He listened to it over and over again. But John Lennon was not satisfied with the result of the work dedicated to his new song, called “Strawberry fields forever”. Along with the rest of the Beatles, they had dedicated three long sessions to him locked up in the cold walls of studio 2 on Abbey Road. An unusually long time for a song of theirs, in which they tried out arrangements and explored the sounds of new instruments. But something was not right.
After recording a rough version, the studio staff gave each band member a small disc containing a mix of the song in mono for them to listen to.
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In his Weybridge mansion, locked up with his demons and acid trips, John went back over the recording. There was no case. In his opinion, this bucolic piece of childhood nostalgia and unfulfilled longings lacked something to do it justice. Some musical vehicle to achieve a sense of escape. But I didn't know what.
"For someone who normally expressed himself so well, I was always amazed at how hard he had to find the words to tell George Martin how he wanted his songs arranged," recalls engineer Geoff Emerick in his book The Sound of the Beatles (2011, Indications).
That is why as soon as he returned to the studio, the musician tried to explain to Martin, the historic producer of the Fab Four, his problem. "I don't know; I think he should have a lot more weight," was the only thing he managed to string together, according to Emerick. Of course, that vague statement didn't help matters.
In the end, it was Paul McCartney who suggested the possibility of adding orchestral arrangements. Lennon liked the idea and asked Martin to bring cellos and trumpets. "But make sure it has weight," he finished.
But it still wasn't enough. The author of "Help!" he insisted on a radical solution: record the song again. But bored with the musician's ranting, Martin decided to attend a movie premiere with the studio staff, and was unavailable the night the group went to work on the song. Those from Liverpool weren't intimidated by that and worked hard alongside another Abbey Road staff engineer, Dave Harries. They took their time to test arrangements, include instruments like the swarmandal (a kind of small harp from India, brought by George Harrison), the mellotron keyboard and polish everything.
It seemed that the theme was finally ready. Until one morning, John made an announcement again that left everyone stumped.
It was under the sun on a beach in Almería, Spain, that John Winston Lennon, the man behind the rock star, once again felt the itch of creative impulse. Perhaps because of the hot Mediterranean sun burning his skin, or because he was freed from the madness of Beatlemania, the musician felt especially comfortable. Without further ado he took the guitar and little by little the words flowed.
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"The strong Spanish autumn sun awakened memories of Saturdays in July in Woolton long ago, when the distant sound of a brass band made him tug at his Aunt Mimi's arm in desperation to play coconut shells and buy cotton candy, instead of seeing those blinding white walls and terracotta rooftops he saw the brownstone orphanage whose annual festival had been the high point of his childhood summers; he saw the iron gates, the dreary Gothic windows, the official sign with its strange, melt-in-your-mouth name: Strawberry Field," he writes. biographer Phillip Norman in John Lennon (Anagram, 2009).
But eventually, he decided to change "field" to "fields," "to suggest more of the overgrown fields that had once been a part of it," Norman adds. "What emerged there was not a nostalgic postcard image, but a sound abstract painting: mystical and ambiguous, but at the same time revealing more about its author than mere memory would have revealed."
The place is a piece of land with trees, on which a house was built that functioned as an orphanage. It was located in the Woolton area, in the suburb of Liverpool, very close to the house where John lived with his Aunt Mimi, who raised him after her parents separated from her at an early age. In fact, as a child he used to play with his friends in the back of the compound.
For that reason, it was a special song. One that connected with his deepest emotion, often hidden behind the guise of a biting and caustic boy. "Actually 'Strawberry fields forever' was a psychoanalysis with music -he explained years later in an interview reproduced in The Beatles Anthology-. I think most psychoanalysis is merely symptomatic in that you only talk about yourself. I didn't need to do that because I've done it with reporters. I've never had time for psychiatrists and those people, because they're all nuts."
Years later, in conversation with Rolling Stone, he insisted on the idea that it was a song in which he talked about himself. "The only real songs I wrote were like 'Help!' and 'Strawberry Fields'. I can't think of what they are now, but those are the ones I've always considered my best songs. They're the ones I really wrote from experience and not from a projection of myself putting myself in some situation just to write a story about that".
John arrived in Spain in September 1966 to participate as an actor in the filming of the film How I won the war (How I won the war, was the translation). It was an absurd comedy set in World War II, which told the story of Lieutenant Earnest Goodbody (Michel Crawford), who received the mission of building a cricket ground 100 kilometers from enemy lines, in the middle of a campaign in North Africa. . He was accompanied by an impossible patrol of soldiers, one of them played by the Beatle.
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The director, Richard Lester, already knew Lennon since he was in charge of the two Beatles films that were released until then (A Hard Day's Night and Help!) and he had been struck by the strength he had as an interpreter, despite not having studied acting. For this reason, he offered him a secondary role, not very relevant: that of the soldier Gripweed.
