Song facts: Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane

Strawberry Fields Forever

On November 24th 1966, The Beatles got together in the studio for the first time since returning from their summer tour of the US. They began work on their next album, choosing a new John Lennon song to begin with.

Lennon had been busy filming How I Won the War in Spain and Germany with director Dick Lester. While renting a property in Almería earlier that year, Lennon was inspired to write Strawberry Fields Forever. The villa he was staying at reminded him of the Salvation Army garden near his childhood home in Liverpool.

Recording

After Lennon played a demo of the song on acoustic guitar, and everyone present was rightly impressed, they set out to record the song with the working title It's Not Too Bad.

Recording began on Novmber 24th 1966, but the song was perfected over a 45 hour period, spanning five weeks of intense sessions. Several different versions of the song were recorded with many different arrangements composed by producer George Martin. Some of these early sessions can be found on The Beatles' Anthology 2 album, released in 1996.

Photo shoot from 1967, used for the Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane single. 

Photo shoot from 1967, used for the Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane single. 

Paul McCartney filming the Strawberry Fields Forever promo, January 30th 1967.

Paul McCartney filming the Strawberry Fields Forever promo, January 30th 1967.

We used a mellotron on Strawberry Fields. I didn't think it would get past the Musicians' Union, so we didn't advertise it; we just had it on the sessions. It had what would now be called 'samples' of flute, which are actually tapes that play and then rewind. We had eleven seconds on each tape, which could be played on each key. - Paul McCartney  

 Personnel

  • John Lennon – double-tracked vocal, acoustic guitar, piano, bongos
  • Paul McCartney – Mellotron, electric bass, timpani
  • George Harrison – electric and slide guitars, maraca, swarmandal
  • Ringo Starr – drums, backward cymbals

Additional musicians and production staff

  • George Martin – producer, cello and trumpet arrangement
  • Geoff Emerick – engineer
  • Mal Evans – tambourine
  • Neil Aspinall – guiro
  • Terry Doran – maracas
  • Tony Fisher – trumpet
  • Greg Bowen – trumpet
  • Derek Watkins – trumpet
  • Stanley Roderick – trumpet
  • John Hall – cello
  • Derek Simpson – cello
  • Norman Jones – cello
Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane single, 1967.

Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane single, 1967.

Penny Lane

The Beatles recorded Penny Lane on December 29th 1966 at Abbey Road, London. The song was written by Paul McCartney and pays homage to an actual street in Liverpool, much in the same way as Lennon's Strawberry Fields Forever.

It was recorded during the sessions for Sgt. Pepper but wasn't included on that album; instead issued as a double A-sided single with Strawberry Fields Forever. 

Personnel

  • Paul McCartney – lead, harmony and backing vocals, three pianos and bass
  • John Lennon – harmony and backing vocals, two pianos, congas, guitar and handclaps
  • George Harrison – backing vocal, handbell and handclaps
  • Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine
  • George Martin – piano, production, orchestration

Release

Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane were originally intended for release on Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but as manager Brian Epstein wanted another single, the decision was made to release both songs as a double A-sided single instead. They later appeared on the US Magical Mystery Tour album.

The single was released on February 13th 1967 in the US, and four days later in the UK on the 17th. 

Chart success

Both songs failed to reach the number one spot in the UK, the first time a Beatles' single didn't reach the top of the UK charts since Love Me Do in 1962. The single was held off the top spot by Engelbert Humperdinck's Release Me.

In the US Penny Lane reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on March 18th, 1967; while Strawberry Fields Forever peaked at number eight.

Promo films

The Beatles filmed a promotional video for Penny Lane in February of 1967, along with a Strawberry Fields Forever promo. Both films are seen as some of the earliest forms of what is now commonly referred to as music videos.

The Beatles filming the Penny Lane promo, February 1967. 

The Beatles filming the Penny Lane promo, February 1967. 

John Lennon filming the Strawberry Fields Forever promo, January 1967.

John Lennon filming the Strawberry Fields Forever promo, January 1967.

Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane single sleeve, 1967.

Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane single sleeve, 1967.