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The famous "splice edit" in Strawberry Fields Forever

al mcguire

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The famous "splice edit" in Strawberry Fields Forever"


An interesting story regarding the famous edit of splicing the two takes of Strawberry Fields Forever:

“A few days later [John] rang me up,” George Martin relates in his book “All You Need Is Ears,” “and said: 'I like that one, I really do. But, you know, the other one's got something, too,'” referring to the newly recorded version of the song in comparison to the earlier version. “'Yes, I know,' I said, 'they're both good. But aren't we starting to split hairs?' Perhaps I shouldn't have used the word 'split,' because John's reply was: 'I like the beginning of the first one, and I like the end of the second one. Why don't we just join them together?' 'Well, there are only two things against it,' I said. 'One is that they're in different keys. The other is that they're in different tempos.' 'Yeah, but you can do something about it, I know. You can fix it, George.'”

Geoff Emerick explains this conversation as, not a phone call between John and George Martin, but as an interchange in the recording studio, him witnessing and participating in the conversation as well. “Lennon continued, 'So what I'd like our young Geoffrey here to do is to join the two bits together...You can do it,' he said simply. With that, he turned and headed out the door. 'What do you think, Geoff?' a deflated George asked me after John had gone. My reply was noncommittal. 'I'm not sure; I guess all we can do is have a go.'”

George Martin continues: “John always left this kind of thing to me. He never professed to know anything about recording. He was the least technical of The Beatles. He had a profound faith in my ability to cope with such problems, a faith which was sometimes misplaced, as I certainly felt it was on this occasion. He had presented me with an almost insuperable task. But I had to have a go.”

December 22nd, 1966, was the day that George Martin and Geoff Emerick had “a go” at accomplishing this immense task. Along with 2nd engineer Phil McDonald, they met in the control room of EMI Studio Two at 7 pm to see what they could do at creating a mono mix with John's stipulations.

Mono mixes for both versions of the song needed to be made first. “Take 7” was the finished master of the slower version, and from it they created mono remix 10. “Take 26” was the master of the faster version, and from it they created mono remix 11. Now that's all they had to figure out is how to edit remixes 10 and 11 together efficiently. Since they didn't want to repeat any verses in the finished product, the first step was to delete the second verse of the slower version, which was done just after remix 10 was created. This would bring in the second chorus right after the first verse ended in the slower version. That second verse, containing the lyrics “no one I think is in my tree,” would be heard in the faster version later in the finished song. Now to actually make the crucial edit that combined the two versions.

“I listened to the two versions again,” George Martin relates, “and suddenly realized that with a bit of luck I might get away with it, because, with the way that the keys were arranged, the slower version was a semitone flat compared with the faster one. I thought: If I can speed up the one, and slow down the other, I can get the pitches the same. And with any luck, the tempos will be sufficiently close not to be noticeable. I did just that, on a variable-control tape machine, selecting precisely the right spot to make the cut, to join them as nearly perfectly as possible.”

Geoff Emerick adds: “John's request, on the face of it, appeared completely unfeasible given the technology of the time. Today, a computer can quite easily change the pitch and/or tempo of a recording independently of each other, but all we had at our disposal was a pair of editing scissors, a couple of tape machines, and a varispeed control. The problem was that as soon as you speed up a tape, the pitch also goes up; slowing down a tape has the opposite effect, slowing the tempo, but also lowering the pitch. We had our work cut out for us...After some trial-and-error experimentation, I discovered that by speeding up the playback of the first take and slowing down the playback of the second, I could get them to match in both pitch and tempo.”

“Next, I had to find a suitable edit point,” Emerick continues, “one that wasn't obvious. The idea, after all, was to make the listeners think they were hearing a complete performance. The one I picked happened to fall almost exactly sixty seconds in, at the beginning of the second chorus, on the word 'going' ('Let me take you down 'cause I'm going to...'). Now it was a matter of figuring out exactly when to alter the playback speeds. 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 smoky, thick 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.”

The actual physical splice was of great concern as well. “I found that I couldn't cut the tape at a normal forty-five-degree angle,” Emerick explains, “because the sound just kind of jumped – I was, after all, joining together two totally different performances. As a result, I had to make the cut at a very shallow angle so that it was more like a crossfade than a splice. It took many hours to get everything to work perfectly.”

No Beatles were present while this landmark editing job was being performed but, lo and behold, one did show up moments later. “John popped by to see how we were getting on – I had literally finished the edit just a few moments before he arrived. As we played the results of our labors 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 lifted his head up and a grin spread across his face. 'Has it passed yet?' he asked. 'Sure had,' I replied proudly. 'Well, good on yer, Geoffrey!' he said. He absolutely loved what we had done. We played (it) over and over again that night for John, and at the conclusion each time, he'd turn to us and repeat the same three words, eyes wide with excitement: 'Brilliant. Just brilliant.'”

“The Beatles Recording Sessions” states: “They did it so well that few people, even today, know exactly where the edit it. 'That's funny,' says George Martin, 'I can hear it every time. It sticks out like a sore thumb to me!'” With this engineering session ending at 11:30 pm, it took a total of four-and-a-half hours to perform this masterful edit.




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