Strawberry Fields Forever

In the studio

Strawberry Fields Forever was one of The Beatles' most complicated recordings. With George Martin they spent some time working on the arrangement, going through various re-makes and spending an unprecedented 55 hours of studio time completing the song.

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Take one of Strawberry Fields was recorded on 24 November 1966, along with a series of overdubs. As noted by Mark Lewisohn, the line-up on this first version was: Paul McCartney on Mellotron, John Lennon on lead vocals, George Harrison on guitar and Ringo Starr on drums. Onto this were overdubbed maracas, slide guitar, another lead vocal, and harmonies from Lennon, McCartney and Harrison.

On 28 November the group recorded takes two to four (take three was a false start). Onto the basic rhythm track they added Mellotron, drums, guitars, bass, maracas and lead vocals.

Takes five and six were recorded the next day, though only the second of these was complete. To it they added vocals and more instrumentation - Lewisohn suggests pianos and bass. A mix of this became take seven, which was later released on Anthology 2.

The Beatles began a remake of Strawberry Fields on 8 December, to try to more accurately capture Lennon's vision for the song. The rhythm track was produced by engineer Dave Harries, in the absence of George Martin and Geoff Emerick.

They had tickets for the premiere of Cliff Richard's film Finders Keepers and didn't arrive back until about 11 o'clock. Soon after I had lined up the microphones and instruments in the studio that night, ready for the session, The Beatles arrived, hot to record. There was nobody else there but me so I became producer/engineer. We recorded Ringo's cymbals, played them backwards, Paul and George were on timps and bongos, Mal Evans played tambourine, we overdubbed the guitars, everything. It sounded great. When George and Geoff came back I scuttled upstairs because I shouldn't really have been recording them.
Dave Harries
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Fifteen takes were recorded, though only nine of those were complete. They were numbered nine to 24; there was no take 19. Two of the incomplete versions, 15 and 24, were edited together, and became the 'best' track for the time being.

On 9 December Starr added percussion and Harrison played a svarmandal - a harp-like Indian instrument. More backwards cymbals were also recorded.

It was decided that George Martin should score Strawberry Fields for cellos and trumpets. The four trumpets and three cellos were taped on 15 December, the same day Lennon added two lead vocals. At the end of the second one he muttered "cranberry sauce" twice, which made it onto the final cut. 21 December saw more Lennon vocals, plus a piano track.

That was the end of the recording, but it the song wasn't yet complete. John Lennon decided that he liked both 29 November's take seven, and the more elaborate and intense remake, and asked George Martin for a combination of the two.

He said, 'Why don't you join the beginning of the first one to the end of the second one?'

'There are two things against it,' I replied. 'They are in different keys and different tempos. Apart from that, fine.'

'Well,' he said, 'you can fix it!'

George Martin
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

On 22 December Martin and Emerick studied the tapes to see if Lennon's wish was possible. The two recordings were a semitone apart, but they found that by speeding up the first version and slowing down the second they were able to match, "With the grace of God, and a bit of luck," according to Martin.

The edit can be heard on the final version at precisely the 60 second mark, immediately prior to the words "going to" in the second chorus. The joining of the two versions marked the completion of Strawberry Fields Forever, nearly a month after recording began.

55 responses on “Strawberry Fields Forever

  1. richard calvert

    ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, the song + music video were so cutting edge for it’s time when I would play it for school mates, they thought that I was a little strange for liking such an avant- guard song, ( a Beatles song) mind you? In middle school an orphanage called ‘Maryvale’ was the perfect backdrop for this song. I befriended the girls there, loaning the 45rpm to them, + they thought I was hip! The moral of the story…. Lennon was ‘far ahead’ of his time, both musically + lyrically! His heart spoke to the ‘real’ people of life; the not so fortunate, the not so loved in society! After all these years I still miss his Genius! It felt like Christmas Day, as a child, whenever a new Beatles album was released!

  2. Roger

    If you’ll watch the DVD “The Beatles in America” (may also be called something else), just as they are getting ready to go to the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, John Lennon is sitting in a chair with a some sort of mouth organ (with keys), inventing the intro to Strawberry Fields Forever. It’s a great DVD to watch.

