don't realise that John's apt to say cranberry sauce when he feels like it, then you start to hear a funny little word there, and you think, 'Aha!'"[46] Shortly before his death in 1980, Lennon expressed dissatisfaction with the final version of the song, saying it was "badly recorded" and accusing McCartney of subconsciously sabotaging the recording.[47]

Release When manager Brian Epstein pressed Martin for a new Beatles' single, Martin told Epstein that the group had recorded "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane", which in Martin's opinion were their two finest songs to date.[48] Epstein said they would issue the songs as a double A-side single, as they had done with their previous single, "Yellow Submarine"/"Eleanor Rigby". The single was released in the US on 13 February 1967, and in the United Kingdom on 17 February 1967.[48] Following the Beatles' philosophy that songs released on a single should not appear on new albums, both songs were ultimately left off Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Martin later admitted that this was a "dreadful mistake".[49]

For the first time since "Love Me Do" in 1962, a single by the Beatles failed to reach number one in the UK charts. It was held at number two by Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me". In a radio interview at the time, McCartney said he was not upset because Humperdinck's song was a "completely different type of thing".[50] Starr said later that it was "a relief" because "it took the pressure off".[51][nb 1] "Penny Lane" reached number one in the US, while "Strawberry Fields Forever" peaked at number eight. In the US, both songs were included on the Magical Mystery Tour LP, which was released as a six-track double-EP in the UK.[52]

The song was the opening track of the compilation album 1967–1970, released in 1973,[53] and also appears on the Imagine soundtrack issued in 1988.[54] In 1996, three previously unreleased versions of the song were included on the Anthology 2 album: Lennon's original home demo, an altered version of the first studio take, and the complete take seven, of which only the first minute was heard in the master version.[55] In 2006, a newly mixed version of the song was included on the album Love.[16] This version builds from an acoustic demo (which was run at the actual recorded speed) and incorporates elements of "Hello, Goodbye", "In My Life", "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", "Penny Lane" and "Piggies".[56]

Critical reception Among initial reviews of the single, the NME‍ '​s Derek Johnson confessed to being both fascinated and confused by "Strawberry Fields Forever", writing: "Certainly the most unusual and way-out single The Beatles have yet produced – both in lyrical content and scoring. Quite honestly, I don't really know what to make of it."[57] Time magazine hailed the song as "the latest sample of the Beatles' astonishing inventiveness".[58]

"Strawberry Fields Forever" has continued to receive acclaim from music critics. Richie Unterberger of AllMusic describes the song as "one of The Beatles' peak achievements and one of the finest Lennon-McCartney songs".[5] Ian MacDonald wrote in Revolution in the Head that it "shows expression of a high order … few if any [contemporary composers] are capable of displaying feeling and fantasy so direct, spontaneous, and original."[59] In 2004, this song was ranked number 76 on Rolling Stone‍ '​s list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[6] In 2010, Rolling Stone placed it at number three on the 100 Greatest Beatles Songs.[60][61] The song was ranked as the second-best Beatles' song by Mojo, after "A Day in the Life".[62] The song is ranked as the 8th greatest of all time by Acclaimed Music.[63] XFM radio placed the song 73rd in their list of the 100 Best British Songs and 176th in their Top 1000 Songs of All Time list.[64][65]

Paul Revere & the Raiders were among the most successful US groups during 1966 and 1967, having their own Dick Clark-produced television show, Where the Action Is. Mark Lindsay (singer/saxophonist) heard the song on the radio, bought it, and then listened to it at home with his producer at the time, Terry Melcher. When the song ended Lindsay said, "Now what the fuck are we gonna do?" later saying, "With that single, the Beatles raised the ante as to what a pop record should be".[66]

It has been written by Steven Gaines in the biography Heroes and Villains that Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys heard the single while he was underway with his legendary unfinished album, Smile.[67] Later, the event was claimed by Gaines to have been one of many factors that accelerated Wilson's already plummeting emotional state and the project's imminent collapse, as Wilson could not find a way to complete the album to his satisfaction,[67] and by the Beach Boys' former manager Jack Rieley's account, feared that what he had accomplished over the last several months of recording would sound dated to contemporary rock audiences.[68][nb 2] In 2014, Wilson stated that he thought "Strawberry Fields Forever" was "a weird record", but denied that it had "weakened" him.[69]

