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Strawberry Fields Forever
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Strawberry Fields Forever

"Strawberry Fields Forever" is the title of a 1967 song recorded by The Beatles; although credited to both John Lennon and Paul McCartney it is known to have been composed solely by Lennon. The song was first released in the UK as a double A-side single with "Penny Lane". In the US, it was released on the LP Magical Mystery Tour, which was originally a double-EP in the UK. The LP format is now the official version in the Beatles discography.

Lennon began writing the song in the fall of 1966, while in Spain filming Richard Lester's How I Won The War. But 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.

The song expressed for Lennon his nostalgia the Salvation Army orphanage in Woolton, which was called Strawberry Field. Lennon 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 some of the most stressful events of their career, including the 'bigger than Jesus' controversy and their disastrous tour of The Phillippines; Lennon's marrige was falling apart; perhaps most significant of all, he had begun using increasing quantities of drugs, especially the powerful hallucinogen LSD.

The song's groundbreaking production and complex arrangement gave clear evidence of the band's growing prowess in the studio and Lennon's increasingly avant-garde approach to his music. Although there are no obvious references to drugs, it is also clear from the song's style and tone and and Lennon's oblique, stream-of-consciousness lyrics that the song was undoubtedly influenced by his experiences with acid.

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 time later, Lennon had opted for a much more complex arrangement scored by George Martin that included a brass section and a string quartet.

Reviewing the Various takes, Lennon liked the first minute of take 7 (the 'acid rock' version), and the ending of take 26 (the 'chamber' version). He decided that he wanted the finished song to combine elements of both versions, so he 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, exactly 1 minute into the released version. (Although – just to nitpick – CD counters may give the exact time as 59 seconds.)

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 backing, the arrangement also included piano, slide guitar, 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.

Most unusual 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 (band) 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.

The song, which was the first to be recorded during the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sessions, 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 superb promotional film for the song is now recorgnised as one of the first and most successful conceptual music videos, featuring reverse film effects, 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 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.

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