One Song/Three Versions – Strawberry Fields Forever

“I was different all my life. The second verse goes, ‘No one I think is in my tree.’ Well, I was too shy and self-doubting. Nobody seems to be as hip as me is what I was saying. Therefore, I must be crazy or a genius – I mean it must be high or low.
– John Lennon, 1980

It’s been a couple of weeks since ME last posted, this largely due to (what he believes to be) a well-earned vacation down on Olde Cape Cod. Since he likes to keep his brain stimulated even whilst on vacation, he brought along some deep intellectual fare. This is The Bourne Identity, later followed by The Bourne Supremacy and then of course, Bourne in the USA.

Anyway, for those who missed me (both of you), you will know that I like to do my One Song/Three Versions posts every now and again. I like to hear alternate versions of songs by others. Whether the alternates are better or not hardly concerns me so much as the fact that someone else gave it a shot. Especially with an impossible-to-top Lennon piece like “Strawberry Fields.”

Wikipedia: “Strawberry Fields Forever was released on 13 February 1967 as a double A-side single with “Penny Lane”. Lennon based the song on his childhood memories of playing in the garden of Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army children’s home in Liverpool.

Starting in November 1966, the band spent 45 hours in the studio, spread over five weeks, creating three versions of the track. The final recording combined two of those versions, which were entirely different in tempo, mood, and musical key. It features reverse-recorded instrumentation, Mellotron flute sounds, an Indian swarmandal, tape loops, and a fade-out/fade-in coda, as well as a cello and brass arrangement by producer George Martin.”

The song was initially destined for Sgt. Pepper which loosely held an idea of being about the Fab Four’s childhood in Liverpool. But the record company wanted a single and so a single they got.

The Beatles (and George Martin) did not like putting songs on albums that had been singles so both these tunes were left off of Pepper. Martin called this a “dreadful mistake.” But given that the album couldn’t have been any longer, what would they have left off one wonders? (Lads, let’s toss out ‘A Day in the Life’. Need to make room for ‘Penny fucking Lane.’)

“Lennon’s vocal was recorded with the tape running fast so that when played back at normal speed the tonality would be altered, giving his voice a slurred sound. After reviewing the acetates of the new remake and the previous version, Lennon told Martin that he liked both the “original, lighter” take 7 and “the intense, scored version,”  and wanted to combine the two.

Martin had to tell Lennon that the orchestral score was at a faster tempo and in a higher key than the earlier recording. Lennon assured him: “You can fix it, George.” And so using studio magic, he and engineer Geoff Emerick did just that. 

The result was a wonderfully weird song that only Lennon could have written. Let me take you down. (The video is considered one of the earliest music videos ever.)

Spotify link

Havens performance of Woodstock is the stuff of legend. Like John Sebastian, he was asked to go out and just keep playing to give other bands a chance to get their shit together. His semi-made up tune “Freedom” made it onto the album and in the movie.

But did you know he performed ‘Fields” there as well? It got cut from the flick but despite the shitty quality of the video, it sounds pretty damn good. He ends it by riffing on “Hey Jude.” (Havens also did ‘Here Comes the Sun” at some point in his career.)

The Spotify version is from a Paris gig.

Spotify link

By 2011, the level of graffiti left by visitors at Strawberry Field had forced the Salvation Army to have the entrance gates removed and later relocated to the Beatles Experience center in Liverpool

In July 2017, the Salvation Army began raising funds – through the sale of T-shirts and mugs emblazoned with “Nothing is real” and other lines from Lennon’s lyrics – to help finance the construction of a new building at Strawberry Field.

The purpose of the building is to help provide job opportunities for young adults with learning difficulties, and to commemorate Lennon, in both an indoor exhibition and a “garden of spiritual reflection”.

11 thoughts on “One Song/Three Versions – Strawberry Fields Forever

  1. This is a great selection. The two covers stand on their own very very well. I believe I’m going to have a lot of fun listening to Los Fabulosos Cadillacs! Thanks for the introduction.

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    1. That’s funny. I’ve found over the years that most every band has at least one good song no matter how much I might otherwise dislike them. Journey is like that for me or the Dead. That said, I came to appreciate the Dead’s looseness much later on. My stepmother cannot stand rock and roll but she likes ‘Smoke on the Water,’ mostly because she heard a big band arrangement.

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  2. I think these are both cool covers. I had never heard of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs – they sound like fun! As to Richie Havens, I like the improvisational feel his rendition has.

    If I could only pick one Beatles album, I’d go with Sgt. Pepper on most days. If “Strawberry Fields Forever” would be on there, it wouldn’t even be a question. Frankly, I could do without “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Good Morning.” If The Beatles would have left out these tunes, there would have been enough room for “Strawberry Fields Forever.” I know it wasn’t a real option!

    I’ve also always liked “Penny Lane”, though not as much as “Strawberry Fields”. Perhaps take out “She’s Leaving Home” or “Lovely Rita”?

    Anyway, in exchange, we got a better “Magical Mystery Tour” album. At the end of the day, it probably matters less on which records the songs appeared.

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    1. I think you’re right. It doesn’t much matter where they are. “Pepper” holds together well. I like both those tunes you said you’d pull though even Lennon said “Good Morning” was one of his lesser songs.

      Personally I’ve never much liked “Within You Without You.” Not a big fan of Indian music. “The Inner Light” is for me a better song.

      The Cadillacs definitely sound interesting but I wonder if I can get used to the singing in Spanish. And Havens was just a great performer, great singer. His Woodstock moment on “Freedom” is unforgettable.

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