Hear John Lennon Sing Home Demo Versions of “She Said, She Said,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “Don’t Let Me Down”

John Lennon was an invet­er­ate archivist of sound and image, doc­u­ment­ing his life in what­ev­er medi­um he had avail­able to him and leav­ing behind acres of tape for friends and fans to dis­cov­er. Lennon’s tapes com­prise hun­dreds of hours of song sketch­es, full demos, con­ver­sa­tions, jokes, and, as Yoko Ono puts it in her intro to The Lost Lennon Tapes, some “pret­ty per­son­al stuff.” The Lost Lennon Tapes was a radio series that aired between 1988 and 1992, pre­sent­ing over two hun­dred hours of archival Lennon audio in 219 episodes. Host­ed by Lennon’s friend Elliot Mintz, the series gave lis­ten­ers an inti­mate look into John’s cre­ative process through demos like that above, a 1966 series of sketch­es that would become Revolver’s “She Said, She Said.”

In this record­ing, Lennon, alone with a jan­g­ly gui­tar, works out the now-famil­iar chord pro­gres­sions and vocal melodies of the song in sev­er­al dif­fer­ent iterations—and with some quirky lyri­cal vari­ants (“She’s mak­ing me feel like my trousers are torn”). We get to hear the song evolve in sev­er­al stages, from its boun­cy two-chord begin­nings to its final, East­ern-inspired form. The demo also pro­vides evi­dence of the song’s con­cep­tu­al ori­gins; in the first cou­ple ver­sions, you can hear Lennon sing “he said” instead of “she.” The “he” refers to Peter Fon­da, who inspired the song by freak­ing Lennon out dur­ing an acid trip, utter­ing what became the song’s first line, “I know what it’s like to be dead.”

Just above you can hear sev­er­al dif­fer­ent 1966 home demo takes of “Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er,” with John singing over a lone elec­tric gui­tar. Lennon stops and starts sev­er­al times, then, at 1:55, finds his groove and plays the whole song through. Next, we hear a run-through with added Mel­lotron, that odd ear­ly pro­to-syn­the­siz­er that lent the final George Mar­tin-pro­duced ver­sion so much of its dis­tinc­tive sound. Final­ly, at 6:15, hear one of the very first demo record­ings of the song—a beau­ti­ful solo acoustic ver­sion record­ed in Alme­ria, Spain. In the promi­nent gui­tar, we hear the strange, ser­pen­tine chord pat­tern that gives the song such a haunt­ing feel. Lennon began com­pos­ing the song in Spain while film­ing his scenes for Richard Lester’s How I Won the War.

Paul McCart­ney once called Lennon’s “Don’t Let Me Down” a “gen­uine plea” to Yoko, inter­pret­ing the song as John say­ing “I’m real­ly just let­ting my vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty be seen, so you must not let me down.” The Bea­t­les record­ed sev­er­al ver­sions of the song for the Let it Be ses­sions and released it as a B side to the “Get Back” sin­gle in 1969, though Phil Spec­tor even­tu­al­ly dropped the song from Let it Be. McCart­ney restored it to his re-release of the album, Let it Be… Naked, in which he stripped the songs of Spector’s stu­dio effects. Above, hear “Don’t Let Me Down” at its most stripped-down in a 1968 home demo. Just Lennon with his acoustic gui­tar, qui­et­ly strum­ming out his bluesy love tune, a stark con­trast to the scream­ing rock­er the song would become.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The 10-Minute, Nev­er-Released, Exper­i­men­tal Demo of The Bea­t­les’ “Rev­o­lu­tion” (1968)

The Bea­t­les: Unplugged Col­lects Acoustic Demos of White Album Songs (1968)

John Lennon’s Raw, Soul-Bar­ing Vocals From the Bea­t­les’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ (1969)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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