Recording "Strawberry Fields Forever", "When I'm Sixty-Four"

Thursday, December 8, 1966 • For The Beatles

Part of


Recording "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

Nov 24, 1966 - Apr 20, 1967 • Songs recorded during this session appear on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Mono)

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

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About

On November 24, 1966, The Beatles were back at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, to start recording their next single and album. After three days spent on John Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever“ (November 24, 28 and 29), they thought the work on this track was over, and on December 6, they decided to start recording another track, Paul McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-Four“.

But John was unsatisfied with the current version of “Strawberry Fields Forever“. And on this day, The Beatles re-recorded the track.


The day was split into two sessions. From 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm, Paul was the only Beatles in the studio, and he perfected the lead vocals of “When I’m Sixty-Four” he recorded on December 6.

This Take 2 with the final vocal overdubs was released on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (50th anniversary boxset) in 2017.

Starts with a “Take Two” announcement and some warm up but the rest is just the released take (minus overdubs), so this is not actual Take 2 (Takes 1 and 2 were instrumental). This is Take 2 Vocal Overdub (the same as the released version, Giles could have use a different vocal take but he didn’t) recorded two days later.

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

Work on “When I’m Sixty-Four” would continue on December 20, 1966.


From 7 pm to 3:40 am, the four Beatles worked on the remake of “Strawberry Fields Forever“.

Strangely, the Sergeant Pepper album originated with a song which was never on it, ‘Strawberry Fields’. That November John came into the studio, and we went into our regular routine. I sat on my high stool with Paul standing beside me, and John stood in front of us with his acoustic guitar and sang the song. It was absolutely lovely. Then we tried it with Ringo on drums, and Paul and George on their bass and electric guitars. It started to get heavy – it wasn’t the gentle song that I had first heard. We ended up with a record which was very good heavy rock. Still, that was apparently what John wanted, so I metaphorically shrugged my shoulders and said: “Well, that really wasn’t what I’d thought of, but it’s OK”. And off John went.

A week later he came back and said: “I’ve been thinking about it, too, George. Maybe what we did was wrong. I think we ought to have another go at doing it.” […]

George Martin – From “All You Need Is Ears“, 1979

John went away and listened to the lacquers we had made of it and…a week later he came back and said…,’George, I’m not very happy about that record we just made. It’s not exactly what I had in mind when I first wrote it. I’d like to do it again.’ But I had to admit, ‘…I thought it was going to be a little more flowing than it has been,’ John said, ‘That’s the point. I want it a little smoother. Can you do a score for me and we’ll do a new record?’ So, I said, ‘What do you want to use on it then?’ And he said, ‘Well, strings and a bit of brass.’ So I scored it for some cellos and for some trumpets and various things, and we made another record.

George Martin

[…] In the midst of all this, John had been listening repeatedly to his acetate of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and he decided he didn’t like it. For someone who was normally so articulate, it always amazed me how he would struggle for words whenever he tried to tell George Martin how he wanted a song arranged. This time around, he just kept mumbling, “I don’t know; I just think it should somehow be heavier.”

“Heavier how, John?” George asked.

“I dunno, just kind of, y’know… heavier.”

Paul did his best to translate John’s abstract notion into concrete musical form. Pointing out how well the flute sound on the Mellotron had worked, he suggested that perhaps some outside musicians be brought in, that the song be scored for some orchestral instrumentation. John loved the idea, specifically requesting cellos and trumpets.

“Do a good job, George,” he instructed the still somewhat uncertain producer as he departed the control room. “Just make sure it’s heavy.”

Lennon didn’t want to simply overdub more instruments on top of the existing rhythm track, though — he wanted to scrap the whole thing and start all over again.

Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006

George Martin and Geoff Emerick were absent at the start of the session and were replaced by technical engineer Dave Harries.

They had tickets for the premiere of Cliff Richard’s film “Finders Keepers” and didn’t arrive back until about 11 o’clock. Soon after I had lined up the microphones and instruments in the studio that night, ready for the session, the Beatles arrived, hot to record. There was nobody else there but me so I became producer / engineer. We recorded Ringo’s cymbals, played them backwards, Paul and George were on timps [timpani] and bongos, Mal Evans played tambourine, we overdubbed the guitars, everything. It sounded great. When George and Geoff came back I scuttled upstairs because I shouldn’t really have been recording them.

Dave Harries – From The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn, 2004

Unfortunately, on the night that they began doing the remake, George Martin and I were in London’s West End, attending the premiere of the new Cliff Richard film Finders Keepers. George was quite adamant that we go, which really annoyed me. I felt our place was with the Beatles, and I felt certain that they were going to be unhappy about us taking time off so early into an album project. In retrospect, I think it may have been a psychological ploy on George’s part to show them who was in charge.

It was midnight when we finally returned to the studio, only to find the four Beatles still hard at work with maintenance engineer Dave Harries, who had been recruited to start the session in our absence. In the end, only part of what he recorded ever made its way onto the final release version; George and I stayed on until nearly dawn and ended up redoing most of it.

Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006

We arranged a recording session for the following Thursday, 8 December, to lay down the new rhythm track. The boys wanted to come in at 7 p.m. There was only one small snag: I had promised to attend the premiére of Cliff Richard’s new film, Finders Keepers, that evening. Geoff Emerick, our engineer, was invited along too. We decided to risk it and attend the premiére: quite often the Beatles would turn up late — or sometimes not even at all. That night they turned up bang on seven o’clock. Such is the law of Sod.

