93: Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane At 50

February 17, 2017

Podcast, Podcasting

SATB 93 rev

Half a century ago, The Beatles ushered in the second half of their career – the studio years – with this landmark double A-side release. Though the single’s commercial fortunes might not have reflected it, the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team was at its zenith in terms of creativity and desire to break new ground. In this episode, Robert and Richard trace how the band utilized their newfound freedom, no longer restrained by the requirements of touring.  Songs include a performance of SFF by Rosalie Cunningham – check out the video here.

Find Richard’s books here.

Find Robert’s books here.

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    26 Responses to “93: Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane At 50”

    1. The Applesauce Project Says:

      Had to laugh at the Englebert Humperdink at the end. Great way to finish. And that cover of SFF was fantastic!

      (Glad also that you brought up the melodica bit from the Maysles’ documentary… first time I saw that I got chills.)

      Reply

    2. James Says:

      Wonderful episode. A great tribute. One of the many incredible things about Strawberry Fields is that despite the surreal lyrics so much of what was intended is conveyed in the vocal delivery. You feel it and you know what he means. It makes perfect sense that an eight year old would love this song. An eight year old can probably intuit a way into what Lennon was aiming at, in terms of the feelings he wanted to convey, better than most adults.

      Might we get a Rain/Paperback Writer episode?

      Reply

    3. Christopher Says:

      John’s frustration that you cite came from the fact that, by this time, he’d grown tired of being a Beatle. He no longer saw making music as enjoyable, but as work. He wanted out, as far back as then-and the same with George, but for a different reason. George, as you know, had discovered Hinduism, and by the time the group had to go back into the studio to record new product, he was thinking, “What the hell am I doing here? There’s more to life than rock n’ roll”.

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    4. Matt Kindelmann Says:

      I started teaching twenty years ago this month and I managed to sneak the Beatles into my first day in front of the chalkboard.

      The first lesson I ever taught during my student teaching semester at Milford Central School in upstate New York was on William Wordsworth’s unnervingly titled poem “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour on July 13, 1798.” It is known in classrooms simply as “Tintern Abbey,” but going by the shortened title didn’t make me feel any less edgy. It was 7 AM on a January morning and I already had perspiration stains on my shirt. I had a few minutes of solitude before the sleepy-eyed seniors shuffled into the classroom for my first lesson and I looked out the window at the leaden morning light that blanketed the snow-covered soccer field to soothe my nerves. I cleared my dry throat as the bell rang and placated my nervousness with knowledge that my lesson had a “secret weapon.”

      After introducing myself, I followed my typed lesson plan like a play script and asked the students to open their anthologies to the page I had written on the chalkboard an hour earlier. A reticent student robotically recited the first third of the poem where the speaker revisits the serene natural beauty surrounding the abbey after a five-year absence. The speaker admires the “steep and lofty cliffs” and “wreaths of smoke” rising up from cottage chimneys, and leans against the dark sycamore and looks up at the unripe fruit of the orchard trees. I asked if Wordsworth paints a picture of a beloved place and the class nodded, but when I asked if anyone had a place like it, no one said a word. Surely one of those twenty-four twelfth graders had a cherished place somewhere in the rolling green acres or the snowy mountains of upstate New York, but no one volunteered.

      “I have a place similar to Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey near where I grew up on Long Island,” I said as I tried my best to evoke imagery from the St. James Harbor. “Just as Wordsworth heard the ‘sweet inland murmur’ of the Wye, I heard the harbor’s whisper on the sandy and rocky shore,” I said, pretending to not read from my notes. I described the green and shady road down to the water, the blue sky over the rippling salty inlet, and the bouncy feel of each step over the fallen bulk of reeds. I told them how I used to skip stones on the water’s surface and watch ospreys land on buoys to dry their wings. I told them that like Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, the harbor was a place where I connected with my surroundings and was able to think. I was pleased when I saw the students listening closely and sensed them visualizing my words, but it was time to see how far I could go with that vibe.

      “Wordsworth isn’t the only writer who composed lines about the magnitude of a special place. Anyone ever hear of Strawberry Fields Forever?” A few hands went up. A kid with longish hair and glasses called out.

      “That’s a Beatle song,” he said.

      “Right. Recorded in late 1966. It’s a pivotal track.” I was in my wheelhouse now. “Who wrote it?”

      “One of the Beatles,” someone said with a smile and I smiled back.

      “John Lennon?” a different voice asked.

      “Yes, very good. John wrote the song during downtime while filming the movie How I Won the War in Spain in the autumn of ’66. It was the first time in his Beatle life without his bandmates.” I was hitting my stride and placed my notes on the desk. “He wrote the lyrics about Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army children’s home in Liverpool, England. He added an “s” to make it Strawberry Fields as a stylistic choice. When he and his friends were young boys they played in the wooded area behind the main building and the place obviously held fond memories for him.” A hand popped up.

      “I thought it was about drugs,” a student asked. My first day teaching and I was fielding questions on LSD. I felt the blood rush to my cheeks.

      “Well, drugs maybe played a role, but the main point is the song was about a special place from the writer’s past,” I said, dodging my first bullet as a teacher. Strawberry Fields Forever would never have been written without drugs, but I was not going to share that. The song is about nostalgia, but with the help of LSD, it became an exercise of innermost contemplation and John later called it “psycho-analysis set to music.” With each verse his lyrics show more confusion and longing to escape into a childlike existence. He wants to take us down to a safe place from his youth where “nothing is real.” The foreboding and mysterious Strawberry Field was symbolic of his childhood. On the outside was an ominous iron wrought gate, but once he climbed over the wall, there were wildflowers, secretive gardens, and a giant Victorian mansion built in 1870 that had been an orphanage since 1937. He could have identified with the orphans who lived there because of the abandonment he felt by his parents.

