WEIRDLAND: Chilly Reveries: Strawberry Fields Forever, The Winter Dance Party (told by Dion)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Chilly Reveries: Strawberry Fields Forever, The Winter Dance Party (told by Dion)

Through the lens of LSD, Strawberry Fields Forever turned from simple nostalgia into inward reflection. John Lennon's self doubt came to the fore, at times clouded by inarticulacy and hallucinogenic sensations. Although it was to end up as a psychedelic masterpiece, Strawberry Fields Forever began relatively simply. John Lennon recorded a series of solo demos in mid-November 1966 at his home in Weybridge, Surrey. Instead of opening with the chorus, the early versions of the song began with the first two verses back-to-back. This initial arrangement was also used on take one in the studio, also available on Anthology 2. This first take also has a rounded end+ing; a Mellotron and guitar instrumental passage, in stark contrast to the psychedelic spectacle of the final version.

Imagine if a dose of LSD or magic mushrooms could help a person get over their alcoholism or even stop smoking. Despite the fact that most psychedelic drugs are illegal, many scientists have been claiming for decades that they are in fact highly therapeutic, especially when it comes to treating addiction. A new study in the journal Current Opinion in Behavioural Sciences has pulled together all the available evidence going back to the 1950s in order to make a pretty compelling case for the power of hallucinogens to combat substance abuse disorders.

Before LSD became the driving force of the counterculture revolution of the 1960s, scientists were busy exploring the drug’s effects on the brain. They discovered that it binds to serotonin receptors, generating feelings of positivity and helping to regulate people’s moods. In light of this, they decided to examine whether or not it could help alcoholics stay off the bottle.

Like LSD, psilocybin – the active hallucinogen in magic mushrooms – activates the brain’s serotonin receptors. The authors also point to a small number of studies involving an Amazonian brew called ayahuasca, which contains the psychedelic molecule DMT. While much more research is needed in order to bulk up the existing evidence, the early signs suggest that ayahuasca may be an effective treatment for alcohol, cocaine and tobacco addiction.

Delving deeper into the neural mechanisms behind the effects of these hallucinogenic substances, the researchers reveal that many appear to increase synaptic plasticity in the brain, meaning they allow brain connections to become reshaped, enabling users to break free from certain rigid modes of thought and behavior. Source:

The recording of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, along with it’s double A-side partner ‘Penny Lane’, represented a high-water mark in the Beatles’ career. November 24, 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the recording of the song at Abbey Road studios. Interviewed throughout the years, the one song Lennon was persistently pressed about was ‘Strawberry Fields’. Was it a place? Did it really exist? What did it mean? What was really real? The exercise in introspective lyrical stream of consciousness was oddly arresting to millions of listeners. Equally as arresting as the lyrical theme, however, was the sonic instrumentation which accompanied it, especially its dreamy melodic intro invoking a childlike lullaby. 

When this glorious phase of recording ended late in 1967, it was really the beginning of the end for the band. The actual origin of the song can be traced to Lennon’s journey to Almería, Spain, in September 1966 where he travelled to film Dick Lester’s How I Won the War. For John Lennon, Santa Isabel’s iron gate and overgrown gardens evoked a haunting of a different kind – nostalgic recollections of his childhood and a favourite hideout. The the gate and gardens struck Lennon with its similarity to Strawberry Field orphanage and Salvation Army home, where as a boy he had frolicked and hidden away in the gardens of Strawberry Field with various childhood friends. This nostalgia trip to brighter days gone by was in fact keeping instep with what was truly behind the British psychedelic scene: a deep yearning for the past.

In Lennon’s lyrical exploration, the place was both real and unreal, a physical place recalled from the past and existing now in its perfection only in a child’s memory. On returning to London on November 7, Lennon took his acoustic demos into his attic studio at Kenwood and set to work finishing the song, tweaking its structure and doodling with electric guitar and other instrument parts. During these extended home demos, Lennon can be heard adding layers of organ sounds in an attempt to experiment with the general ambience he had in his head. Most likely these sounds were provided by an instrument which he had acquired over the previous year (in August 1965), and although it was in his possession throughout the Rubber Soul and Revolver sessions, the mellotron was yet to feature on any Beatles recording. 

It was perhaps these experimentations which prompted Lennon to decide that the mellotron could provide the otherworldly sounds he had in his head to accompany his dreamy nostalgic lyric. IBC Studios in London is the location where a Beatle most likely first encountered a mellotron. On August 9, 1965, Lennon produced a recording of ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’ for The Silkies at IBC Studios. All three Beatles likely encountered a mellotron at IBC during this session as Lennon ordered one (black with gold lettering) from the London Mellotronics office and this was delivered to his home in Weybridge precisely one week later on August 16.

What happened to the mellotron used in the recording and its location is a mystery that may never be solved. Contrary to another myth, McCartney does not own it.  ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was a total departure from anything the group had recorded before, in a sonic sense and in a sense of how they approached recording a song. The unique input each member provided (Lennon: vocals, guitar, mellotron, percussion; McCartney: mellotron, bass, piano, guitar, percussion; Harrison: mellotron, guitar, swarmandal, percussion; Starr: drums, percussion; Martin: mellotron, score for cello & trumpet) demonstrated how devastating the group could be when they worked together to pursue perfection. Hitting a peak in 1967, the Beatles became an almost organic and sentient unit who pulled so far ahead of their contemporaries as to seem completely untouchable. Happy 50th birthday, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. Source:

Ed Ward: (author of The History of Rock and Roll, Volume 1, 1920-1963): After Buddy Holly's death, the so-called apartment tapes were overdubbed by Petty, using both The Crickets and a local band called The Fireballs as backing; these new singles came out through 1960. Now that the complete, undubbed tapes are available, a more complex Holly emerges. And he was thinking about rock 'n' roll, as if he were trying to figure something out, recording acoustic versions of current hits like The Coasters' “Smokey Joe's Cafe.” Most telling, though, there are three versions of “Slippin’ n’ Sliding” — fast, slow on electric and acoustic guitar — as if he were looking for something the tempo would reveal. We'll never know what he was looking for while his wife, Maria Elena, did the dishes, but I'm confident now that he'd have found it. 