    1. Julio

      Are you saying that john had the intro to strawberry fields in 1964? To my knowledge the intro musical phrase was composed and played by Paul. Just like the beautiful phrase that opens and defines Lucy in the Sky. If what you are saying is true, could you be more specific about exactly where to find the footage because I would love to see it.

      1. Zmash

        Check on YouTube by searching for ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘1964’ and you should find the clip. It does indeed sound like John was fiddling around with that particular phrase when he’s playing the melodica.

        1. EltonJohnLennon

          To me he definitely plays the first three notes of the introduction. Too bad they didn’t take more time to film him as he played this melody. He probably just had this little tune in his head and wasn’t thinking about a whole song.

          Perhaps John completed the melody later on with Paul when they worked on “Stawberry Fields”. It’s quite possible that Paul contributed something because he ended up playing it on the record. But it’s kinda nice to see that it was John’s original idea.

    2. Ray

      I was going to point that out, thanks for posting it. I watch that movie and every time I say to myself, “John is working out S.F. passage!” whilst sitting in that chair in their hotel room, NYC, Feb. 64. And you’re right, if you are ever feeling down that movie will guarantee to pick you up. Audio quality fantastic too. Get it. Feel better instantly.

  3. Judy Birch

    I lived in strawberry fields orphanage, and I wish someone could post more pictures of inside… these are my memories, eating together, playing together the Queen the Beatles and Cilla Black

  4. Scott

    Great info. Now that I know about it, I can hear exactly when the edit took place. The slight change in tone and tempo, particularly noticeable on the vocals, contributes to the overall psychedelic quality of the song, I think.

    Listening to it now, I can believe John said “cranberry sauce”, but listening to it on vinyl as a kid, I was convinced he said “I buried Paul”. It didn’t sound anything like “cranberry sauce” to me at all. I’m not sure how much of that is the enhanced sound quality and how much of it is me.

    In my mind, this may be the band’s most complex and interesting song of all time. Amazing how well it holds up after I’ve heard it about a million times.

    1. Tweeze

      When this song came out, and before we became aware that Paul was dead, we were never really sure what was being said at the end of the song. We had our ears to the speaker and still couldn’t quite get it. But it was a vinyl copy and the sharpness of sound is dulled. Much later, of course, we found out it was ‘I buried Paul’. Naturally this caused us and a zillion other people to start digging for other clues. Oh, it’s ‘cranberry sauce’? The obvious reaction is, ‘Why that?’

  5. Elsewhere Man

    When you compare the Take 7 (mellotron flutes) version to the Take 26 (orchestral) version, you realize that George Martin performed a feat of sheer genius by editing the two together at the 60 second mark.

    You also realize that Lennon was absolutely right to request it, because neither take really holds up on its own, but the two spliced together constitute a masterpiece that starts off soft and beautiful and builds up to riotous intensity.

    And how about Ringo’s performance on this track? He & Mitch Mitchell were the absolute best at interpreting psychedelia for drums…

    1. Julio

      How you can you put mitch mitchell and ringo in the same sentence? Ringo’s fills are beautiful (strawberry fields, Day in the life etc.) Mitch Mitchell is just an example of overplaying. He and redding ruined hendrix’s sound by trying to compete with him rather than to accept a more supportive role. All flash.

      1. mr. Sun king coming together

        Not every drummer has that same style. Not every drummer needed to be supportive yet amazing (Ringo). Mitch Mitchell’s style fit who he was drumming for. Was Keith Moon wrong for the Who? No Drummers need to adapt to the style of the rest of the band.

      2. Vonbontee

        In other words, Mitch Mitchell was the perfect drummmer for Jimi Hendrix. (And many of Noel’s bass parts were in fact played by Hendrix himself.)

        But yeah, there’s no point in comparisons, since Mitch and Ringo were both so excellent at their own things, which were totally different.

          1. Vonbontee

            Agreed. You can’t say enough about Ringo’s work on SFF, especially the coda. That drum track is MASSIVE! (Or maybe that should be drum trackS – I believe Ringo took a couple of passes and overdubbed more drums on top at least once.)

