Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane

Beatles Strawberry Fields

Beatles Strawberry Fields

On February 17, Parlophone released two new Beatles songs: “Penny Lane” and Strawberry Fields Forever.” The tracks had been recorded late in 1966 for the album that was to follow Revolver. Along with “When I’m Sixty-Four,” the songs represented the sum of almost three months’ work. Since a single was long overdue, George Martin had no choice but to sacrifice the two three-minute productions that, each in its own way, had involved more time and expense than most entire LPs. The double A-side formula was less a boast than a political necessity, since one side was wholly John’s and the other entirely Paul’s.

Strawberry Fields was the name of an old Salvation Army children’s home close to where John grew up in Liverpool. The song was, however, explicit only in its title: a mirror only to its author’s almost perpetual LSD trip. Yet his feeling for imagery remained strong enough to shine through the scrawl of the drug across his mind. The words are a perverse riddle from which pictures nonetheless struggle, like lazy ectoplasm, to tell a story.

“Penny Lane,” by contrast since Paul had not yet succumbed to LSD-recreated with photographic clarity a part of Liverpool known to all the Beatles, on the way to Woolton and Allerton, near the bus depot where Mimi used to see John off to Dovedale Primary, and Barney’s’ the hall where the Quarry Men played; it mentioned the barber’s in the little parade, the roundabout and fire station’ the “four of fish” from chip shop parlance, the ‘finger pie” of adolescent bus-shelter naughtiness: it was surrealism from a rational mind, as recognizable yet mysterious as someone else’s snapshot album.

As an arranger, George Martin’s only guide was Paul’s enthusiasm for the piccolo trumpet passage in Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto. David Mason of the London Symphony orchestra stood by in Studio one with his piccolo trumpet while Paul hummed the notes he wanted and Martin inked them into a score.

Strawberry Fields Penny Lane 45

Strawberry Fields Penny Lane 45

Strawberry Fields” proved an even greater test of the producer’s ingenuity. The song, as John first played it on acoustic guitar, was a simple reflective melody. With the other Beatles added, it changed to the “heavy” style they were already absorbing from the San Francisco psychedelic groups. John liked it that way at first but then, a few days later asked George Martin to produce a softer arrangement with trumpets and cellos.

In the end, John could not decide between the two versions. He said he liked the beginning of one but preferred the ending of the other. Martin had to find a way of splicing half the heavy version with half the orchestral one. To his lasting credit, no one noticed the edit.

Despite the 3 months of work that went into the double-A side of Penny Lane & Strawberry Fields, it was the first Beatles single since 1962 to not reach Number One.

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Lisa Marie Henness

Released in February 1967 as one side of a double A-sided single”Strawberry Fields Forever” reached number eight in the United States, with numerous critics describing it as one of the group’s best recordings. “Penny Lane” being the other side of the double A-sided single did hit number one in 1967 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (18 March 1967 for one week), and Canada CHUM Chart. It hit number 2 in 1967 UK Singles Chart.

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