Saturday, January 19, 2013

Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields (Single) 1967

Penny Lane
- The first side of a double A-Side single released by the band in February 1967.
- Recorded during the Sergeant Peppers sessions and released 4 months ahead of the album.
- Written by McCartney, the lyrics concern his childhood home and the nostalgia associated with it. This ties into his original theme for the upcoming album, which was to be all about childhood. Ultimately the band didn't go with this idea. Lennon contributed some lyrics for the third verse.
- George Martin felt it was the band's strongest single from their whole career, mainly due to the similar themes and high quality of the two songs involved. He wanted both songs included on the Sergeant Peppers album but the band decided to release them only as a single due to their manager, Brian Epstein, pressuring them for more material to bridge the gap between albums.
- Failed to reach #1 in the UK due to a Englebert Humperdinck single (lol!), this was the first time this happened since Love Me Do in 1963.
- Features a more contasting verse-chorus form, as opposed to the band's usual use of the Tin Pan Alley-influenced AABA structure (where they placed more importance on verses, and broke things up with a bridge).
- Penny Lane was eventually included on the Magical Mystery Tour album, despite not being featured in the TV-movie of the same name.
- The first Beatles UK-single to feature a picture sleeve. 
- McCartney sings the lead vocal, with Lennon providing harmony.
- Instrumentation: Lennon plays two seperate piano tracks, and some congas. McCartney plays three seperate piano tracks, as well as the recorder. Harrison played the firebell (wtf), and Ringo added some extra bits and pieces percussion-wise. George Martin also played a piano track (that makes 6 piano tracks all up!), and orchestrated the session-played wind, brass and string sections. David Mason, a much-respected trumpet player amongst London orchestras, played the piccolo-trumpet for the solo. There was also a second bassist who played some acoustic bass to help compliment McCartney's own bassline (I'm not sure quite why they felt the need for a second bassplayer).
- All this crazy orchestration was influenced directly by the Beach Boys' God Only Knows, one of McCartney's favourite songs at the time. 
- Despite the overkill of instrumentation that got recorded, not all of it made it into the final song. Both Lennon and Harrison's guitar tracks don't feature, and the piano and vocal tracks were significantly altered. Lots of the instruments were recorded at different speeds and slowed down or sped up to match the pace of the song.
- Features some of McCartney's best lyrics (except for maybe the crude reference to 'finger pies'), he switches from third person to first person when he switches from verse to chorus. He also abruptly changes key when switching from one section of lyrics to another, which is an unusual thing for a pop singer to do. Several lyrics also make strange allusions (such as the nurse feeling she is in a play, and she is anyway), which McCartney has since put down to LSD-use.
- Alternate takes of the song (one of which is featured on the Anthology album) featured different instrumentation, such as the use of English Horns.
- Penny Lane signs have been stolen from Liverpool ever since the song's release. The council eventually decided to introduce "theft-proof" signs in 2007, but these were stolen too. 
- Runs for three minutes and took 9 minutes to complete.

Strawberry Fields Forever
- The second A-Side to the single.
- Written by Lennon, although McCartney composed the intro.
- Halfway through the song an orchestral score appears. For people listening to it for the first time in the '60s, it kinda caught them off guard.
- The "Strawberry Fields" of the title is the name of a Salvation Army house near Lennon's childhood neighbourhood. The allusions to Lennon's childhood fit with the originally concept for the upcoming Sergeant Peppers album.
- Lennon wrote the song in 1966 while filming How I Won the War in Spain. It was a lot shorter at first and without some bits.
- Three alternate takes (including Lennon's acoustic demo version) later appeared on the Anthology albums.
- Lennon wanted the song to have a 'dream-like' sound. He felt the original recording to be a bit too rough and loud and wanted to do something different with it. He asked George Martin to write an accompanying score, and so Martin wrote one for three cellos and four trumpets. Lennon didn't really like it so a second 'score' track was put together, this time made up of other instruments - including the mellotron and swarmandel, as well as slide guitar and some backwards cymbal-sounds. Lennon reviewed both score tracks and decided he liked both. This caused a problem as they were in different keys and tempos. George Martin had to run one version at a slower than recorded speed, whilst the other was sped up, and then spliced them together using editing scissors and tape. This accounts for the strange shift in pitch that makes the song so unique and helps achieve Lennon's 'dreamlike' quality.
- McCartney plays bass, mellotron and timpani drum. Lennon's lead vocals are double-tracked and he also played a piano track, rhythm guitar and bongos. Harrison played slide-guitar (the first time he would use the slide for his recorded music - something that would later become his trademark in his solo work), as well as the maracas and swarmandel (an Indian zither-styled instrument). George Martin arranged and conducted the cellos and trumpets featured. Ringo provided a drum truck and also played the timpani.
- The low vocals almost buried in the mix during the outro are not 'I buried Paul' (as many fans have tripped over themselves to believe) but 'cranberry sauce' (it is at it's most obvious in the Anthology out-takes). 

- The fade-out and returning fade-in is widely believed to be the first in pop music. The idea was George Martin's.
- The song was later included on the Magical Mystery Tour album.
- This is one of the Beatles songs most often-cited to have cracked the pop music game wide open. Brian Wilson later said it was one of the reasons he gave up work on the famously abandoned Beach Boys album Smile. The singer from Paul Revere and the Raiders, a popular US band at the time with their own TV show, bought the single and was blown away by the song to the extent that he was at a loss as to what his band would record next, feeling that the the bar for pop music had just been raised completely beyond reach.

- The song lives on as the namesake for a John Lennon memorial in New York's Central Park. Lennon donated money to the real Strawberry Fields (an orphanage) throughout most of his adult life, a tradition that Yoko Ono carried on after his death.
- Runs for just over 4 minutes and took 26 takes to complete.

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