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Thursday, December 15, 1966

Recording "Strawberry Fields Forever" #6

For The Beatles

Last updated on January 15, 2023

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.

But John was unsatisfied with the result. On December 8 and December 9, The Beatles worked on a remake, recording the rhythm track and adding the first overdubs.

On this day, December 15, from 2:30 pm to 12 pm, more overdubs were added to the track, starting with the recording of some strings and brass instruments. This idea was apparently conceived when or before the remake was started on December 8.

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

Four trumpeters and three cellists were brought in, to record the strings and brass score written by George Martin. Among them were Derek Simpson and Norman Jones, who had contributed to the recording of “Eleanor Rigby”, and Joy Hall, who had recently worked with George Martin and Paul McCartney on “The Family Way” soundtrack.

I booked in four trumpet players and three cellists for overdubbing on 15 December. I believe in economy in music — not to save money, but to get a clarity that using too many instruments will sometimes cloud. I had less than a week to write the score that John was looking for. I knew he wanted the brass to be bright and punchy, but I felt the chords needed a bit of reinforcement on some of the changes.

Having a basic recorded track to write to was a great advantage. It meant I could see where to put the flesh on the bones. I decided the cellos should speak with one voice, in unison, forming a bass counterpoint to the melody. The trumpets I wrote either in simple triad (i.e. three-finger) chords, or with a unison staccato emphasis, blasting away on one note.

I confess I had heard a lot of American records with very groovy horn sections by this time, and lifted one or two ideas from them. As the song developed further it seemed natural to use the trumpets as a harmony behind the voice, sounding the same phrase as in our lovely intro. Then came the only section I had qualms about. At this particular point the tempo is held together by a fast rhythm from a cymbal that Ringo recorded backwards — never an easy sound to latch on to. The cellos worked against this urgent beat with a slower, triplet time motif, and I was not at all sure that it was going to work. But now, I am happy to say, I cannot imagine the song without it.

Recording the parts I had written was very difficult to get exactly right: all four trumpets had to play loud punchy spiky stabs in perfect time, while the cello parts demanded equally accurate and strident bowing. They had to fit our frenetic rhythm track to perfection, which I found to be virtually impossible. I had quite forgotten that our kindergarten rhythm play-in inevitably did not conform to a rigid quartz-controlled beat. The tempo was all over the place.

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

The trumpets and cellos were overdubbed onto the two remaining tracks of the four-track tape, which means another reduction mix was required to free up two tracks for the next round of overdubs. This reduction mix was named Take 26.

John then overdubbed some lead vocals and some harmony vocals, on the two available tracks. His vocals were recorded with frequency control. One of those vocal tracks, which also included George Harrison on swarmandal and Ringo Starr on snare drums, was not included in the final result.

Before the session ended, five attempts at mixing the track in mono were done (labelled remixes 5 to 9).

The last overdubs would be added onto Take 26 on December 21.

Session activities

  1. Strawberry Fields Forever

    Written by Lennon - McCartney

    Recording • SI onto take 25

  2. Strawberry Fields Forever

    Written by Lennon - McCartney

    Tape copying • Tape reduction take 25 into take 26

  3. Strawberry Fields Forever

    Written by Lennon - McCartney

    Recording • SI onto take 26

  4. Strawberry Fields Forever

    Written by Lennon - McCartney

    Mixing • Mono mixing - Remix 5 from take 26

  5. Strawberry Fields Forever

    Written by Lennon - McCartney

    Mixing • Mono mixing - Remix 6 from take 26

  6. Strawberry Fields Forever

    Written by Lennon - McCartney

    Mixing • Mono mixing - Remix 7 from take 26

  7. Strawberry Fields Forever

    Written by Lennon - McCartney

    Mixing • Mono mixing - Remix 8 from take 26

  8. Strawberry Fields Forever

    Written by Lennon - McCartney

    Mixing • Mono mixing - Remix 9 from take 26


Musicians on "Strawberry Fields Forever"

Production staff

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!

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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.

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If we modestly consider the Paul McCartney Project to be the premier online resource for all things Paul McCartney, it is undeniable that The Beatles Bible stands as the definitive online site dedicated to the Beatles. While there is some overlap in content between the two sites, they differ significantly in their approach.

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