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Strawberry Fields Forever

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


"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 (see Lennon-McCartney), "Strawberry Fields Forever" is known to have been composed solely by Lennon.


The single was first released on 13 February 1967, in Britain and on February 17, 1967 in the United States, as one side of a double A-side single, teamed with the McCartney composition "Penny Lane". The Beatles had originally planned to release "Strawberry Fields Forever" backed with "When I'm Sixty-Four". When manager Brian Epstein asked producer George Martin about the sessions for the single, Martin told Epstein the group had recorded what were, in his opinion, their two finest songs ("Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane"). Epstein suggested that Martin issue the songs as a double A-sided single, as they had done with their previous single "Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby".

The single reached #2 in the UK charts, behind Englebert Humperdinck's "Release Me". "Penny Lane" did reach #1 in the United States, with "Strawberry Fields Forever" peaking at #8.

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. This song also appears on the John Lennon Imagine soundtrack.

Composition and recording

Lennon began writing the song in late 1966, while in Almeria, Spain filming Richard Lester's How I Won The War, though he can be seen and heard playing the introductory notes on a melodica in a hotel room in the film "The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit" which was filmed in February 1964.

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. Strawberry Field was a Salvation Army orphanage just around the corner from Lennon's boyhood home in Woolton. Lennon and his childhood friends Pete Shotton and Ivan Vaughan used to play in the trees behind the orphanage. One of Lennon's childhood treats was the garden party that took place each summer in the grounds of Strawberry Field. Lennon's Aunt Mimi 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.'"[1]

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 "more popular 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. Although there are no obvious references to drugs, the song's style and tone and oblique, stream of consciousness lyrics often are thought to have been influenced by his LSD experiences.

The song's groundbreaking production by recording engineer Geoff Emerick 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. It featured extensive overdubbing, the prominent use of reverse tape effects and tape loops, and extensive audio compression and equalisation. As well as the standard guitar-bass-drums backing, the arrangement also included piano, Mellotron (played by McCartney), slide guitar, trumpets, cellos and some unusual instruments including the swarmandel, an Indian stringed instrument which provided the sitar-like sound at the end of each chorus.

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 Mellotron, guitars, bass and drums. For the second version, recorded some weeks later, Lennon opted for a much more complex arrangement (scored by George Martin) that included trumpets and cellos, along with the prominent sound of backwards cymbals during the verses.

Lennon decided that he liked the first minute of Take 7 (the "acid rock" version), and the ending of Take 26 (the "orchestral" 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 the two versions were played in different keys and tempos. Fortunately for Martin and Emerick, the faster version was also in the higher key, and so the two 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) between the phrases "'cause I'm" and "going to." The pitch-shifting used in joining the versions also gave Lennon's lead vocal a subtle "off-kilter" quality.

Perhaps most distinctive of all was the instrument that produced the flute-like sound in the song's introduction — a Mellotron, recently purchased by Lennon and brought in to the Abbey Road studio especially for the song. This innovative British-made electronic keyboard used eight-second tape segments of real instruments such as strings (used on take 1 of the song) and flutes (on takes 2 through 7). 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 actually says "cranberry sauce" at the end of the song and not "I buried Paul", a fact that Lennon himself confirmed in a 1980 Playboy interview. He stated it was a kind of icing on the cake of the weirdness of the song, where anything he might have imagined saying would have been appropriate. On the sessions released in The Beatles Anthology, the words "cranberry sauce" are more clear, especially during the edit piece joined onto the end of Take 7.

Promotion and reception

The song made it to number two on the British charts. The number one single at the time was Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me". (An interesting note is that until February 1969, there was no single definitive singles chart in the UK. The retroactive determination of "British chart history" flows smoothly from NME's 1950s chart through Record Retailer's expanded chart, which began in 1960, into the one compiled by the British Market Research Bureau that is used today. "Strawberry Fields"/"Penny Lane" was ranked as a number one entry on Melody Maker's weekly singles chart.)[2]

The promotional film for the song is now recognized 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; both originally were broadcast in the United States in early 1967 on the variety show Hollywood Palace, with Liberace as host.

The song gave its name to the Strawberry Fields Memorial in New York City's Central Park, near the site of John Lennon's assassination.

Brian Wilson claimed that 'Strawberry Fields Forever' was partially responsible for the collapse of the Beach Boys' legendary unfinished album 'SMiLE'. Wilson first heard the song on his car radio while driving, and was so affected by it that he had to pull over until the song finished. He then remarked to his companion (either wryly or in despair, according to the version of the story) that The Beatles had "got there first" (i.e., to the sound he was trying to achieve with the new album). SMiLE was shelved shortly afterwards.

