With the completion of take 7 on 29 November 1966, everybody thought "Strawberry Fields Forever" was finished. Everybody except John Lennon. So take 7 was ditched and the Beatles re-recorded the song from scratch. Then, with the completion of take 26 on 21 December 1966, everybody thought "Strawberry Fields Forever" was finished. Everybody except John Lennon. "Ever the idealist, and completely without regard for practical problems, John said to me, 'I like them both. Why don't we join them together? You could start with Take 7 and move to Take  halfway through to get the grandstand finish.' 'Brilliant!' I replied. 'There are only two things wrong with that: the takes are in completely different keys, a whole tone apart; and they have wildly different tempos. Other than that, there should be no problem!' John smiled at my sarcasm with the tolerance of a grown-up placating a child. 'Well, George,' he said laconically, 'I'm sure you can fix it, can't you?' whereupon he turned on his heel and walked away" (Martin, page 22).
Lennon, notoriously inept and ignorant at technical specifics and intricacies, had no idea what he was actually asking George Martin to do. If he had understood, he might not have made such a request. Nevertheless, it is a testament to George Martin's and Geoff Emerick's technical skill that they found a way to make it work.
The problem is that take 7 is in B-flat major at a tempo of 90 beats per minute, while Take 26 is in C major and at a tempo of 108 beats per minute - both higher-pitched and faster. To splice these two takes together as they were (i.e. without altering the original in any way) would have sound like this:
The whole point of editing, of course, is to hide the edit - a good edit is one that doesn't sound edited. If a listener can tell that a recording has been edited, then it is not a very good one, and the file above is an extreme example.
So how to make these two disparate takes fit together to the point of not sounding edited?
Using tape methods of recording, pitch and tempo are inextricably intertwined - if you change one, in doing so you necessarily also change the other. (In the digital age, of course, computers can alter pitch and/or tempo independently of each other, but in the 1960's that was not the case.) In what is probably the greatest coincidence in the entire Beatles saga, the two takes were proportionately equivalent - meaning that if take 7 were sped up, and take 26 slowed down, they could match both in tempo and tonality.
But this, too, presented problems: "George and I decided to allow the second half to play all the way through at the slower speed; doing so gave John's voice a smokey, think quality that seemed to complement the psychedelic lyric and swirling instrumentation. Things were a bit trickier with the beginning section; it started out at such a perfect, laconic tempo that we didn't want to speed it up all the way through. Luckily, the EMI tape machines were fitted with very fine varispeed controls. With a bit of practice, I was able to gradually increase the speed of the first take and get it to a certain precise point, right up to the moment where we knew we were going to do the edit. The change is so subtle as to be virtually unnoticeable" (Emerick, page 140). (Parenthetically, I can hear the tempo difference, but what remains a mystery to me is why there is not a corresponding difference in pitch. The whole point of this "splice story" is predicated on the fact that if you change one, you necessarily also alter the other - and yet here it appears that somehow the tempo was changed while the pitch was not. I have absolutely no idea how...)
After many hours of work, George and Geoff had a finished product. Though expertly masked, the splice can still be heard at precisely 1:00. (It is easiest to hear the edit if you listen to the drums.)
Don't be embarrassed if you cannot hear it - neither could John Lennon. "As we played the results of our labours to John for the first time, he listened carefully, head down, deep in concentration. I made a point of standing in front of the tape machine so that he couldn't see the splice go by. A few seconds after the edit flew past, Lennon listed his head up and a grin spread across his face. 'Has it passed yet?' he asked. 'Sure has,' I replied proudly. 'Well, good on yer, Geoffrey!' he said. He absolutely loved what we had done. We played 'strawberry Fields Forever' over and over again that night for John, and at the conclusion each time, he'd turn to use and repeat the same three words, eyes wide with excitement: 'Brilliant. Just brilliant.'" (Emerick, page 140).
There is another major edit at the end of the song that also survived to the released recording. "There is the end section of the orchestrated version of the song, where the rhythm is too loose to use. In spite of all our editing, I just could not get a unified take with complete synchronicity throughout. The obvious answer would have been to fade out the take before the beat goes haywire. But that would have meant discarding one of my favourite bits, which included some great trumpet and guitar playing, as well as the magical random mellotronic note-waterfall John had come up with. It was a section brimming with energy, and I was determined to keep it. We did the only thing possible - we faded the song right out just before the point where the rhythm goes to pieces, so the listener would think it was all over, then gradually faded it back up again, bringing back our glorious finale" (Martin, page 22-23).
With Lennon (finally) satisfied, "Strawberry Fields Forever" was (and remained) complete. It was now ready for release.
Emerick, Geoff with Howard Massey. Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles. Gotham Books, New York, NY, 2006.
Martin, George with William Pearson. With a Little Help from My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper. Little Brown and Company, Boston, MA, 1994.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.