When was it recorded? Nov. 24 & 28-29; Dec. 8-22, 1966
When was it first released, and on which album? Feb. 17, 1967 as a single (later on “Magical Mystery Tour”)
Who wrote it? Lennon
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
“‘Strawberry Fields’ was psychoanalysis set to music.” — John Lennon (Anthology)
John wrote “Strawberry Fields Forever” while in Almería, Spain, while filming the Richard Lester movie “How I Won The War” in the fall of 1966. According to John, he had a lot of down time, which was practically unheard of prior to then. He needed the breather, though. According to Wikipedia, “The Beatles had just retired from touring after one of the most difficult periods of their career, including the ‘more popular than Jesus’ controversy and the band’s unintentional snubbing of Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos.” A very early demo John recorded in Almería featured only one verse and no chorus.
In November, John returned home and started working on the song again. With room to think and a good amount of LSD, “the song turned from simple nostalgia into inward reflection.” (Beatles Bible).
Strawberry Field (no S, mind you) was a Salvation Army children’s home in Woolton (Liverpool) near John’s childhood home. According to the Beatles Bible, “With his childhood friends Pete Shotton and Ivan Vaughan, Lennon would roam the grounds of Strawberry Field. Additionally, each summer there would be a garden party held in the grounds, which he especially looked forward to.”
“I was hip in kindergarten. 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,’ the next line. There was something wrong with me, I thought, because I seemed to see things other people didn’t see.” — John Lennon, (David Sheff, All We Are Saying)
Part of John’s home recordings at this point appeared on “Anthology 2.”
According to Geoff Emerick, after John played the song for the rest of the group for the first time, “There was a moment of stunned silence, broken by Paul, who in a quiet, respectful tone said simply, ‘That is absolutely brilliant.'”
Alan Pollack noted in his review, “…wherever you find the Beatles at their most seemingly experimental, you almost always find them also at their most traditionally conservative. Here, in ‘Strawberry Fields Forever,’ underneath whatever else is ‘far out’ you find mostly a folk-ballad-like form with a late breaking tip of the hat to the pop song format.”
The first studio version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” bears a resemblance to this original folk ballad. Recorded under the working title, “It’s Not Too Bad,” this version also appeared on “Anthology 2.”
Recording “Strawberry Fields Forever” was definitely A Process. The Beatles Bible estimates 55 hours of studio time (including arranging and mixing) went into it. Recording began Nov. 24, 1966; it was the first song recorded for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” but wound up not appearing on that album.
On Nov. 28, the Beatles recorded three more takes of the song in this manner and overdubbed stuff onto the track. They recorded two more takes the following day and overdubbed vocals, piano and bass. Dubbed Take Seven, this version ALSO appeared on “Anthology 2.”
Sometime between the end of November and the start of December, John decided the song required a brassier arrangement. On Dec. 8, the Beatles recorded nine takes, editing together two incomplete takes to make a temporary “best” version. The next day, Ringo added percussion (which on the final recording were played backwards, upping the trip-factor exponentially) and George recorded a svarmandal (a harp-like Indian instrument) part.
George Martin scored a part for four trumpets and three cellos, recorded Dec. 15. John added lead vocals that day as well (specifically his infamous “cranberry sauce”). John recorded more vocals Dec. 21 and added a piano track. That was the final day for recording on “Strawberry Fields.”
HOWEVER (you didn’t think it was that easy, did you?) John wasn’t happy with this version either. Or rather, he liked parts of both the Take Seven version and the newly finished remake. John asked George Martin if he could combine the two into one master version.
Big problem here – the original version was in the key of A while the remake was in the key of B. George Martin was flummoxed. [I wanted to make a joke about George Martin tearing his hair out, but I just Googled recent photos of him and he apparently still has 90% of his hair. Good for you, George.]
George and Geoff studied the session tapes Dec. 22 to see if John’s request was do-able. Eventually, they used a variable-speed tape machine to slow down Take 26 and join it to Take Seven (which was also slightly sped up). The final song is more or less in the key of C. And with that the song was finished.
We have to discuss that ending though. The freaking Mellotron plays the tape “Swinging Flutes” in reverse while John’s droning “cranberry sauce” from Dec. 15 comes out of nowhere. Quoth About.com, “The famous fade-in after the song ‘ends’ appears to have been George Martin’s creation; it is the first ‘double fade’ in pop, and very possibly recording, history.”
“Strawberry Fields Forever” was released as a double single with thematically similar “Penny Lane” (Day 190). It was released Feb. 13, 1967 in the US and four days later across the pond.
“Strawberry Fields Forever” is, and always has been, hailed as a Beatles classic. According to Wikipedia, Time was raving about its “astonishing inventiveness” three weeks after its release. Rolling Stone ranked it #76 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and #3 on its list of the greatest Beatles songs. Mojo did one better and ranked the song #2 on its list of the best Beatles songs.
As mentioned on Day 190, Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me” blocked the double single from the #1 spot on the UK music charts, so “Strawberry Fields” peaked at #2. It fared worse in the US, peaking at #8. However, the single reached #1 in the Netherlands and Norway.
As with “Penny Lane” (and in the same trip mentioned in “Penny Lane”), the Beatles shot a promotional video for “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Directed by Swede Peter Goldman, the Fab Four filmed it Jan. 30-31, 1967 in Knole Park near Sevenoaks, Kent. According to Wikipedia, while on location but not filming, John purchased the poster for Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal that inspired “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” from a local antiques gallery.
Along with the “Penny Lane” music video, “Strawberry Fields Forever” premiered on the US variety show “The Hollywood Palace” on Feb. 25, 1967. Both videos were also “selected by New York’s MoMA as two of the most influential music videos of the late 1960s” (Wikipedia).
According to About.com, “During his life and in his will, Lennon donated money to the real Strawberry Field… orphanage, a tradition carried on by his widow, Yoko Ono, after his death. However, foster homes and other programs have rendered orphanages largely obsolete, and John’s beloved childhood retreat was closed for good in 2005.” Also in the wake of John’s death, Yoko named a section of New York City’s Central Park Strawberry Fields and designated it as a place for his fans to gather and celebrate his legacy. About.com says, “It is a major mecca for Lennon fans, and is the site of official mourning every December 8 (the day of his  murder).”