In film The Beatles (McCartney, Harrison, Starr and Lennon) pouring paint over a piano in the video for the song The Beatles (McCartney, Harrison, Starr and Lennon) pouring paint over a piano in the video for the song The promotional film for "Strawberry Fields Forever" was an early example of what later became known as a music video.[70] It was filmed on 30 and 31 January 1967 at Knole Park in Sevenoaks, Kent. The clip was directed by Peter Goldmann,[71] a Swedish television director who had been recommended to the Beatles by their mutual friend Klaus Voormann.[72] One of the band's assistants, Tony Bramwell, served as producer. Bramwell recalls that, inspired by Voormann's comment on hearing "Strawberry Fields Forever" – that "the whole thing sounded like it was played on a strange instrument" – he spent two days dressing up a large tree in the park to resemble "a piano and harp combined, with strings". Writing for Mojo magazine in 2007, John Harris remarked that Bramwell's set design reflected the "collision of serenity and almost gothic eeriness" behind the finished song.[73] The film featured reverse film effects, stop motion animation, jump-cuts from daytime to night-time, and the Beatles playing and later pouring paint over the upright piano.[74] During the same visit to Knole Park, the band shot part of the promotional film for "Penny Lane".[75][nb 3]

The promotional films for "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" were selected by New York's MoMA as two of the most influential music videos of the late 1960s.[76] Both were originally broadcast in the US on 25 February 1967, on the variety show The Hollywood Palace, with actor Van Johnson as host.[77] The Ed Sullivan Show and other variety shows soon dropped their time constraints to allow for psychedelic music performances.

The song figures prominently in the award-winning Spanish film Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed, in which a fictional story is told of Lennon's true, original development of the song in 1966 in Spain.

A cartoon based on the song was the final episode produced for The Beatles animated television series.[78]

Cover versions The song has been covered a number of other times, notably by Peter Gabriel in 1976 on the musical documentary All This and World War II,[79] and by Ben Harper for the soundtrack of the film I Am Sam.[80] Vanilla Fudge, the debut album by Vanilla Fudge, also contains a cover of "Strawberry Fields Forever" titled "ELDS"; the album in fact spelt out an acrostic of the song as an homage, with preceding tracks titled "STRA", "WBER" and "RYFI."[81] Todd Rundgren's version of the song was released on his 1976 album Faithful. The song was also covered by Jim Sturgess and Joe Anderson for the 2007 movie Across the Universe. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs recorded a ska version of the song featuring Debbie Harry for their album Rey Azúcar, which was a hit throughout Latin America.[82]

"Strawberry Fields Forever" has also been covered by Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival, Trey Anastasio,[83] the Bee Gees, the Bobs, Campfire Girls, Eugene Chadbourne, Justin Currie, Design, Noel Gallagher, Richie Havens, Hayseed Dixie, Laurence Juber, David Lanz, Cyndi Lauper, Zlatko Manojlović,[84] Marilyn Manson, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Mother's Finest, Odetta, Andy Partridge, Plastic Penny, the Residents, Miguel Ríos, the Runaways, the Shadows, Gwen Stefani, Tomorrow, Transatlantic, Michael Vescera, the Ventures, Cassandra Wilson, Otomo Yoshihide, XTC, Ultraviolet Sound and Karen Souza.[85]

The song returned to the charts 23 years later when British dance group Candy Flip released an electronic version of the song. The song was generally well-received, AllMusic describing it as "funkier and more club-happy than the Beatles' original"[86] and was a commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching number three in the UK pop charts[87] and number eleven on the US Modern Rock Tracks chart.[88]

Personnel Personnel per Ian MacDonald[89]

The Beatles John Lennon – double-tracked vocal, acoustic guitar, piano, bongos Paul McCartney – Mellotron, bass, timpani George Harrison – electric guitar, electric slide guitar, maraca, swarmandal Ringo Starr – drums, backward cymbals Additional musicians and production staff George Martin – producer, cello and trumpet arrangement Geoff Emerick – engineer 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 Chart positions Chart (1967) Peak position Australian Go-Set National Top 40[90] 1 Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[91] 13 Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[92] 1 Netherlands (Single Top 100)[93] 1 Norway (VG-lista)[94] 1 UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[48] 2 US Billboard Hot 100[52] 8

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