BY RANDAL HILL
Accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, John Lennon auditioned Strawberry Fields Forever—conceived as a slow talking blues song—for Beatles producer George Martin, who sat entranced in a dimly lit Abbey Road studio room while Lennon sang his complex and sophisticated tune. In the Beatles’ Anthology, Martin recalled, “It was magic. It was absolutely lovely. I love John’s voice anyway, and it was a great privilege listening to it.” Such poignancy and intimacy were rare from the normally guarded Beatle, who had become lyrically more introspective after falling under the influence of American icon Bob Dylan.
Strawberry Field (no “s”) was a Liverpool orphanage young Lennon could see from his upstairs window. The old residence was a sprawling 1870 Victorian home set in wooded
grounds and converted by the Salvation Army in 1936. The name had come from the
rows of strawberries that grew in the lush gardens there.
Lennon’s song, Strawberry Fields Forever, (he added the “s” as a stylistic choice), took him back to his childhood and carefree summer mornings with his friends, who often scaled the orphanage walls to play in the trees that became their private playground and a sanctuary from annoying adults. His aunt Mimi sometimes complained about his trespassing. Lennon would retort, “What are they going to do, hang me?” From that
would later come his often-misconstrued lyric line “Nothing to get hung about.”
Let me take you down
‘Cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever
He called his work “psychoanalysis set to music,” according to The Beatles: The Biography.
It featured surreal images that helped him bring his emotional world alive, some lyrics revealing long-suppressed insecurities and feelings of being misunderstood as a child.
Experimentation became the keyword as Fields developed. Lennon playfully added the sound of a Mellotron, a synthesizer type machine, as well as a little-noticed series of Morse Code beeps that spell out the letters J and L. George Harrison contributed the sound of a zither-like Indian instrument called a swarmandal.
The song was actually recorded twice, in different keys, tempos, and moods, and with differing instrumentation, sound loops and reversed tape sections. This way, Martin
managed to create an aural montage by speeding up one tape and slowing down the
other, blending both onto a single tape with a distinctive “faraway” sound.
Released as the “B” side to the more commercial Penny Lane, Lennon’s masterpiece
became one of the defining works of the psychedelic rock genre.
The Beatles • April 1967
Strawberry Fields Forever
Favorite musical memories from years gone by Randal C. Hill, a former disc jockey, English teacher, record collector and author, confesses to being hopelessly stuck in the past when it comes to music appreciation.
He lives on the Oregon coast and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.