"I've said all my life that I think the most psychedelic song in the world is Buddy Holly's 'Slippin' and Slidin', and it's not even trying," offers Jason Pierce from his home in London. "It's not trying to make itself that music, but I think psychedelic music is rooted in something deeper than just the kind of tricks people can do or studio effects. It would be nice if you could just throw some effects in there and that would work, but that invariably doesn't work."

Pilot of UK outfit Spiritualized, Pierce has crafted some of Britpop's most ambitious and grandiose songs, eloquent sonic waves that surge simultaneously with driving, hypnotic rhythms and lush, expansive orchestration. From 1997's seminal Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space to 2012's Velvet Underground-ripped Sweet Heart Sweet Light, Spiritualized's soundscapes both warmly envelop and aggressively pummel. Source:

Dion Dimucci: In the fall of 1958 my wife Susan (she was my girl at the time) was hanging out with Jackie DeShannon and Sharon Sheeley (Eddie Cochran's girlfriend). In the first three weeks of October 1958 I went on tour with Buddy Holly and we got very close. I'd met Buddy in New York because of the Alan Freed shows. Holly was a visionary, a very interesting guy; he wanted to start a label called Taupe. Maria Elena was pregnant with his child and Buddy wanted to get some money from Norman Petty. Petty told him all his money was tied up, and a rift started. Holly needed some cash so [promoter] Irvin Feld started putting this show together: The Winter Dance Party tour.

We were honing our skills, we'd be like we were in a contest: Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and myself, we had these new Fender Stratocasters and we were in a contest to see who would make it ring the longest. Buddy loved his father (a hard working guy), his family, and loved being a Texan. He'd talk about Samuel Houston and the Treaty of Texas. Buddy wasn't an angry guy nor a resentful guy, he was a very classy guy. Onstage, very clean, structured and formal, deliberate, very decisive. He was fearless. I remember Buddy telling me 'Dion, I don't know how to succeed but I know how to fail.' If it wasn't for him saying that I don't know if I would have done Runaround Sue, The Wanderer, Ruby Baby, Donna the Prima Donna, Sandy, etc.

Susan and me have been married for 53 years, that had a little to do with Buddy Holly and his modelling marriage. Every time Buddy was talking to Maria Elena he'd say: 'I adore you, I love you, I miss you.' He was a model for me. Buddy, Ritchie and I used to jam together. It was a bit of heaven. When I'm inside a song, I know exactly who I am. And when we were playing in the back of the bus, I knew it. When we hit those chords and were stompin' on the floor of the bus and we were rockin' and taking solos and taking verses... that was home, that was family, that was the connection, salvation, touching the very center of my heart.

We were in the middle of a blizzard, trees were snapping in the wind, it was 30 below, and the snow was coming down so hard we couldn't see out the windows. Buddy and I huddled together under a blanket, and just to pass the time, I'd tell him stories of the Bronx and he'd tell me stories about Baptists in Lubbock. One of the Belmonts had a bottle of scotch, so we'd all take a shot. January 31st 1959, Saturday Night show: we had a huge crowd in Duluth. Sunday Morning, we get on the bus going to Appleton and Green Bay (Wisconsin). On the way down to Appleton, the bus breaks down. Early Sunday four o'clock in the morning; We were in the middle of who knows what. Just blinding snow, black and total darkness. Some guys are so cold they began to burn newspapers in the aisles of the bus. The trumpet player says 'you don't understand, we're going to be dead in two hours.'

Despite the increased tension among the weary performers, the bus pushed on to Duluth. Although the bus heating system was unable to provide enough warmth for the singers, temperatures were rising inside the bus. “Tempers got a little short at times,” Tommy Allsup recalls. “Mainly because guys were not getting any rest.” Carl Bunch: “It had gotten really tedious trying to live on that bus. It got to where we were joking with each other and we were calling Dion and the Belmonts Moron and the Bellhops, and they were calling us Bloody Holly and the Rickets.” The winds were howling off the frozen waters of Lake Superior, one block east of the armory, when the singers arrived for the 8 PM show. “The smell of that diesel [from the bus] coming off that ice would just literally stone you,” Bunch says. The weather was becoming a deadly serious matter. Temperatures approaching 35 below zero were predicted for Duluth that night, and the tour was booked for a 1:30 PM show Sunday in Appleton, Wisconsin, some three hundred and twenty miles away. With the Duluth show to run until midnight, tour manager Sam Geller had no choice but to have his entourage travel through the night while the singers tried to sleep. Headlights in the distance spurred Sam Geller into action. He jumped from the bus and waved down a car, which turned out to be driven by the county sheriff. The sheriff drove Geller to Hurley, where he found an old crankhandled telephone and woke the operator. After hearing of his group’s predicament, she said, “Oh my God, you’ll freeze to death.” —"The Day the Music Died" (2003) by Larry Lehmer

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