      I told the students to open their notebooks and explained how I wanted them to free-write about a place like Tintern Abbey or Strawberry Field. I wanted them to pick up a pen and forgetting about grammar or structure, begin describing the beauty of a place that brought them back. But before I let them begin writing, I revealed a cassette player on the desk and pressed the play button. Paul’s signature Mellotron flute intro, his main contribution to Strawberry Fields Forever, tooted from the speaker and sets the tone. Some students looked confused and others looked enraptured, but everyone in that room was listening. Ringo’s distinctive muffled drums kick in right after John’s slightly whirling voice begins to sing. His vocals are actually two separate takes in different keys glued together and the slowing down of one and the speeding up the other achieved the other-worldliness. The keys got close enough to not be detected and the process gives his voice a slurred sound, which is perfect within the song’s context. Ringo’s backwards-recorded cymbals and George’s slide guitar and swarmandel, which is an Indian version of the zither, add to the hallucinatory vibe, and the chilly classroom was further warmed by the rich sound of cellos and trumpets.

      As the song faded out and then roared back like a nightmarish train, before finally vanishing, I looked at the students to see their reactions. The majority of them were scrawling in their notebooks, but a few dreamers stared out through the windows at the snowy hills and frozen sky. Nothing is real, I wanted to tell them.

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    5. Roland Says:

      another great insight and perspective behind the scene feels
      Nicely done again Guys.Godbless.

      Reply

    6. Cajun Queen Says:

      >>. . . he was thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?”

      I feel unsure it is possible to know what someone was thinking.

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    7. Keith Moore Says:

      It was fantastic and mindblowing as a kid to hear the Beatles singing about our local places. I wasnt aware of Strawberry Fields but Penny Lane was were you could change buses to get into town. It was like ‘why would the Beatles want to write about that?’ All these years later it’s still a bit of a mindblower when I pass through there. I always knew Boletti the barbers with the big pictures of Gents hair styles in the window but didnt know that Paul used to get his hair cut there as a kid.
      Great show guys. Brought back loads of memories.

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    8. Mario Denis Says:

      I was 15 in 1967 and only my generation can completely understand the full impact of The Beatles on culture and psyche of that area. Embryonic indeed.As a Beatles purist I hate covers, thanks but no thanks.

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    9. Tony DiMeo Says:

      I think it is because John was child like that I fell in love with this song when I was 13. All the lyrics captivated me because he wrote about alienation and so I could not stop thinking about the song especially in church where I wanted to leave and be with John in some way.

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    10. Aaron Krerowicz Says:

      Just listened to the SFF part (will listen to the Penny part shortly) and I have three ideas:

      1. There are harmonic similarities between ‘In My Life’ and ‘SFF’ in addition to the lyrical similarities mentioned: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2w9Lu8Kutw

      2. It sounds like Richard has a melodic similarity in mind, but he never said it. Which song(s) does he mean?

      3. Robert mentioned George isn’t playing the slide guitar but a sampler. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that before. May I ask how you know that?

      Thanks – I’m looking forward to listening to the second half :-)
      Aaron

      Reply

    11. Cajun Queen Says:

      Great show as usual. Just terrific.

      I tried to find the promo vids on YT. Found PennyLane, but could only find a partial video for StrawFields. If someone has a link they’d like to post here, much apprec.

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    12. WingsJer Says:

      Both of these classics would have to be included on any kind of upcoming 50th anniversary of “Sgt. Pepper” if Apple wishes to acknowledge it?

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    13. Martin Says:

      Strange that the locations of Sevenoaks, and Carnaby Street were chosen over Strawberry Field and Penny Lane in Liverpool for the promo films

      Reply

      • Cajun Queen Says:

        >>Strange that the locations of Sevenoaks, and Carnaby Street
        >>were chosen over Strawberry Field and Penny Lane in Liverpool

        My guess: normal human laziness, which we are all afflicted with. :)
        I bet it just seemed easier than heading north to LP.

        Reply

    14. Paul T Says:

      Another great cast (shock, what else?) – sorry guys but PL is much better with the trumpet ending – bought the DJ single with a Butcher in Portland OR in 1978.

      Reply

    15. Rob Says:

      While otherwise very informative and delightful it is unfortunate that this episode perpetuates the myth that it took some unique amount of speeding up of one version of SFF and slowing down of another to get the two versions of SFF to meet at the same pitch and tempo.

      In reality, it was a coincidence that the pitch and tempo differential between them were such that if you made them match in pitch they would also nearly match in tempo. However this would have been true at any temp whatsoever, so they could have just sped up the slower one to match the pitch or just slowed down the faster one to match the pitch, or the could have matched the pitch and then sped the whole thing up to where it sounded like chipmunks doing a high speed jig.

      It is odd that this point seems to have never been made before and is again not made here when it is not even debatable – it is a scientific fact.

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      • Aaron Says:

        That would be true of digital audio, but not analog. Pitch and tempo can be altered using tape, but not independently – you can’t, for example, raise the pitch 5% but speed up the tempo 8%. But using digital audio, you could. That’s one (of many) reasons why digital recording has completely eclipsed tape recording.

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    16. J Neo Marvin Says:

      I didn’t know much about recording techniques when I first played the Magical Mystery Tour album at home when I was 11, but I have to say I always heard that edit on Strawberry Fields Forever. I had no idea what they did, but I could spot the moment everything changed and John’s voice got growlier.

      Reply

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