When Geoff and I strolled in at about eleven, Studio No. 2 was in the grip of a controlled riot. The boys had decided it would be fun to lay down an ‘unusual’ rhythm track for ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ on their own, with anyone and everyone available simply banging away on whatever came to hand. The racket as we walked in was like something from a very bad Tarzan movie. John and Paul were bashing bongo drums, George was on huge kettledrums, joined sporadically by Paul; Neil Aspinall was playing a gourd scraper, Mal Evans a tambourine, and George’s friend Terry Doran was shaking maracas. Someone else was tinkling away on fingercymbals. Above it all, Ringo was struggling manfully to keep the cacophony together with his regular drum-kit. The Beatles were at play, and here was I coming in to party-poop!

Towards the end of this rogue track, which Dave Harries, as stand-in engineer, was doing his best to record, everyone was whooping or yelling, and John can clearly be heard chanting very slowly, and in time to the rough-and-ready beat: “Cranberry sauce, cranberry sauce…” Why cranberry sauce? Why not? It was coming up to Christmas!

Some of that wild and whacky recording survived through to the release of the record, and you can still hear John chanting these words, if you listen closely.

George Martin – From “With A Little Help From My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper“, 1995

When the “Paul Is Dead” rumour spread in late 1969, some folks, looking for hints, played “Strawberry Fields Forever” at a faster speed and thought that John was saying “I buried Paul” rather than “Cranberry sauce“.

At the end of “Strawberry Fields”, that wasn’t “I buried Paul”, at all. That was John saying “Cranberry sauce”. That’s John’s humour. John would say something totally out of sync, like “Cranberry sauce”. If you don’t realize that John’s apt to say “Cranberry sauce” when he feels like it, then you start to hear a funny little word there, and you think, “Aha!”.

Paul McCartney – Circa 1974 – From Beatles Songwriting & Recording Database: Magical Mystery Tour (beatlesinterviews.org)

John was actually saying ‘cranberry sauce,’ not ‘I buried Paul,’ for the simple reason that we were recording around the time of the Thanksgiving holiday, and just before the take, we had all been chatting about turkey and all the trimmings, and how Americans traditionally ate such a meal at that time of year. That’s the way John was – he’d often work little phrases or snatches of conversation about something he had been recently reading or talking about into the music he was recording…I’m sorry to disappoint anyone who ever bought into this rubbish, but Paul was, in fact, very much alive and well, and there was never any kind of plan to fool the public by scattering clues about his supposed demise.

Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006

The Beatles recorded 14 takes of the new rhythm track (labelled takes 9 to 24). Takes 12, 14, 18 and 23 were false starts, and strangely there was no take 8 and no take 19. Towards the end of the session, Take 15 was edited to the end of Take 24.

First, a new rhythm track was recorded on 8 December 1966. Sixteen takes (numbered nine to 24) of a performance of drums, cymbal, hi-hat, snare drum, bongos, maracas and tambourine were recorded to a mono tape machine.

Kevin Howlett – From Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (50th anniversary boxset), 2017

Before the end of this long night George Martin and Geoff Emerick edited together the first three-quarters of take 15 with the last quarter of take 24. An attempt to mixdown the two four-track edits into take 25 was started but then aborted for the night, to be continued the next day.

From The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn, 2004

Geoff Emerick writes in his memoir that “only part of what [Dave Harries] recorded ever made its way onto the final release version“. This is contradicted by Mark Lewisohn, in his book “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions”, who explains that “Harries’ version – or part of it, anyway – was a vital part of that record.

Work on “Strawberry Fields Forever” continued the following day.

Last updated on January 25, 2023

Songs recorded


1.

When I'm Sixty-Four

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • SI onto take 2

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


2.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 9


3.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 10


4.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 11


5.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 12


6.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 13


7.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 14


8.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 15


9.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 16


10.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 17


11.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 18


12.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 20


13.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 21


14.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 22


15.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 23


16.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 24


17.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Editing • Editing of take 15 and take 24

Staff

Musicians on "Strawberry Fields Forever"

Paul McCartney:
Timpani
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Tambourine, Gourd, Maracas, Finger cymbals
George Harrison:
Bongos
Mal Evans:
Maracas, Finger cymbals, Tambourine, Gourd
Neil Aspinall:
Tambourine, Gourd, Maracas, Finger cymbals
Terry Doran:
Maracas

Production staff

George Martin:
Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer
Phil McDonald:
Second Engineer
Dave Harries:
Engineer, Producer

Going further


The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions • Mark Lewisohn

The definitive guide for every Beatles recording sessions from 1962 to 1970.

We owe a lot to Mark Lewisohn for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - the number of takes for each song, who contributed what, a description of the context and how each session went, various photographies... And an introductory interview with Paul McCartney!

Shop on Amazon


The Beatles Recording Reference Manual - Volume 2 - Help! through Revolver (1965-1966)

The second book of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC)-nominated series, "The Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 2: Help! through Revolver (1965-1966)" follows the evolution of the band from the end of Beatlemania with "Help!" through the introspection of "Rubber Soul" up to the sonic revolution of "Revolver". From the first take to the final remix, discover the making of the greatest recordings of all time.

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.

Shop on Amazon


If we like to think, in all modesty, that the Paul McCartney Project is the best online ressource for everything Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible is for sure the definitive online site focused on the Beatles. There are obviously some overlap in terms of content between the two sites, but also some major differences in terms of approach.

Read more on The Beatles Bible


http://www.beatlesebooks.com/strawberry-fields-forever


http://www.columbia.edu/~brennan/beatles/strawberry-fields.html

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