Mixing "Strawberry Fields Forever"

Thursday, December 22, 1966 • For The Beatles

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

Songs recorded


1.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Mixing • Mono mixing - Remix 10 from take 7


2.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Mixing • Mono mixing - Remix 11 from take 26


3.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Editing • Editing of mono remixes 10 and 11, edit numbered remix 12

Album Officially released on Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane

Staff

Production staff

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

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 were satisfied with the resulting Take 7 and thought the work on this track was over.

But John was not satisfied with the result. The Beatles then spent additional days on December 8, 9, 15, and 21, working on a remake, but John remained unhappy with the resulting Take 26. In order to achieve his desired outcome, he came up with the idea of combining the first part of take 7 and the latter part of take 26. This challenging task of mixing and editing was completed by the engineering team on this day, from 7 to 11:30 pm.


“I’ve been listening to these acetates of ‘Strawberry Fields’ a lot,” John announced a few days later, “and I’ve decided that I still prefer the beginning of the original version.”

My jaw dropped. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see George Martin blinking slowly. I could almost detect his blood pressure rising. Ignoring both of us, Lennon continued.

“So what I’d like our young Geoffrey here to do is to join the two bits together.”

George Martin let out a big sigh. “John, we’d be glad to do that,” he said, the sarcasm dripping from his voice. “The only thing that stands in our way is the fact that the two versions were played in different keys and at different
tempos.”

John appeared nonplussed; I’m not sure he even understood why that presented a problem.

“You can do it,” he said simply. With that, he turned and headed out the door.

“What do you think, Geoff?” a deflated George asked me after John had gone. My reply was noncommittal. “I’m not sure; I guess all we can do is have a go.”

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

A few days later [John] rang me up and said: “I like that one, I really do. But, you know, the other one’s got something, too.”

“Yes, I know,” I said, “they’re both good. But aren’t we starting to split hairs?”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word ‘split’, because John’s reply was: “I like the beginning of the first one, and I like the end of the second one. Why don’t we just join them together?”

“Well, there are only two things against it,” I said. “One is that they’re in different keys. The other is that they’re in different tempos.”

“Yeah, but you can do something about it, I know. You can fix it, George.”

John always left this kind of thing to me. He never professed to know anything about recording. He was the least technical of the Beatles. He had a profound faith in my ability to cope with such problems, a faith which was sometimes misplaced, as I certainly felt it was on this occasion. He had presented me with an almost insuperable task. But I had to have a go. I listened to the two versions again, and suddenly realised that with a bit of luck I might get away with it, because, with the way that the keys were arranged, the slower version was a semitone flat compared with the faster one.

I thought: If I can speed up the one, and slow down the other, I can get the pitches the same. And with any luck, the tempos will be sufficiently close not to be noticeable. I did just that, on a variable-control tape machine, selecting precisely the right spot to make the cut, to join them as nearly perfectly as possible. That is how “Strawberry Fields” was issued, and that is how it remains today – two recordings.

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

Ever the idealist, and completely without regard for practical problems, John said to me, ‘I like them both. Why don’t we join them together? You could start with Take 7 and move to Take 20 halfway through to get the grandstand finish.’

‘Brilliant!’ I replied. ‘There are only two things wrong with that: the takes are in completely different keys, a whole tone apart; and they have wildly different tempos. Other than that, there should be no problem!’ John smiled at my sarcasm with the tolerance of a grown-up placating a child. ‘Well, George, he said laconically, ‘I’m sure you can fix it, can’t you?’ whereupon he turned on his heel and walked away. I looked over at Geoff Emerick and groaned.

Every time I go on about the primitive state of recording technology in the mid-sixties, I feel like Baron von Richthofen describing the Fokker Triplane to a group of Concorde pilots. But it must be said that nothing on the technology front existed, at EMI’s Abbey Road studios anyway, that could help us out of this fix. There was no way those two performances could be matched. Unless … unless … I realized that because Take 20, the frenetic take, was faster — much faster — I could try slowing the tape right down. This would not only bring down the tempo, it would lower the pitch. Would it work? A whole tone was one hell of a drop… almost twelve per cent; but it had to be worth trying.

We called up our magnificent band of backroom boys, who wheeled in a Diplodocus-sized washing machine lookalike: the ‘frequency changer’. This valve-powered monster — a lash-up devised by Ken Townsend, our Chief Engineer, and his merry men — took the mains electricity supply, and bent the alternating current up and down on either side of the normal fifty cycles per second. Don’t ask me how they did it, I haven’t a clue. What I can tell you is that it used to get very hot, and would explode in a shower of sparks if you stretched it too far. But it was all we had. We hooked it up. We were looking for a point in the song where there was a sound change, which would help us disguise the edit of the century. We found it precisely one minute in.

