Monday, February 13, 2017

The Beatles' "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever"

It was fifty years ago today that The Beatles' single "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever" was released in the United States. Like many of The Beatles' later singles it was a double A-side. "Penny Lane" would go to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, while "Strawberry Fields Forever" peaked at no. 8. In the United Kingdom both songs only peaked at no. 2, breaking a four year streak of every Beatle single going to no. 1. Regardless, both "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" remain two of The Beatles' best remembered songs, more so than some of their songs that did reach no. 1 on the British single chart.

Both songs were originally recorded for the album that would become known as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In fact, "Strawberry Fields Forever" was the first song recorded during the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sessions. The two songs were released as a single under pressure from EMI, who thought it had been too long since The Beatles had released a single.

Both songs dealt with actual places in Liverpool. The name "Penny Lane" not only refers to an actual street in Liverpool, but the entire area surrounding Smithdown Place. This includes Newcastle Road (where John Lennon lived for the first five years of his life), Church Road, Allerton Road, and Smithdown Road. In the Sixties Penny Lane was a bus roundabout. John Lennon and Paul McCartney would meet at the junction of Penny Lane to catch the bus to the centre of Liverpool.

"Strawberry Fields Forever" was inspired by Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army children's home in Woolton, Liverpool. It was not far from where John Lennon grew up, and he attended the annual garden parties they held each summer. Strawberry Field was originally a private estate. In 1936 it was sold to the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army opened it as a children's home on July 7 1936. While the original house would eventually be demolished, a smaller building would be built to take its place. It remained open until 2005, at which point it became a Salvation Army church and prayer centre.

Promotional films would be shot for both "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever". Curiously, the promo film for "Penny Lane" was not shot on Penny Lane, as The Beatles did not want to travel all the way to Liverpool. Instead it was shot on and around Angel Road in the East End of London, with some scenes shot on the King's Road in Chelsea. The rather surreal film for "Strawberry Fields Forever" was shot at Knole Park in Sevenoaks, Kent. The promotional films for "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" made their debut on the BBC's music programme Top of the Pops on February 7 1967. They were later shown in the United States on the ABC variety show The Hollywood Palace on February 25 1967.

Sadly, the complete promotional films for "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" are not available online. That being the case, here are the songs courtesy of Spotify.

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