February 13, 1967 – The Beatles: “Penny Lane” b/w “Strawberry Fields Forever” (Capitol 5810) double A-sided 45 single is released in the US.
“Penny Lane” is a song written by Paul McCartney, credited to Lennon–McCartney.
Recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, “Penny Lane” was released in February 1967 as one side of a double A-sided single, along with “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Both songs were later included on the Magical Mystery Tour LP (1967). The single was the result of the record company wanting a new release after several months of no new Beatles releases.
The song’s title is derived from the name of a street near Lennon’s house, in the band’s hometown, Liverpool. McCartney and Lennon would meet at Penny Lane junction in the Mossley Hill area to catch a bus into the centre of the city. The area that surrounds its junction with Smithdown Road is also commonly called Penny Lane. At the time, in the 1960s, this was a significant bus terminus for several routes, and buses with “Penny Lane” displayed were common throughout Liverpool.
Locally the term “Penny Lane” was the name given to where Allerton Road becomes Smithdown Road and its busy shopping area. Penny Lane is named after James Penny, an 18th century slave trader. The street is an important landmark, sought out by most Beatles fans touring Liverpool. In the past, street signs saying “Penny Lane” were constant targets of tourist theft and had to be continually replaced. Eventually, city officials gave up and simply began painting the street name on the sides of buildings. This practice was stopped in 2007 and more theft-resistant “Penny Lane” street signs have since been installed though some are still stolen.
Beatles producer George Martin has stated he believes the pairing of “Penny Lane” with “Strawberry Fields Forever” resulted in probably the greatest single ever released by the group. Both songs were later included on the US Magical Mystery Tour album in November 1967. In the UK, the pairing famously failed to reach #1 in the singles charts, stalling one place below Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me”. In the US the song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a week before being knocked off by The Turtles song “Happy Together”. The song features contrasting verse-chorus form.
Following the success of the double A-side “Yellow Submarine”/”Eleanor Rigby”, Brian Epstein enquired if they had any new material available. Both songs, though recorded during the sessions for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, were left off the album, a decision Martin regretted, although The Beatles usually did not include songs released as singles on their British albums. This was also the first single by The Beatles to be sold with a picture sleeve in the UK, a practice rarely used there at that time, but common in the US and various other countries (such as Japan).
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked “Penny Lane” at #449 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER
“Strawberry Fields Forever” is a song by The Beatles, written by John Lennon and attributed to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership. It was inspired by Lennon’s memories of playing in the garden of a Salvation Army house named “Strawberry Field” near his childhood home. The Strawberry Fields memorial in New York City’s Central Park is named after the song.
“Strawberry Fields Forever” was intended for the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), as it was the first song recorded for it, but was instead released in February 1967 as a double A-side single with Paul McCartney’s “Penny Lane”. “Strawberry Fields Forever” reached number eight in the United States, with numerous critics describing it as one of the group’s best recordings. It is one of the defining works of the psychedelic rock genre and has been covered by many other artists. The song was later included on the US Magical Mystery Tour LP (though not on the British double EP package of the same name).
Strawberry Field was the name of a Salvation Army Children’s Home just around the corner from Lennon’s childhood home in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool. Lennon and his childhood friends Pete Shotton, Nigel Walley, and Ivan Vaughan used to play in the wooded garden behind the home. One of Lennon’s childhood treats was the garden party held each summer in Calderstones Park near the Salvation Army Home every year, where a Salvation Army band played. Lennon’s aunt Mimi Smith recalled: “As soon as we could hear the Salvation Army band starting, John would jump up and down shouting, ‘Mimi, come on. We’re going to be late.'”
Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” and McCartney’s “Penny Lane” shared the theme of nostalgia for their early years in Liverpool. Although both referred to actual locations, the two songs also had strong surrealistic and psychedelic overtones. Producer George Martin said that when he first heard “Strawberry Fields Forever” he thought it conjured up a “hazy, impressionistic dreamworld”.
The period of the song’s writing was one of change and dislocation for Lennon. The Beatles had just retired from touring after one of the most difficult periods of their career, including the “more popular than Jesus” controversy and the band’s unintentional snubbing of Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos. Lennon’s marriage with Cynthia Powell was failing, and he was using increasing quantities of drugs, especially the powerful psychedelic LSD, as well as cannabis, which he had smoked during his time in Spain. Lennon talked about the song in 1980: “I was different all my life. The second verse goes, ‘No one I think is in my tree.’ Well, I was too shy and self-doubting. Nobody seems to be as hip as me is what I was saying. Therefore, I must be crazy or a genius—’I mean it must be high or low’ “, and explaining that the song was “psycho-analysis set to music”.
Lennon began writing the song in Almería, Spain, during the filming of Richard Lester’s How I Won the War in September–October 1966. The earliest demo of the song, recorded in Almería, had no refrain and only one verse: “There’s no one on my wavelength / I mean, it’s either too high or too low / That is you can’t you know tune in but it’s all right / I mean it’s not too bad”. He revised the words to this verse to make them more obscure, then wrote the melody and part of the lyrics to the refrain (which then functioned as a bridge and did not yet include a reference to Strawberry Fields). He then added another verse and the mention of Strawberry Fields. The first verse on the released version was the last to be written, close to the time of the song’s recording. For the refrain, Lennon was again inspired by his childhood memories: the words “nothing to get hung about” were inspired by Aunt Mimi’s strict order not to play in the grounds of Strawberry Field, to which Lennon replied, “They can’t hang you for it.” The first verse Lennon wrote became the second in the released version, and the second verse Lennon wrote became the last in the release.
“Strawberry Fields Forever” was well-received by critics, and is still considered a classic. Three weeks after its release, Time magazine hailed the song as “the latest sample of The Beatles’ astonishing inventiveness”. Richie Unterberger of Allmusic hailed the song as “one of The Beatles’ peak achievements and one of the finest Lennon-McCartney songs”. Ian MacDonald wrote in Revolution in the Head that it “shows expression of a high order… few if any [contemporary composers] are capable of displaying feeling and fantasy so direct, spontaneous, and original.” In 2004, this song was ranked number 76 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. In 2010, Rolling Stone placed it at number three on the 100 Greatest Beatles Songs. The song was ranked as the second-best Beatles’ song by Mojo, after “A Day in the Life”.
Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys said that “Strawberry Fields Forever” was partially responsible for the shelving of his group’s legendary unfinished album, Smile. Wilson first heard the song on his car radio whilst driving, and was so affected that he had to stop and listen to it all the way through. He then remarked to his passenger that The Beatles had already reached the sound the Beach Boys had wanted to achieve. Paul Revere & The Raiders were among the most successful US groups during 1966 and 1967, having their own Dick Clark-produced television show, Where the Action Is. Mark Lindsay (singer/saxophonist) heard the song on the radio, bought it, and then listened to it at home with his producer at the time, Terry Melcher. When the song ended Lindsay said, “Now what the f*** are we gonna do?” later saying, “With that single, The Beatles raised the ante as to what a pop record should be”.