A Comparison of visions of childhood reminiscence in the songs, “Penny Lane” by Paul McCarteney and “Strawberry Fields Forever” by John Lennon
In an anthology solely in dedication to the Beatles, George Martin did lament that one of the biggest mistakes of his life was not putting the “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields” records together in the Sgt. Pepper LP. These two songs were responsible for providing two visions of childhood reminisce that were in contrast to each other, but striking a chord with all those who heard them. Paul McCarteny and John Lennon were in the same musical outfit but with different perspectives, outlooks, and styles of writing music. Talent seems to ooze out of these musical icons, as is evident in the cult following that they now enjoy across the globe from an array of loyal fans. The purpose of this essay is to comment on the difference in tone, influence, and vision that these songs had and how artists from the same band could exhibit such compositional disparity.
“Strawberry Fields Forever” by John Lennon
Strawberry Fields Forever was written in 1966 by John Lennon when filming How I Won The War in Almeria, Spain. Paul would later describe this song as his “secret garden”, alluding to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe fantasy children’s novel. Apart from the tangible detail given away by the title, the remainder of the song is an interior monolog where Lennon is, in a way, drifting in and out of thoughts surgically. Its recording was done in Abbey Road Studio and became one of the most elaborate recordings ever done by The Beatles. The song consists of a relay of several cellos, backward cymbals, trumpets, mellotron and a svarmandal (an Indian zither with descending raga scales during the end of choruses).
John Lennon’s song is a nostalgic childhood memory. Strawberry Field was a Salvation Army orphanage located in Woolton, about five minutes from his childhood home. During his holidays, he would be enthused by the Salvation Army brass band would play and later came to realize that it was made up of children from the orphanage. In some way, he now knew that those children, little girls in white and blue dresses, straw boaters draped with red ribbons were orphans just like him. It is important to acknowledge that this song is not simply a playground for Lennon but also serves as his spiritual home.Additionally, the song seems was his ultimate Heartbreak Hotel. During the early stages of John Lennon’s compositions, his songs were an attempt at forging a beautiful dream out of the grim nightmare of having to grow up in a post-war Liverpool(Lennon and Davies ). He has to also endure the tragic loss of his mother and in the song happens to find a nightmare hidden within the dreamy nature that characterizes it. “Strawberry Fields Forever” is thus a clash that occurs between one ineffable dream and an apparent countervailing nightmare. It is life as it presently is versus life in a dream. Lennon also takes one to a forlorn past that is anxiety and search for relief and his true self.
After a soft opening by a mellotron, Lennon mournfully states that he would want to take the listener “down to a place”. The place doesn’t sound like it is necessarily in his mind and in a way sounds like a mystical void. Lennon has his full attention set on what he is saying. He was able to declare the paradox of his true nature and burdened with the fact that he was alone as a boy and also as a man of great creativity (Mäkelä 34). Many agree with the calim that during this period of his life, Lennon felt like he was entering a new world. The world that he was now entering, would correspond closely with that inside him, and as an adult, he often associated such moments of utter bliss with the childhood that he lost together with a feeling of psychadelia that was surprisingly drug free. The song evolves and subsequently takes the blues song in to a new dreamy and elliptical ballad. Furthermore, is eerily evocative and memorable, able to plunge one into a descent in the maelstrom of an unconscious mind. Lennon’s voice reveals a performer doing his level best to sing to the world with a hungry desire to be freed from a pain that seems inescapable (Whiteley ). His determination is that of an individual who wants to let others to take a trip with him to the past where he lived a life of uncertainity and how this woukd later shape the character he had. Lennon’s intent was to appeal to the listeners compassion while at the same time telling his own personal story,as raw as it was.
“Penny Lane” by Paul McCarteney
It was Paul McCarteny’s wish to also contribute a heavier personal nostalgic view after Lennon had written a whole labyrinthine cram of his childhood. Penny Lane was thus born out of McCarteney’s urge to have his own version of nostalgia. McCarteny’s song is a cheerful trip down memory lane through Liverpool. David Mason, a trumpeter and piccolo player, with the London Philharmonia was also featured in the song and gives this jaunty song a flourishing finish. In the song, McCarney recollects all the places he went to during his youth but in an ironic twist, none of the things that he happens list can be found in Penny Lane where he spent his childhood. Curiously, it was John Lennon and his parents who once lived on the streets (Lennon, et al. ). The street in the song got its name from John Penny who was a slave-ship owner from the eighteenth-century. Furthermore, McCarteny mentions a barbershop by the name Bioletti’s that always had a collection of various haircuts and St. Barnabus Church, an area where he was a choir boy.
McCartreny also revisits the past in his song, just like John Lennon did in “Strawberry Fields Forever”, only that he is less opaque. To him, childhood is a comfort zone that offers happy memories, contrary to Lennon’s picture of sorrow and confusion. Lennon’s song represents a riveting dirge, but McCarteny’s is a form of baroque pop that is, needless to say, quite bright. David Mason also provides a trumpet solo in the song’s bridge. Many say that Paul’s approach was due to the fact that he was “born” an entertainer. Such was the case when he decided to look back into the past with the sole intention of presenting the past according to his own unique style, the way he would have wanted it to be. McCarteny sings with an aura of great delight throughout the song, whether he is remembering the banker who had a motorcar or while making out with a girl. In addition, this song brings McCarteny’s visionary spirit to the forefront during his effortless quest to counter his pain and remorse (Poirier 24). He is aching to experience the beauty that is life. The video of this song is similarly simple where John Lennon is seen waltzing through east London’s busy streets, then eventually reuniting with the rest of the group for a picnic and horse-riding at the park.
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