            Wonder if any hip-hoppers have ever gotten around to sampling those beats?

    2. Tweeze

      Actually, Ringo’s drumming is pretty much typical of Ringo. I always found him to be a very solid and reliable drummer. This particular song has Ringo’s drumming plied from different takes. It works great here but Ringo did not play this entire song as represented in one sitting like he could have with ‘Hey Jude’. In addition, there was a lot of experimentation with drum miking going on here as well as attempts to distort the sound thus giving it that amazing thunder. Once again, I don’t say that Ringo didn’t do a great job, but this is really a good song to rave about his drumming. It’s very much a producer’s piece.

  6. Kathryn

    I love Strawberry Fields Forever, I think it’s a beautiful song. I love the line– ‘Living is easy with eyes closed… Misunderstanding all you see…’ I think that’s a wonderful line…

  7. StarrTime

    Has there ever been a better song than the Love version? It’s John at his absolute best in his high, dreamlike voice that just engulfes you, mixed in the middle with some of the best piano bits including In My Life and my favorite, Piggies, then at the end they throw in the last part of Hello, Goodbye with Paul’s screams of pure joy over the other two’s harmony…it’s just unbelievable!

  8. DoBotherMe

    I don’t think George was playing slide at this time, he’s just bending. It wasn’t until the tour with Delany and Bonnie that he began the slide work. But I may be mistaken.

      1. Deadman

        Hello, Goodbye has slide (by George?) and Drive My Car has slide by Paul, but is not the slide on SFF by Paul using the Mellotron’s slide guitar setting? The abrupt stops in the sustained slide parts (particularly detectable in take 2) of SFF sound, to me, more like a Mellotron’s tape than a damped slide.

  9. Cameron McIntosh

    This song is incredible, I remember when it came out, my cousin and I rode our bikes to music store and ask for “Strawberry Fields Forever” Although they had it, the man behind the counter, you could see it in his face: “What do you two little black boys know about The Beatles, never mind this song?” Well I am here to tell you, my friends and me may have been some of the few black kids that loved The Beatles, but you could not tell us nothing. The Beatles are the best most influential band, bar none in the history of modern music. I will argue that to the day I die.
    Who in the name of God could think of lyrics like that?! The thing is, we got it! John Lennon was pure genius may God rest his soul.

  10. Emily

    To this day there has never been a song that has blown me away the way this one has. This is the peak for the Beatles: their greatest moment, in my opinion. Should be number one on all lists. Genius, extraordinary, flawless, amazing song. I can’t ever tire of it.

  11. Schminking of gin

    This song changed my life, plain and simple. Music was never the same for me, and I began to experiment to figure out what John Lennon could possibly have been thinking and feeling when he wrote this song.

    The greatest song ever written. Brian Wilson pulled over his car the first time he heard it, nearly in tears, to listen to the whole thing, and said something along the lines of “Oh my God the Beatles beat me to it…” referring to his work on Smile

    1. Cameron McIntosh

      I agree this is one of the greatest songs of all time, absolutely timeless! I every time I hear it I say to myself how could anyone think of the stuff in this song, it is pure genius!

  12. Jon L

    Joe – after the very first line (“Let me take you down ’cause I’m going to…”)there is Morse code – the letters ‘J’ and ‘L’ I believe. I have never seen this referenced in any book on the Beatles recording sessions and would like to know if you happen to have any more information about its inclusion.
    Thanks for a great website!

  13. TB

    You can hear that the guitar parts for most of the song are based around the ‘C’ chord shape but the actual key of the song is A.

    Given that Lennon’s vocal also sounds a little sluggish, I believe that the tape was originally recorded so the song was in C, and then slowed down. The final guitar chords at the end are based around an A chord, so presumably dubbed on to the slowed tape afterwards.

    Can anyone confirm this?

