Let’s travel back in time to November 24, 1966. The place: EMI’s recording studios at Abbey Road, London, England.
In September of ’66, the Beatles took a break from each other, going their separate ways for a while, working on separate projects.
Then, at 7 p.m. on November 24, John, Paul, George and Ringo reconvened in Studio Two to begin work on a new album. An album which, when released in June of 1967, would change the world of rock music.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
But the song that the Beatles recorded on this first night back in the studio didn’t end up on “Sgt. Pepper.” In fact, this night’s work – Take 1 of a new John Lennon composition – wasn’t released at all. (Until 1996, that is.)
November 24 was the night the Beatles recorded their first take of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
As historian Mark Lewisohn wrote in his wonderful book “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions”:
“ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ captured in one song everything the Beatles had learned in the four years spent inside recording studios, especially 1966, with its backwards tapes, its use of vari-speed and its use of uncommon musical instruments.” (Paul McCartney played the Mellotron.)
The Beatles took their time getting “Strawberry Fields” right. They devoted their next two Abbey Road sessions – on November 28 and 29 – to recording more takes of the song. None of those would be released either.
The basic tracks for the final version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” were recorded on December 8. In the meantime, the Beatles cut their first actual “Sgt. Pepper” track: “When I’m Sixty-Four.”
By the end of December, the group would begin work on a new McCartney tune, initially labeled “Untitled” but soon called “Penny Lane.”
The “Strawberry Fields”/”Penny Lane” single was released in the U.K. on February 17. It remains one of the greatest pop records of all time.
Eventually, Take 1 of “Strawberry Fields Forever” was released on the double-CD “Anthology 2.” To hear it streaming on my Vox audio stash, click here.