How “Strawberry Fields Forever” Contains “the Craziest Edit” in Beatles History

The sto­ry of “Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er” is more or less the sto­ry in minia­ture of the Bea­t­les’ rein­ven­tion after they swore off tour­ing in 1966 and dis­ap­peared into the stu­dio to make their most inno­v­a­tive albums. It was not, as some Bea­t­les fans might remem­ber, an easy tran­si­tion right away. Some of their fans, it turned out, were fick­le, eas­i­ly swayed by gos­sip as the lat­est TV trends. “While unsub­stan­ti­at­ed break-up rumors swirled, some music fans became dis­en­chant­ed with the group,” writes Ulti­mate Clas­sic Rock. “You need only watch a 1967 clip from Amer­i­can Band­stand to see how many teenagers in the audi­ence thought the Bea­t­les were has-beens.”

Eager to get some­thing out and fight the whims of fash­ion, Par­lophone and Capi­tol both released John Lennon’s lat­est, “Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er,” with Paul McCartney’s “Pen­ny Lane” as the B‑side, in 1967. Since the band no longer toured, they were “direct­ed to make film clips to accom­pa­ny each song and pro­mote the sin­gle.”

Here, they debuted their new psy­che­del­ic look, and in the sin­gles they demon­strat­ed the new direc­tion their music would go. The­mat­i­cal­ly, both songs are nos­tal­gic trips through child­hood, with Lennon tak­ing a mys­ti­cal, psych-rock approach and McCart­ney div­ing head­long into his sen­ti­men­tal music hall ambi­tions.

“Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er” also firm­ly estab­lished the band as stu­dio wiz­ards, thanks to the wiz­ardry, pri­mar­i­ly, of George Mar­tin. In the video at the top from You Can’t Unhear This, we learn just what a marvel—as a tech­ni­cal achievement—the band’s new sin­gle was at the time, con­tain­ing “the cra­zi­est edit in Bea­t­les his­to­ry.” The song itself went through a very lengthy ges­ta­tion peri­od, as Col­in Flem­ing details in Rolling Stone, from sketchy, ghost­ly ear­ly acoustic demoes called “It’s Not Too Bad” (below) to the wild cacoph­o­ny of crash­ing rhythms and loop­ing melodies it would become.

Record­ing take after take, the band spent 55 hours in the stu­dio work­ing on “Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er.” Noth­ing seemed to sat­is­fy Lennon, though he was lean­ing toward a dark­er, heav­ier take, Flem­ing notes:

This was a ver­sion approach­ing pro­to-met­al. Lennon couldn’t decide if he want­ed to go the ethe­re­al route, or the stomp­ing one, and famous­ly told George Mar­tin to com­bine the two ver­sions. This was less than prac­ti­cal. 

“Well, there are two things against it,” Mar­tin informed Lennon. “One is that they’re in dif­fer­ent keys. The oth­er is that they’re in dif­fer­ent tem­pos.”

But for a man who had start­ed his most per­son­al, hon­est musi­cal jour­ney, with­in the para­me­ters of a sin­gle song, back in Spain, this was mere­ly part of the process. 

“You can fix it, George,” Lennon con­clud­ed, and that was that, with Mar­tin now tasked with find­ing a solu­tion to a prob­lem that seem­ing­ly vio­lat­ed the laws of musi­cal physics.

Mar­t­in’s solu­tion involved slow­ing one ver­sion down and speed­ing up the oth­er until they were close enough in pitch that “only a musi­col­o­gist, real­ly, would know that there was that much of a dif­fer­ence,” Flem­ing writes. Speed­ing up and slow­ing down tracks was com­mon prac­tice in the stu­dio, and is today, but giv­en the incred­i­ble num­ber of instru­ments and amount of over­dub­bing that went into mak­ing “Straw­ber­ry Fields,” the endeav­or defied the log­ic of what was tech­no­log­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble at the time.

While the time spent on the song might seem extrav­a­gant, we should con­sid­er that these days bands can pluck the sounds they want, what­ev­er they are, from pull-down menus, and splice any­thing togeth­er in a mat­ter of min­utes. In the mid-60s, Bri­an Jones, Bri­an Wil­son, Jimi Hen­drix, the Bea­t­les and oth­er stu­dio pio­neers dreamed up sounds no one had heard before, and brought togeth­er instru­men­ta­tion that had nev­er shared space in a mix. Pro­duc­ers and engi­neers like Mar­tin had to invent the tech­niques to make those new sounds come togeth­er on tape. Learn­ing the ins-and-outs of how Mar­tin did it can give even the most die-hard Bea­t­les fans renewed appre­ci­a­tion for songs as wide­ly beloved as “Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Lennon or McCart­ney? Sci­en­tists Use Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence to Fig­ure Out Who Wrote Icon­ic Bea­t­les Songs

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Every Place Ref­er­enced in The Bea­t­les’ Lyrics: In 12 Min­utes, Trav­el 25,000 Miles Across Eng­land, France, Rus­sia, India & the US

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

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Comments (6)
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  • Randy says:

    Thanks for post­ing that arti­cle on Straw­ber­ry Fields for­ev­er. I remem­ber lis­ten­ing to the world pre­miere in my bed on my lit­tle radio. I believe it was on KHJ or pos­si­ble KRLA in Los Ange­les at about 9 or 10pm. I loved lis­ten­ing to that song and it has remained my favorite Bea­t­le song. I have over 100 Bea­t­le albums, on vinyl, and still lis­ten to many of them reg­u­lar­ly. I think Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er is one of the most cre­ative songs of all time and opened up pop/rock artists to explor­ing new sounds of music and how to make an engag­ing album.

  • Robert Gé says:

    Great arti­cle!
    Great videos!
    And of course: beau­ti­ful song!

  • Tom g. says:

    Fields is a bril­liant song show­ing the genius of geor­gr mar­tin- with­out which the great­est rock song of all time“A Day In The Life”, could not have been pro­duced

  • Cloris says:

    Love this. More please.

  • Alan in Portlandia says:

    No men­tion of Engi­neer Geoff Emer­ick who at 19 years old was assigned to the Bea­t­les as all of the more expe­ri­enced engi­neers did­n’t want it as the Bea­t­les could be very demand­ing. Geoff Emer­ick was the one will­ing to try new things. He was as or even more essen­tial for the Bea­t­les sound as George Mar­tin as the Bea­t­les were pro­duc­ing them­selves more and more and George Mar­tin was writ­ing more and more arrange­ments.

  • Paul Davis says:

    This is a great read.

    I found my way here after read­ing the Wiki for this song. This arti­cle helps a lot of fill in the blanks.

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