  14. pat

    This is my all time favourite and I purposefully only listen to it in “special moments”. Pure genius and perfection. This song is like a little universe, there’s so much going on. And yet it also holds up if only played with a guitar (I think John’s basic solo demos are fantastic…the way he sings it, it’s so honest – although it’s such a weird song, you kind of FEEL what he means). This is not only John’s finest hour but also (maybe even more so) George Martin’s. John simply said to him he wanted “maybe some strings and a brass section” and THIS is what he came up with!? Unbelievable…musical genius. To translate John’s psychedelic images into sound is like doing voodoo. George Martin wasn’t into drugs AT ALL and nevertheless he could write this really trippy arrangement – creating a dreamy soundscape unmatched to this day. It’s unbeatable in many ways and I don’t think anybody will ever top this. Even the “screw ups” are great (meaning effects caused by technical limitations etc) – especially the change in pitch 1 minute into the song (these 2 parts don’t match perfectly – but exactly that contributes to the frantic atmosphere of the song). Would be easier to mention what’s NOT great about this song (I can’t think of anything actually). If I were to save ONE SONG or had to pick one song to play to aliens to show them that man does have a soul – this would be the one.

  15. Rando

    I was seven when it came out and remember seeing the film (along with Penny Lane) on Hollywood Palace. I instantly liked it, though it would be many years before I had any clue about what the lyrics were about. No matter, it remains for me my favorite song ever 45 years later. An amazing record and piece of music that I have never tired of.

  16. ArthurFiggis

    My first favourite Beatles-song was “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” when I was about ten, after that ist was “I Me Mine” when I was twelve or so. By the time I was forteen it changed to “Strawberry Fields Forever” and it never changed again. (I am born 1971 btw, or year one after the Beatles.)
    I happen to have a version of SFF on a bootleg CD in seven different states of development. (Called “The Beatles Documents Vol.3″) The most interesting one regarding the mumble voices is one with drums and the voices on the left channel. Cellos and trumpets are mixed stereo. Guitar can faintly be heard on the right. No additional drums and no svarmandal. You can here the voices quite clearly and I am very sure that it’s a conversation between Lennon and Starr. I think it was taped through the drum-mics. It seems Lennon joined Starr in his drum-booth.
    Starr [screaming]: “I can [can't?] do it!” (He had to do a lot of hits to have this enormous drumsound. It is friggin’ unbelievable!)
    Lennon: “You can do it, Rrrringoooo!” (With a mock-Spanish pronounciation)
    Lennon: “[Too?] loud?” (The voices most probably) “So let’s end it [inaudible, maybe "folks"]” Maybe he saw the engineer giving him a sign.
    It seems the break-down of the rythm is less due to Starr’s unability to keep it, but to the fact, that somebody over the headphone told him, that the voices were too loud and Starr assumed the take was over.
    “What? [inaudible] [keep?] going [blowing? - after the trumpet's final fanfare]. [yibberish] Cranberry sauce. Cranberry sauce [over some trumpet noises]. Now -I – can’t – take – more – butter [?].”
    Thus I do not think, the mumbles were specifically recorded. It was just Lennon fooling around on a take he at this point thought to be irrelevant. The mock Spanish pronounciation is maybe due to Lennons filming in Spain. Starr visited him there, so this may be an insider. The “butter” remark (I’m just 51% sure about this) is consistant with the cranberry sauce, when you eat it with a roll or a croissant or whatever. Yummy!
    No doubt about “cranberry sauce”! None whatsoever!

    PS: Great site! I am enjoying it breakless since days.

    1. ArthurFiggis

      Deleting the right channel, using equalization, leveler, maximizer and stuff, I think I could clear the mumbles up to a point, where I don’t think it can be any clearer with a home PC. Here we go:
      Pepperpot-voice: “We (he) can(‘t) do it.”
      John: “We (he) can do it, Rrringo.” (… “oooh and go”?)
      “Too loud?”
      s.o.:[sounding like "bliss" or "please"]
      John: “Must be a hand of yours.”
      s.o.: [like "Barbie"]
      Pepperpot: “Beep!”
      John: “What?”
      Pepperpot: “Wee-doodle-dee-doo!”
      “Wee-doodle-dee-doo!” (second time during the final trumpet-fanfare, wich is on the left channel.)
      John: “No, they don’t.” (“No, keep going.”)
      s.o.: [like "man-oh"]
      John: “Cranberry sauce.”
      “Cranberry sauce”
      “I can’t now drink no water.” (“… take no butter.”)

