Semiotic Analysis of Strawberry Fields Forever

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Why did I chose the text ?

To bluntly put, this text choice is a result of complete freedom given by my mentor. Pondering over all the options I could have taken for the assignment there were certain questions that rose in my mind. The first was ‘Why should I analyse this?’ . While the question denotes a simple why that should be answered, the connotation is far deep. The depth goes to the meaning that a particular text holds in my life. Contemplating over the associations that give something some meaning, it all got tangled up. Being a thinker of some sorts, I believe I see through things and make better meaning of things by analysing them over perspectives and the short and long term implications and impacts those things make. And what I realised again (of course this isn’t the first time I am getting a revelation of this sorts) is that nothing holds some real meaning in my life and not only mine, everyone’s life. The freedom of the assignment and the tangled thoughts took me to music. I didn’t had to go through many songs when suddenly I got the text I was looking for.

It was The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever. A song which John Lennon considered his greatest accomplishment. Since many years I have been hearing of the multiple complex meanings this song holds, which seem like a simple childhood dreamy and nostalgic kind of song when you hear it. This song is also rated as the best song made by the band by many magazines and music critics.

The Lyrics of the Song

Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me
Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

No one I think is in my tree
I mean it must be high or low
That is you can’t you know tune in but it’s all right
That is I think it’s not too bad
Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Always, no sometimes, think it’s me
But you know 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

Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever
Strawberry Fields forever
Strawberry Fields forever

History

The song was recorded in 1966 at the EMI Studios, London.

Strawberry Fields Forever was the first recording of what would go on to become the Sgt Pepper sessions. John Lennon wrote Strawberry Fields whilst he was in Spain filming ʻHow I Won the Warʼ.

The song has been said to have ʻ…all the languorous, sunflowery heaviness of a Spanish summer afternoon in it, despite being a memory capsule of a childhood in the north of England. ’

Strawberry Fields refers to a hostel in Liverpool.
“Itʼs a Salvation Army home, that was near the house I lived in with my Aunty in the suburbs. Although, I took the name as an image…” – John Lennon

The Beatles were in a period of continually wanting to improve and investigate new ways of creating sounds. In this, most notably producer George Martin, and engineer Geoff Emerick aided them.

ʻ…at that time a lot of things were changing, society was changing and … the psychedelic era was coming in, and we were very much part of that.’ – Paul McCartney

Strawberry Fields Forever has a psychedelic/impressionistic feel. The overall texture can often feel hazy and unclear, working to create images rather than being clear and specific.

Semiosis

Culture is about studying the ways that people communicate with each other, consciously and unconsciously, through things like language, visual images and music.
Through the lectures conducted by the mentor, I understood Semiotics as something which would help answer a question of how do we know what we know? In semiotics the approach is outside-in. It asks how these things get into people’s heads in the first place.

The answer is given through an understanding of the signs which are sound/objects and concepts associated with them. The sound/object is signifier and the concept is signified. Relation between signifier/signified is arbitrary based on different conventions. These signs carry the ability to denote and connote meanings. The denotation is the direct meaning and the connotation is the significance.

The song is written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and according to Lennon is a really straight-forward song.

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”.

Strawberry Fields Forever – Nothing is Real

Sign – Strawberry Field
Signifier – small garden and the song advocating an escape into a childlike existence. Signified – something much more darker. The verses of the song get more and more confused as the song progresses. Each verse expresses confusion and a desire to just give up trying to make sense of things and a desire to drop out of the whole mess.

Sign – Happy-go-lucky melody
Signifier – happy nostalgic soothing feeling of the song
Signified – The song is more about Lennon’s insecurities and his tough childhood.

The protagonist is going to reach towards a place of safety, where none of the concerns and confusions apply. In 1967 when the song was released, most saw that as an advocacy to “drop out” and consume “chemicals” to help escape reality. Whether or not John Lennon intended that meaning is harder to tell. He doesn’t really use any code words for drugs (except possibly with the phrase “tune in”), and instead he references his childhood playground.

This song is about a person who wants to escape reality to a safe, easy life that doesn’t really exist where he doesn’t have to care about anything anymore.

BIG TALK is emphatic in nature and is meaning based. It is considered important and purposeful.

This refers here to the little shed of Lennon’s wisdom in the song which explains the burdened tyranny of people living in the system of the world. He imagines a world where people are living burden less with no great concern for the future, as they know it would be great anyway.

SMALL TALK is phatic in nature and is sound based. It is considered less important and is leisure based.

This refers here to the soothing and melodic music used in the song. Everyone is not concerned with the meanings that lyrics of the song portray. The song has been processed to achieve a dreamier sound to invoke feelings of nostalgia among its listeners.

Melody

Use of mixolydian mode throughout the song which is common nowadays in non-classical harmony, such as jazz, funk, blues and rock music.

Dynamics

The opening of the song is simple with minimal instrumentation. The alterations are created through the multiple instruments being used. The verses use only vocals, celli, backward cymbals and trumpets. By the end, there is a highly layered performance.

Tone Colour

John Lennon’s nasal voice has been altered to great lengths. Effects like ADT (Artificial Double Tracking) and speed track over-layering has been used.
Timpani like sound has been produced through drums recorded with close miking and loosened tom skins.

Techniques & Instruments

– Melletron
– Swordmandel
– Slide Guitar
– Recording of Drums with towels over tom skins – Backwards recorded loops
– Percussion overdubs
– Use of effects on vocals

The use of recording effects and the above exotic instruments helps give the song a psychedelic feel .

Articulation

The song has been made on the Strawberry Fields in Liverpool to which John Lennon’s childhood is associated. In the song, he uses his local accent in the articulation of the melody. His Liverpudlian accent comes through quite clearly.
‘sh’ for ’s’

‘evah’ for ‘ever’
emphasising on ‘g’ at end of ‘nothing’

To attain a dreamy feel minimal accenting of words is beneficial.

The Beatles’ sound and texture created for the song is very closely associated with the psychedelic movement of the 60s.


References

  • The Beatles (2003). The Beatles Anthology (DVD). Apple records.
    “The Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Beatles Songs of All Time”. Rolling Stone. 2010.
  • Casaburi, Jim. “Strawberry Fields Forever – Nothing Is Real.” Strawberry Fields Forever. N.p., 5 July 2005. Web.
  • Webb, Robert. “‘Strawberry Fields Forever’: The Making of a Masterpiece.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 29 Nov. 2006. Web.
  • “Analysis of Works from Prescribed List of Ensemble Works. Strawberry Fields Forever Beatles and Ben Harper.” AMUSE Professional Learning. N.p., n.d. Web.
  • “Strawberry Fields Forever (George Martin interview)”. Beatles Bootlegs. YouTube. YouTube, 2008. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.
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