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.