From their mop top beginnings to the psychedelic “Sgt. Pepper” phase, the end of Beatlemania transformed the group’s growth not just physically, but lyrically. As a hardcore fan, I love listening to the lyric changes throughout the years. If you listen to their album, Please Please Me from 1963, you’ll hear catchy songs about losing your girl, falling in love with another girl, and the angst and desperation to be loved. Skip ahead a few years, and their 1966 album Revolver shows much more than the need to hold a girl’s hand. The lyrics echo the human condition (Eleanor Rigby), the current government (Taxman), and the actuality of a REAL relationship (Here, There, and Everywhere). This growth lyrically is what elevated The Beatles from a touring band to studio lyricists. And there is no better song to demonstrate this than John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields Forever.
Lennon commented that this song is one of the most honest he had written because of its tribute to a real place and experience. He began writing the lyrics while filming “How I Won the War” in Spain. The words portrayed his reoccurring feelings of loneliness and difference from the crowd, which are clear in the lyrics “no one I think is in my tree…” and “it’s getting hard to be someone.” “I seem to see things in a different way from most people…” Lennon once remarked. He either thought he was crazy or too “hip” for others to understand. The referenced Strawberry Fields was a Salvation Army Orphanage located in Woolton, Liverpool; just a couple blocks down from his childhood home. He would visit with his primary caretaker, Aunt Mimi, but would more often visit on his own. He felt connected to the kids because he also felt abandoned by his mother and father from a young age. It was his escape.
After returning from Spain, he brought the song to the other members of the band, and they quickly got to work. What is interesting about Strawberry Fields Forever is that the final version is two separate recordings. Lennon liked the first half of one demo and the second half of another and wanted to morph the halves into one, which had not been done until this point. But with the help of George Martin, their record producer, they made it happen. (The time change is at 1:00). The song was released on February 13, 1967, as the Double A-side to Paul McCartney’s Penny Lane. The song initially did not gain much popularity, but now is ranked as a top Beatle’s masterpiece.
Why Is It a “Must Listen?”
While others have moved in and out of my favorites, Strawberry Fields Forever has always been in my top three Beatle’s songs. Every time I hear the opening Mellotron, I am instantly smiling. I feel as if John is letting me in on a secret whenever I hear him sing “let me take you down.” I listen to a picture of his original disposition and stance on life. His honesty translates throughout the whole song, even in the melody, and this sincerity is something that listeners have only gotten glimpses of in other songs. He wanted to tell people earnestly that he is different and unlike the crowd. My favorite lyric is in the opening verse, “living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.” In my life, I know I have felt that in specific situations it’s much easier to live in the dark and keep my eyes shut to certain feelings. The world can be a place that becomes too much to handle at times and closing myself off leads to less pain. But I love that John ends the verse with him pointing out and understanding it gets hard to be yourself, but it all works out. Maybe not now, but know you are not alone in this feeling.
All the lyrics I believe are ideas worth reflecting over. When a song comes from an honest, vulnerable place, the audience has a way of knowing. And John is inviting you to Strawberry Fields, a place where there is nothing to get hung about, and nothing seems real. But, you find a sense of yourself. Or at least come to terms with reality. If you have not heard this song before, or have never felt it was relatable, I think you should give it a listen. This song is perfect for short drives around your city, after a long stressful day, or as a new Beatles fan. Also, check out the Anthology 2 Album on Spotify or iTunes that show the original recordings. You can hear the difference in the first and second half of the final recording after listening to them separately. Hope this song brings some comfort or enjoyment to your life.