Meaning of Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles
Strawberry Fields Forever
The Meaning Behind The Beatles’ 1967 Classic “Strawberry Fields Forever”
One of the most iconic songs by The Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever” is a masterpiece of psychedelic rock and pop that has influenced generations of musicians and listeners. But what is the song really about? What inspired John Lennon to write it? And how did the band create such a groundbreaking sound? In this blog post, we will explore the meaning behind the song, the artist’s perspective, the listeners’ interpretations, and the historical and societal context that influenced it.
The Inspiration: Strawberry Field
The title of the song refers to a real place in Liverpool, near Lennon’s childhood home. Strawberry Field was a Salvation Army children’s home that had a large garden where Lennon used to play with his friends and escape from his troubled family life. He later said that Strawberry Field was “a place that you could go and there was always a gatekeeper at the gate, so we used to bunk over the wall and play there. It was just a nice place to be.”1
Lennon also felt a connection with the orphans who lived there, as he had experienced abandonment from his parents. His father left when he was a baby, and his mother gave him up to his aunt Mimi when he was five. He only got back in touch with his mother when he was a teenager, but she passed away when he was 17. He later said, “There was something wrong with me, I thought, because I seemed to see things other people didn’t see.”2
The Lyrics: A Journey into the Subconscious
Lennon wrote the song in 1966, while he was filming a movie in Spain called “How I Won the War”. He had taken LSD for the first time earlier that year, and was experimenting with the drug regularly. He said that LSD “was like a mental enema. It just cleaned everything out.” He also said that the song was “psychoanalysis set to music”.4
The lyrics of the song reflect Lennon’s inner turmoil and his search for meaning and identity. He invites the listener to join him in his imaginary world of Strawberry Fields, where nothing is real and nothing matters. He expresses his feelings of alienation, confusion, insecurity, and doubt. He questions his own perception of reality, his sense of self, and his place in society. Lennon also reveals his longing for childhood innocence and simplicity.
The song is full of contradictions and paradoxes, such as “living is easy with eyes closed”, “nothing is real”, “it doesn’t matter much to me”, and “I think I disagree”. These phrases show Lennon’s ambivalence and uncertainty about everything. He also uses wordplay and puns, such as “I mean it must be high or low” (referring to both pitch and mood), “I think a ‘No’, I mean a ‘Yes’” (referring to both affirmation and negation), and “Strawberry Fields forever” (referring to both eternity and finality).
The song also contains references to Lennon’s personal history and influences. For instance, the phrase “No one I think is in my tree” alludes to an illustration from Jean-Henri Fabre’s book “The Insect World,” which Lennon owned as a child. The book showed different types of insects living on different branches of a tree, representing different levels of intelligence. Lennon said that he always felt like he was on a different branch from everyone else.5 The line “That is you can’t you know tune in” refers to both radio frequencies and spiritual vibrations. Lennon was interested in Eastern philosophy and mysticism, and had met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967.6
The Music: A Sonic Experiment
The music of the song is as innovative and complex as the lyrics. The Beatles recorded several versions of the song, using different instruments, techniques, and effects. They spent more than 50 hours on the song, which was unprecedented for a pop single at the time.7
The final version of the song is actually a combination of two different takes that were recorded at different tempos and keys. Producer George Martin used a technique called vari-speeding to match them together, creating a seamless transition at around one minute into the song.8 The result is a musical collage that changes mood and tone throughout.
The song features an instrument called a Mellotron, which was an early precursor of the synthesizer. It could produce sounds of various instruments by playing pre-recorded tapes. The Beatles used it to create the flute-like sound at the beginning of the song.9 They also used other unconventional instruments, such as timpani, cello, trumpet, harmonium, piano, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, drums, tambourine, maracas, and swarmandal (an Indian harp).
The song also features various effects, such as tape loops, reverse tapes, feedback, distortion, and phasing. The Beatles created these effects by manipulating the tape recorder in various ways, such as speeding up, slowing down, cutting, splicing, reversing, and looping the tape. They also used microphones and speakers to create feedback and distortion. These effects added to the psychedelic and surreal atmosphere of the song.10
The Release: A Double A-Side Single
The song was released on February 13, 1967, as a double A-side single with Paul McCartney’s “Penny Lane”. It was the first single by The Beatles that did not reach number one in the UK charts, peaking at number two behind Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me”.11 It also reached number eight in the US charts.12
The song was originally intended for the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, but was released as a single instead, due to pressure from their record company and fans who wanted new material from the band. Lennon later regretted this decision, saying that “it would have been a perfect album if ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Penny Lane’ had been on it”.13
The song was accompanied by a promotional film, which is considered one of the first music videos. The film was directed by Peter Goldman, and showed The Beatles in various costumes and settings, such as a field, a tree, a piano, and a drum kit. The film also featured surreal imagery, such as a funeral procession, a masked man, and a horse-drawn carriage. The film was influenced by French New Wave cinema and the pop art movement.
The Reception: A Mixed Reaction
The song received mixed reactions from critics and fans when it was released. Some praised it as a masterpiece of innovation and creativity, while others criticized it as a self-indulgent and incomprehensible mess. Some also accused The Beatles of being influenced by drugs and losing touch with reality.
However, over time, the song has gained recognition as one of the greatest songs ever written and recorded. It has been ranked among the best songs of all time by various publications and polls, such as Rolling Stone, NME, Mojo, Q, and VH1. It has also been covered by many artists from different genres and styles, such as Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Peter Gabriel, Ben Harper, and Candy Flip.
The Legacy: A Cultural Icon
The song has become a cultural icon that transcends music. It has inspired various works of art, literature, film, television, and theatre. For example, it inspired the name of a musical festival in Australia, a memorial for John Lennon in New York’s Central Park, a novel by Haruki Murakami, a documentary by Albert Maysles, an episode of The Simpsons, and a musical by Tom Stoppard.
The song has also become a symbol of peace, love, freedom, imagination, and individuality. It represents the spirit of the 1960s counterculture and the psychedelic movement. It also reflects Lennon’s personal journey of self-discovery and expression.
“Strawberry Fields Forever” is a musical and cultural phenomenon that continues to fascinate and inspire people around the world.
I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post. If you did, please share it with your friends and leave a comment below. And if you want to learn more about The Beatles and their songs, check out these books and albums. Thank you for reading!