Saturday, March 12, 2016

Track of the Week: The Beatles "Strawberry Fields Forever"

This week brought the sad news of the passing of Sir George Martin, the man who signed the Beatles to their first record contract and produced all but one of their albums. He always seemed such a contrast to the band, especially in their psychedelic period when their long locks, facial hair, and love beads clashed with his suit and tie wardrobe and Brylcreemed hair. Despite those differences, Martin continued to make his mark on the Beatles' music.

I am of the adamant belief that creativity is an inherently collaborative thing. We have become overly enamored with the cult of the genius, forgetting that even the greatest geniuses had help along the way. George Martin's brilliance was that he was able to take the visions of Lennon and McCartney and help make them real.  This was no small feat at a time when recording technology was pretty primitive by modern standards, and the studios at Abbey Road could only record on four tracks.  In 1966-1967, the Beatles really began to broaden their horizons and revolutionize their approach, and maybe no one song is more emblematic of that change than "Strawberry Fields Forever."

It famously underwent drastic changes in its history, going from a quiet folkie song to the final product, which is heavy, mysterious, and off-putting as it is beautiful. It sounds absolutely nothing like the Beatles had written before, and certainly like nothing else on the radio in February of 1967. I remember hearing it for the first time as a child, and its difference from the likes of "Love Me Do" shocked me. While the song is ostensibly a longing for childhood, it seemed to me an uncanny sonic evocation of the dream world.

Perhaps its mysteriousness had to do with its genesis. The final song is actually two different takes spliced together, even though they were recorded in different keys. The slight change in speed (necessary to change the pitch) adds greatly to its unreal feeling. Without Martin's efforts, this song would not exist in its current form. May he rest in peace.

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