      I still think, John is in Ringo’s drum-booth and can be heard via the drum-mics. You can hear the voices louder and quiter as they turn their heads. “Cranberry sauce” is spoken directly towards the microphone, so it can be heard best. Thus the Pepperpot-voice (meant in the Monty-Python-esque way) is most probably Ringo.

    2. ArthurFiggis

      Last update ( I vow):

      A friend just sent me an E-Mail regarding the very last line of the muffled noises. I quote:

      “No, it’s not ‘I can’t more take no water’ but ‘Oh, I can’t now take no pull, darling.'” Probably from a cigarette.

      It can clearly be heard in the Anthology-Version, though it has been mixed in 1990s with a slight room-hall-effect that made some of the consonants muddy. I used it as a reference but neglected the end, wich is indeed, what my friend heard.

  17. FrankDialogue

    I always found this to be one of the most difficult Beatles songs…It is very ‘manufactured’, and lacks a natural flow, although the final result is fascinating.

    I don’t think that John ever got a complete handle on how the song should sound, thus more ‘jiggery pokery’ than any other Beatle tune.

  18. JT Dawgzone

    There’s a version of this on YouTube called ‘The Evolution of Strawberry Fields’, and it takes it through demo to the first takes in the studio. There’s a part where John is doing it on acoustic, and it sounds like there’s a mellotron overdubbed, and then a roller rink sounding organ. Did John overdub these by himself at home, does anyone know? Or is this a ‘before-first take’ version done in the studio?

  19. Dan

    Analogous to the masterpiece Brian Wilson production “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys, this song also constantly blows me away. Spectacular tune. Too bad there isn’t a good set of instrumentals out there, I’d love to hear the raw track.

  20. carlos

    When I bought the record I remember that SFF was the A side and Penny Lane the B side. The argentine “Odeon Pop´s” black label said so. Even the radio used to broadcast SFF more rather than PL. Many years later I read it was a double A-side single. But I always thought that SFF deserved it. I still can´t understand why they put PL instead of SFF on the “1” compilation. Paul´s idea I guess. He´s always been jealous that his partner wrote the best Beatles song ever recorded. (in my opinion)

  21. Roger Carruthers

    When i was 11 yrs.old in 1967, i was riding my bicycle over to a friend’s house and heard this
    amazing song been played on a record phonograph outside at full blast.As i turned the corner
    i was surprized that it was my buddy playing it in his backyard. I asked him to play the song again,and again,and again….i was totally mesmerized by Strawberry Fields Forever. I started my lifetime music adventure thanks to John Lennon & The Beatles.By the way learn SFF as a solo guitar piece and see the looks on peoples faces when you perform the song, it always gets everyone’s utmost attention.

    1. Moondog

      Strawberry Fields came out when I was 15…I remember the first time I heard it on the radio. I was being driven to school by a neighbor and the song was introduced by the DJ as The Beatles newest release. So I asked the other passengers and driver to be quiet…To my amazement they listened to me and the song…I was dumbstruck…There had never been a sound like that before…or since. It’s the only song I ever heard that took me to another place instantly…I asked the others in the car what they thought about it…Strange was the consensus…I felt like I was now grown up…I have witnessed art for the first time…

      Yes, The Beatles First US Visit, 1964, has John playing a flute o phone in the hotel and messing about with the opening of Strawberry Fields…If Paul played it on mellotron he got it from John…I believe John played it but it’s a Paul world now.

      When I got married in 1977 Strawberry Fields was the wedding song…I was lucky to meet someone who got it…

      The takes on Beatles Anthology are a revelation …I think the earliest takes show how great the song is…even without all the effects…specially without all the effects…But the effects work…So I can love it two ways…or as many ways as others come up with…It’s hard to ruin a work of art…

      1. rockgold14

        I was 15 when SFF came out with PL. It went straight over my head and I actually didn’t care for it. Revolver was still fresh in my mind I guess. Took me a while to gradually appreciate it as pure genius and a masterwork. I think the video scared me too a little bit. I eventually got turned on and things made more sense. It’s now my second favorite John song right behind I AM THE WALRUS

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