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It might not sound like much, but the offer had its advantages; I wouldn't have to sing on screen, or compose anything for the soundtrack. And better yet, it wouldn't have to show up all the time. It wouldn't be like the silly Elvis movies. Attracted by curiosity, and wanting to break the monotony of his days in Weybridge, the musician accepted.
Only a short time before, the Beatles had decided to stop touring. The madness of Beatlemania that did not allow them to enjoy their stays in the countries they visited, the technical difficulties they had to face in their concerts and the threats received after an interview in the United States was broadcast in the United States in which Lennon stated that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus Christ”, filled the glass.
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But the prospect of being without his bandmates initially scared Lennon. Worse still, he found himself without a prospect: McCartney unleashed his creativity with George Martin on the soundtrack to the Igor Novello Award-winning film The Family Way; Ringo devoted himself to family life; George Harrison, the quietest, seemed to be in his element: he traveled to India to learn about the country's culture and take sitar lessons, in a house in the mountains, under the tutelage of Ravi Shankar, one of the instrument's virtuosos. .
“Instead of staying home with the family, I immediately went to Spain with Dick Lester because I couldn't bear not being on stage all the time,” recalls the musician in the Anthology. That was the first time I thought, 'My God, what are you going to do if this is over? What else can be done? Without that there is no life.
With the certainty that tours and concerts were no longer going to mark the times of his career, and bored with family life, an idea began to haunt his head: escape. "And that's when the seed was planted that I had to somehow get out [of the Beatles] without the others kicking me out. But I couldn't take the plunge and leave the palace because it was too scary."
Though he considered it, John eventually dropped the idea of pursuing an acting career. Simply, the distaste for the task of memorizing texts -which in the movie Help! caused many delays -, in addition to the long hours of waiting on the set, they were reason enough for him. In addition, they did not agree with his more direct and explosive personality. He preferred then to continue on his own.
Of course, the preparation of the character left something behind. She must have cut her hair short and worn for the first time the narrow-framed round glasses of the English National Health Service. He loved them. Goodbye to the bangs of beatlemania. John's most characteristic look was born, an indivisible symbol of his image. And in a symbolic way, an era was ending.
George Martin's face twisted with tension as soon as John said something he would have preferred not to hear. After having dispatched with the group a version of "Strawberry fields forever" - the one they started without Martin present - he said that he preferred the beginning of the recording that he had taken home earlier. For this reason, without further ado, he proposed that the engineer Geoff Emerick, "paste" the beginning of one, and the rest of the other.
The problem was that they were both at different pitches and speeds. Producer George Martin explained it to him as he could. But John, who wasn't too tech-savvy, just finished off, "They can do it."
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"We did a few covers of it. John was not entirely happy with the first couple of takes, so we redid the whole recording and in the end John and George Martin put two different versions together," recalls Paul McCartney in The Beatles Anthology.
After much testing, Emerick says the solution to putting the pieces together was to speed up one shot and slow down the other. The splicing point, according to the engineer, is sixty seconds after the song started, on the word "going" ("...'cause i'm going to"). When they showed him the result, John freaked out. "Brilliant. Just brilliant."
The introduction that the musician had proposed to rescue had been composed by "Macca" on the mellotron keyboard, a recently acquired bulky device that could play loops with pre-recorded sounds from different instruments, an innovative idea for the time. In this way, it was possible to have a section of strings, brass and even choirs in a single large apparatus. It even had rhythm tracks and other pieces. In this case, McCartney programmed the sound of the flutes.
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The group had shown commitment to the subject. They often split records with John's pieces and this time was no exception. When he showed them the song on acoustic guitar for the first time, they noticed its potential. "It was pure magic," Martin recalls in the Anthology. "It was absolutely beautiful."
With "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" ready, Lennon and McCartney explored the possibility of creating an entire album based on their childhood experiences in Liverpool, due to the lyrics and imagery of both songs. But the plan didn't prosper: in the absence of a single (the last one had been "Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby" in September 1966), the EMI label lobbied for something to release on the market. There it was decided to release the two songs as a double A-side in February 1967. As in the case of the Beatles, the policy was not to repeat singles on LPs, for that reason they were not included in the future Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The legendary promo video was shot in Knole Park in the last days of January '67. The Swedish Peter Goldman was in charge of the direction, and in some way reproduced on the screen the bucolic and experimental mood of the theme. McCartney's jump to the tree, the reproduction of day and night sequences, the games of strong colors and the psychedelic costumes of the quartet,
And while the single didn't reach number one (it was beaten by Engelbert Humperdinck's ballad “Release Me”), Lennon didn't seem frustrated. For him, it was a moment of encounter with his memories; the evocation of an innocence lost in the prelude to the "summer of love"; the past where there was no pressure or fame to respond to; a safe place in the face of the anguish of his existence as a living legend.
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