Pop, nostalgia and the city suburbs

Ornate metal park gates with trees behind, 'Strawberry Field' sign on the gatepost and 'Forever' grafitti underneath

Strawberry Field © Mark McNulty

Suburban neighbourhoods and fond childhood memories of the city have been two common themes in English pop music. Songs by bands such as the Beatles and The Kinks (1960s), The Smiths (1980s) and Blur (1990s) have been associated with this trend.

The song 'Strawberry Fields Forever', written by John Lennon, is one example. In an interview conducted in 1980 Lennon explained:

"I moved in with my auntie, who lived in the suburbs in a nice semi-detached place with a small garden and doctors and lawyers and that ilk living around, not the poor slummy images that was projected... I was a nice clean-cut suburban boy... And Strawberry Fields was just around the corner from that. It was an old Victorian house converted for Salvation Army orphans, and as a kid I used to go to their garden parties with my friends." (Golson, 'The Playboy Interviews')

'Strawberry Fields Forever' evokes memories from Lennon's childhood in a dream-like way, mixing reality with imagination (where 'nothing is real'). In his article on the song Stephen Daniels (2006) points out that it has echoes of 'Alice in Wonderland', a book that Lennon read frequently. The song opens with a piping, droning sequence played on an instrument known as the mellotron. As the song moves into a suburban world of childhood memory Lennon sings 'Let me take you down' and the music plunges. The speed of the mellotron slows down, the electric guitars drop an octave, and Lennon's voice lowers in tone. Daniels suggests that the song illustrates a broader 'pastoral' trend within the arts in Britain, involving the use of settings such as gardens, fields, parks and woodlands to portray different stages of life from childhood to old age.

Other Beatles songs also recall suburban places from childhood. Strawberry Fields exists 'forever' in Lennon's imagination, and this is also suggested by the Beatles' song 'In My Life', which traces an imaginary bus journey through Liverpool. The lyrics refer to places along the journey that will be remembered 'all my life' because of their association with particular moments, lovers and friends.

The lyrics of 'Penny Lane' describe aspects of the street, including its shops and roundabout, the barber, banker and fireman. These places and faces from the past are remembered in sparkling colours ('blue suburban skies') as in a kind of golden era. This is underscored by the accompanying musical sounds, which include a jaunty, upbeat melody, a high-lying bass guitar, and a soaring classical-style trumpet solo. 'Penny Lane', the chorus states, 'is in my ears and in my eyes'.