John wrote Strawberry Fields and to understand the lyrics you have to have an insight into John’s mind.
What is the Strawberry Fields Forever meaning? It is a song of contradictions, of childhood memories fused with drug-induced hallucinations which blend together to form something quite surreal. As a child John wanted to be a poet (he told everyone he wanted to be a journalist out of embarrassment, such were the times), Strawberry Fields Forever is John’s way of bringing forward his childhood ambitions and painting it in an Alice in Wonderland magical world, which lends itself to an LSD experience whilst fulfilling John’s literal ambitions. The Beatles were at this time considering a concept album based upon their childhood experiences and Liverpool, this was indicated by some of the lyrics that were not used within “In My Life”. The album never emerged, but it very well could be that songs like Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane were originally destined for this album, it was meant to be a tale of two halves and contradictory experiences.
John wrote Strawberry Fields whilst filming How I Won The War in Spain in 1966 (John was 27 years old at the time). Touring and live performances were ending and the Beatles were beginning to have time on their hands until they met again to record the next album. The Strawberry Fields single was a double A-side with Penny Lane and this is very indicative of both Paul and John’s personalities and also what was happening within the band at the time.
Strawberry Fields is full of surrealism, of childhood painful contradictive memories of aunt Mimi taking John to a local fete held by the local Salvation Army home in Strawberry Field. The land has recently been restored as a place people can visit in a homage to the Beatles, but for many years stood empty. In John’s childhood years the Salvation Army was based here in an old gothic mansion.
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John loved breaking in here or climbing trees, imaging that he was a character in Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows or one of the other many stories that John loved as a child. His aunt Mimi was once quoted as saying ‘As soon as we could hear the Salvation Army band playing, John would jump up and down shouting, “Mimi, come on, we’re going to be late”‘
The composition of Strawberry Fields is complex. It is made up of lots of different instruments and sounds. In fact the song is a combination of two different songs pulled together……..
On the other hand, Penny Lane (written by Paul) is also a memory of childhood, but one which is clear and not distorted unlike John’s almost protective recollection, afraid to be completely honest and open about his thoughts.
John later confirmed this in 1980, during an interview with David Sheff when asked about Strawberry Fields:
“They were the ones I really wrote from experience and not projecting myself into a situation and writing a nice story about it. The second line [sic] goes, ‘No one I think is in my tree.’ Well, what I was trying to say in that line is ‘Nobody seems to be as hip as me, therefore I must be crazy or a genius.’ It’s the same problem as I had when I was five: ‘There is something wrong with me because I seem to see things other people don’t see. Am I crazy, or am I a genius?’ … What I’m saying, in my insecure way, is ‘Nobody seems to understand where I’m coming from. I seem to see things in a different way from most people.” John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Strawberry Field Forever – Line by line, what do they mean?
I’ve been a Beatles fan all of my life. I’m from Liverpool and grew up near where The Beatles themselves lived when they were younger. I was born in 1975 and although the world and the area is now very different I can still remember reading these lyrics as a teenager and coming up with my own interpretation of them. At 46 years old, I’ve now heard and read LOTS of people’s opinions here, I’ve also listened to every Beatles interview possible about the song, to ensure that what I’ve written here is more than just my opinion.
“Let me take you down, cos I’m going to Strawberry fields.”
John wanted us to go on a journey with him. He would go to Strawberry Field (no ‘s’) and hang out there with his friends, some of which were children from the Salvation Army childrens home. His aunt Mimi disapproved of this thinking he would be led astray. It seems that John wanted us to be with him as he took a trip down memory lane.
“Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about. Strawberry Fields forever”
When John and his aunt would argue about his going, he would often reply, “What are they going to do, hang me?” Thus the line “Nothing to get hung about.”
There could be more to this line too in terms of “nothing is real”, did John, through an LSD lens, have a sense that nothing is indeed real and everything is simply in our mind?Glarry GT509 41 Inch EQ Cutaway Folk Acoustic Guitar Spruce Front Natural Blue Black Sunset
“Living is easy with eyes closed. Misunderstanding all you see.
John is referencing that people with their eyes figuratively closed, cannot see what is really happening in the world. This makes living easier because life suddenly becomes simple and less confusing. Without all of the facts it is easy to misunderstand things. John is possibly having a stab at the ignorance of people who ignore an ugly truth, in favour of an easier life.
“It’s getting hard to be someone, but it all works out.”
Since he was a child, John was aware of feelings of displacement and disorientation, of thinking (or saying) something and only moments later for this to completely change and for him to believe each one to be true. This is referenced here and also later in the song with “I think, er, no, I mean, er, yes. But it’s all wrong. That is I think I disagree”
When John “tries” to be “someone” things seem difficult, he can’t be the person he’s trying to be but if you let things take their own natural course then “it all works out.” This, again, could be a reference to drug use and the feeling of elation and letting things go, it could also be a reference to meditation.
“It doesn’t matter much to me.”