Before playing the song on his radio show in January 2006, BBC Radio 2 DJ Mark Radcliffe said it could be described "without fear of contradiction as the greatest double-A side ever".

Pop culture

  • American baseball player Darryl Strawberry was known as a "good hit, no field" kind of player during his career in the 1980s and 1990s, and was also a troubled man off the field. A wag at Sports Illustrated hypothesized what his version of Purgatory would be like: "Strawberry fields forever!"
  • After he was arrested for illegal drugs, parody music maker Bob Rivers recorded a parody of "Strawberry Fields Forever" (titled "Strawberry Rehabs Forever") which popped up on radio stations (mostly morning "comedic" radio shows such as John Boy and Billy).
  • The tune to the song's beginning is played in EarthBound as the character Tessie's theme.
  • Jack Jones' biography of Mark David Chapman (John Lennon's murderer) is entitled Let Me Take You Down, which is the first line of the song.
  • Dominic Monaghan (of Lord of the Rings fame, and who plays Charlie Pace on Lost) has "Living is easy with eyes closed" tattooed on his left arm.
  • In the movie Head, starring the Monkees, Peter Tork can be heard whistling the chorus.

Covers and Derivations

  • Oasis (band) is covering the song as part of their of their promotion for the Stop The Clocks Best of. Noel Gallagher is on the vocals.
  • Tomorrow cover the song on their 1968 album, Tomorrow.
  • Brazilian singer and songwriter Caetano Veloso evidently pays tribute to The Beatles' collage technique in his own "Sugarcane Fields Forever", on his experimental 1973 album Araçá Azul.
  • The Jamaican group The Pyramids sing "Let me take you back, cause I'm goin, goin, goin to Ethiopia" on their (late 1960s?) tune "Ethiopia".
  • Peter Gabriel covered the song for the 1976 transitory musical documentary All This and World War II.
  • A capella group The Bobs covered the song on Cover the Songs of....
  • Argentinean band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs covered the song in Spanish during the 1990s (with Debbie Harry).
  • Candy Flip had a hit single with a suitably psychedelic cover of the song in the early 1990s.
  • Me First and the Gimme Gimmes recorded a purposefully terrible version of the song on their album Ruin Jonny's Bar Mitzvah.
  • Ben Harper recorded a cover of the song in 2001 for the soundtrack to the film I Am Sam.
  • Frank Zappa covered the song in 1988, but with different lyrics, to satirize Jimmy Swaggart's sex scandal. The number is not available on the regular Zappa catalogue, due to legal reasons.
  • The alternative band Bush makes a reference to strawberry fields in their hit single "Glycerine".
  • A live cover of the song also appears on the Definitive Collection album by Mother's Finest.
  • Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Quintet recorded an instrumental cover of the song on their 2003 album, Tails Out.
  • Richie Havens does a cover, on the album Sings Beatles & Dylan (1987), also available on the collection The Classics.
  • The Real Group rewrote this chart for five vocalists. It can be found on their 1996 album "Live in Stockholm"
  • Composer, singer, multi-instrumentalist, and music producer Todd Rundgren covered it on his 1990 album Faithful, reproducing it almost perfectly.


  • There is a town in New Freedom, Pennsylvania named "Strawberry Fields" after the Beatles song "Strawberry Fields Forever". Some of the street names within the neighborhood are named for each of the Beatles, while others are named after other Beatles works, such as Abbey Road (album), and the song Penny Lane.
  • John Lennon's mellotron - which is featured so promenently in the intro of the song - is now in possession of Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails.
  • At the end of the song Lennon can be heard saying 'Cranberry Sauce...Cranberry Sauce' as the song fades. This formed part of the 'Paul Is Dead' hoax when it was mistaken as 'I buried Paul...I buried Paul...'.


  1. ^ Davies, The Beatles, 9
  2. ^


  • Davies, Hunter (1968). The Beatles: The Authorised Biography. Heinemann.


  • "Strawberry Fields Forever" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
    • A short sample of The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever".
    • Problems listening to the file? See media help.

External links

  • MoreThings Song analysis, including "how The Beatles led me away from Christ"
  • Alan Pollack's notes on Strawberry Fields Forever
  • Golden Oldies of Music Video a presentation from New York's MoMA originally screened on April 17, 2003
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