Recording "Strawberry Fields Forever" #1

Thursday, November 24, 1966 • For The Beatles

Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever 7" Single.
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

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About

From Wikipedia:

[…] The working title was “It’s Not Too Bad“, and Geoff Emerick, the sound engineer, remembered it being “just a great, great song, that was apparent from the first time John sang it for all of us, playing an acoustic guitar.” Recording began on 24 November 1966, in Abbey Road’s Studio Two on a 4-track machine. It took 45 hours to record, spread over five weeks. The song was meant to be on the band’s 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but was released as a single instead.

The band recorded three distinct versions of the song. After Lennon played the song for the other Beatles on his acoustic guitar, the band recorded the first take. Lennon played an Epiphone Casino; McCartney played a Mellotron, a new home instrument purchased by Lennon on 12 August 1965 (with another model hired in after encouragement from Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues); George Harrison played electric guitar, and Ringo Starr played drums. The first recorded take began with the verse, “Living is easy …“, instead of the chorus, “Let me take you down“, which starts the released version. The first verse also led directly to the second, with no chorus between. Lennon’s vocals were automatically double-tracked from the words “Strawberry Fields Forever” through the end of the last verse. The last verse, beginning “Always, no sometimes“, has three-part harmonies, with McCartney and Harrison singing “dreamy background vocals“. This version was soon abandoned and went unreleased until the Anthology 2 compilation in 1996. […]

From Anthology 2 liner notes:

After five months away from the studio, and three apart from each other, the Beatles came together at Abbey Road on Thursday 24 November 1966, encumbered no longer by deadlines and touring schedules, and keen to explore new song ideas and methods of recording. In the next five months they would deliver the two sides of their forthcoming single, Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever, and the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After issuing 116 titles in 46 months, a rate of 30 per year, in between concert dates, film shoots, TV recordings and radio sessions, the Beatles were clearly giving themselves and their music a chance to breathe. The result was startling – few could dispute that this was an era of tremendous creativity.

Strawberry Fields Forever typifies this: a succession of fine recordings captured the gist of the song but no one performance wholly seizes its spirit (at least, not to the satisfaction of its composer), and the final master was not completed almost a month after this initial session. As it took shape on 24 November, with an alternative lyric order and arrangement, [Take 1] was considerably different from that master.

From Sgt Pepper – what’s new – The Daily Beatle (webgrafikk.com):

Too much criticism to George Martin because on Anthology CDs Vol. 2 he “erased” Paul and George’s backing vocals, when in reality, he gave us the actual TAKE 1 without any overdubs as Mark Lewisohn documented, a version that wasn’t bootlegged before that. The very same day of this recording, November 24th, 1966, John recorded a second vocal (double tracked vocal) and Paul and George added backing harmonies, all over that first take and that’s the version that was bootlegged before and it’s the same version appearing now. Now, on this Deluxe edition: Giles edited out some mellotron warm up sounds after the “Take One” announcement, missing 22 seconds that are available on bootleg, and also he faded out 8 seconds of post-take studio sounds.

From Facebook – 24 November 1966 – Photo by Larry Ellis ©

In November The Beatles returned to the studio for the first time after they had decided to stop touring. They were generally fed up with their lives. They’d had a lot of aggro in that past year, coupled with Brian Epstein worrying that they were going down the pan. He thought that it was the end of The Beatles, and there were all sorts of signs of that in 1966. There was the Philippines disaster, and the falling attendance in some of their shows, and they were fed up with being prisoners of their fame.

We started off with ‘Strawberry Fields’, and then we recorded ‘When I’m Sixty-Four and ‘Penny Lane’. They were all intended for the next album. We didn’t know it was Sgt Pepper then – they were just going to be tracks on The New Album — but it was going to be a record created in the studio, and there were going to be songs that couldn’t be performed live

George Martin – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000

We did a few versions of it. John wasn’t totally happy with the first couple of takes that we did, so we remade the whole track, and in the end John and George Martin stitched two different versions together. We could hardly hear the join, but it’s one of those edits where the pace changes slightly: it goes a bit more manic for the second half of the song.

‘Penny Lane’ was a little more surreal, too, although in a cleaner way. I remember saying to George Martin, ‘I want a very clean recording.’ I was into clean sounds – maybe a Beach Boy influence at that point.

The ‘fireman with his hourglass’ and all that imagery was us trying to get into a bit of art. The lyrics were all based on real things. There was a barber called something like Bioletti (I think he’s actually still there in Penny Lane) who, like all barbers, had pictures of the haircuts you could choose. But instead of saying, ‘The barber with pictures of haircuts in his windows,’ it was changed round to: ‘Every head he’s had the pleasure to have known.’ A barber showing photographs – like an exhibition.

It was twisting it to a slightly more artsy angle, more like a play. Like the nurse who’s selling poppies from a tray (which some Americans thought was ‘selling puppies from a tray’) for Remembrance Day. Then ‘she feels as if she’s in a play’ – which ‘she is anyway’. These were all the trippy little ideas that we were trying to get in. They’re both songs about Liverpool as well. It was always a good thing for us, because we were a group that had been together for a long time, that we could do that: ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Penny Lane’ – wow! A lot of our formative years were spent walking around those places. Penny Lane was the depot 1 had to change buses at to get from my house to John’s and to a lot of my friends. It was a big bus terminal which we all knew very well. I sang in the choir at St Barnabas Church opposite.

Those two songs were the lead singles. They were the first things we tried in the batch of new recordings

Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000
From New Musical Express – December 3, 1966

Last updated on October 25, 2022

Songs recorded


1.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 1

Album Officially released on Anthology 2


2.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 1 with overdubs

Album Officially released on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (50th anniversary boxset)

Staff

Production staff

George Martin:
Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer
Phil McDonald:
Second Engineer

Going further


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Through extensive, fully-documented research, these books fill an important gap left by all other Beatles books published to date and provide a unique view into the recordings of the world's most successful pop music act.

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