Another reference to letting go, The Beatles had recently stopped touring and playing live because they realised that people were not listening to their music and they wanted to be heard. John was at this point so famous that some things came easy in life but none of these were of real importance, even being “someone”.
“No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low.”
Some of the lyrics simply reflect John being misunderstood. To quote John himself “Well, what I was trying to say in that line is, ‘Nobody seems to be as hip as me, therefore I must be crazy or a genius.'”
John felt insecure. He was sure he was a genius, but his childhood traumas had caused him so much internal pain, that it had become normal to feel this way and he would react badly outwardly to other people, even though inside John was clearly very thoughtful and imaginative and would escape into stories.
“High or low” could be a message to those people who believed The Beatles were a bad influence and their drug taking was harming the minds of their fans. At the same time John was a millionaire and being given credit as a great songwriter – so which is it? “No one I think is my tree.” – they don’t understand, is it this or is that – it’s neither, you just don’t understand.
“That is you can’t you know, tune in, but it’s all right. That is I think it’s not too bad.”
This line is referring to people being in tune with him even though he feels somewhat different to them, things aren’t too bad. It’s almost like him saying ‘don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining about the people around me, they’re okay’. My own thought here is that he may be conscious of offending people by saying the wrong thing.
“Always, no, sometimes, think it’s me, but you know I know when it’s a dream.”
John again is referring to his thoughts and how conflicted they seem at times and yet he feels like he is on the outside looking in. Paul once mentioned that he read about himself in the papers and felt like it was a different person and it’s possible that this is what John is referring to. John is famous but he still feels like the same person, the same boy who went to Strawberry Field as a child. He could also be talking about taking LSD and having moments of clarity “I know when it’s a dream.”
“I think I know I mean a yes, but it’s all wrong. That is I think I disagree.”
This was covered earlier, it is John having conflicting and surreal feelings and thoughts about himself and his position within the world as a Beatle and a person.
Why is Strawberry Fields Forever so good?
Strawberry Fields Forever is a song that has been picked apart, dissected and analysed more than any other Beatles song, by musicians and academics.
John originally wrote the song in a lower key (the actual key is disputed to either be C or A) at a lower tempo. The song was recorded in several parts, over a period of time with musicians and musical instruments being layered during different periods.
In all, the song took fifty-five hours of recording time over five weeks, a sign of the power and perseverance of the Beatles.
John had different versions of the song in two different tempos and two keys and became so fed up of it that he asked George Martin to try and do something with it.
The first take of the song was originally in A major at 92 BPM (beats per minute).
John decided that he’d like to make it livelier and so recorded it again, this time in B-flat major at the higher rate of 102 BPM with the addition of trumpets and cellos (which were reverse taped.)
John preferred the first half of the A major version and the second half of the B-flat version, so when he asked George Martin if anything could be done with both versions, he spliced them together at measure 24, adjusted the pitch (which is quite evident in the vocals), and changed the speed to 92 BPM.
This new fused version developed a dream-like timbre, which is especially evident in the second part of the track because it is slowed down more than the original version.
Is Strawberry Fields Forever psychedelic?
The music is haunting and surrealistic at the same time. When combined with the abstract lyrics, the song takes on a psychedelic feel. The musical experimentation on the song made it even more interesting.
To the band’s displeasure, the song was later included on the US Magical Mystery Tour LP. Lennon viewed “Strawberry Fields Forever” as his finest work with the Beatles and resented this.
Is Strawberry Fields Forever about drugs?
John does talk about drugs in the media but not in this song. The Beatles never made open claims in their lyrics and only hid their meaning instead. In my own personal opinion as a writer of lyrics and songwriter, I think (as most songs are) that pieces came together and took on their own meaning.
When a song is written, it isn’t written so it gives the listener a particular feeling, it just evolves this way.
Lyrics are the same, single lines stand out. On their own they’re good but when placed together they take on a whole new meaning.
Hunter Davies was the official and only authorised biographer of The Beatles and in his book “The Beatles Lyrics – THE UNSEEN STORY BEHIND THEIR MUSIC” he says John originally gave him a manuscript with 12 lines of lyrics on them, most of which never appeared on the final version.
This is because the song evolved as it became more obvious what it was going to be about.
Is the song about drugs? It possibly has drug references in it. It is likely a combination of life experiences and thoughts that John was having at the time, thinking about his childhood etc.
John didn’t write the song alone and all of The Beatles at the time were experimenting with various drugs, including heroin and LSD so it is very likely that some of the surrealism of their experiences made it into the song.
The song is also a sign of the times, the 60’s were changing and 1967 was a very poignant year politically and musically. The Beatles were not the only band to be experimenting in this way but the boys certainly did welcome this new direction, especially given their recent decision to stop touring and focus more upon the music.
The Beatles had massive influence at this time and so are credited with a lot of the musical movement but they were only one of several bands taking things to a more psychedelic level.