That edit has always stuck out like a sore thumb for me, but nobody else seemed to notice. John was obviously pleased with the result and accepted it as the finished song, but it was no more than he expected. The extremely difficult he thought of as par for the course; only with the utterly impossible were you allowed to take more time. Once he had an idea, it had to be captured quickly. If it did not materialize in very short order, he tended to wander off and lose interest.

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

Even though the two takes John wanted spliced together were recorded a week apart and were radically different in approach, the keys weren’t that dissimilar — they were only a semitone apart — and the tempos were also fairly close. After some trial-and-error experimentation, I discovered that by speeding up the playback of the first take and slowing down the playback of the second, I could get them to match in both pitch and tempo.

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

Take 7 had been performed in B flat, while Take 26 was in C major. George Martin and Geoff Emerick found that, by slowing down take 26 by 11.5%, the tempos and keys of the two versions matched perfectly.

The first task was to create new mono mixes of the two versions. Take 7 Remix Mono 10 and Take 26 Remix Mono 11 were then created.

Those two mono mixes were then edited together. The edit can be found at precisely one minute into the song, following the words “Let me take you down, ’cause I’m”. From the first cello note onwards, the sound of Take 26 is heard. Remix Mono 12, the result of this edit, was the released version.

Next, I had to find a suitable edit point, one that wasn’t obvious. The idea, after all, was to make the listeners think they were hearing a complete performance. The one I picked happened to fall almost exactly sixty seconds in, at the beginning of the second chorus, on the word “going” (“Let me take you down / Cause I’m going to . . .”). Now it was a matter of figuring out exactly when to alter the playback speeds. George and I decided to allow the second half to play all the way through at the slower speed; doing so gave John’s voice a smoky, thick quality that seemed to complement the psychedelic lyric and swirling instrumentation. Things were a bit trickier with the beginning section; it started out at such a perfect, laconic tempo that we didn’t want to speed it up all the way through. Luckily, the EMI tape machines were fitted with very fine varispeed controls. With a bit of practice, I was able to gradually increase the speed of the first take and get it to a certain precise point, right up to the moment where we knew we were going to do the edit. The change is so subtle as to be virtually unnoticeable.

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

The Beatles were not in the studios when this editing and mixing job was carried on by the engineering team, but John Lennon showed up towards the end of the process.

John popped by to see how we were getting on – I had literally finished the edit just a few moments before he arrived. As we played the results of our labors to John for the first time, he listened carefully, head down, deep in concentration. I made a point of standing in front of the tape machine so that he couldn’t see the splice go by. A few seconds after the edit flew past, Lennon lifted his head up and a grin spread across his face. ‘Has it passed yet?’ he asked. ‘Sure had,’ I replied proudly. ‘Well, good on yer, Geoffrey!’ he said. He absolutely loved what we had done. We played (it) over and over again that night for John, and at the conclusion each time, he’d turn to us and repeat the same three words, eyes wide with excitement: ‘Brilliant. Just brilliant.’

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

Strawberry Fields Forever” would be mixed in stereo on December 29, 1966.


Beatles cut next single

BEATLES were back in the recording studios this week, working on tracks for their next single, which is expected to be released in the New Year. No titles were available from Brian Epstein, who also refused to comment on any plans for the Beatles in 1967.

Epstein also denied a rumour that Cilla Black has been tested for the film “Work Is A Four-Letter Word” and is to start shooting at Pinewood probably in January.

Christmas note : All four Beatles were planning to spend Christmas at their various homes.

From Disc And Music Echo – December 24, 1966
From Disc And Music Echo – December 24, 1966

What it’s all about on Strawberry Fields

WHAT instruments were used on “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”?—R. Marshall, Edmonton, N18.

“Strawberry Fields” is a mixture of two entirely different tracks of varying keys and tempos, slowed down, speeded up and generally doctored to find an acceptable sound. Paul McCartney played the Mellotron, using the flute stop, and George Harrison played an Indian table harp, which is a zither-like instrument. Other instruments used were cellos, trumpets and an electronic drum-track. “Penny Lane” had piccolos, flutes and french horn, with Paul and George Martin playing various pianos, John on conga drum at one stage, a piccolo B-flat trumpet played by noted classical musician David Mason and a string bass played by Frank Clarke.

From Melody Maker – April 8, 1967
From Melody Maker – April 8, 1967
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