Day 66: “The Fool on the Hill”

When was it recorded?  Sept. 6 & 25-27 and Oct. 20, 1967

When was it first released, and on which album?  Dec. 8, 1967 on “Magical Mystery Tour”

Who wrote it?  McCartney

Have I heard this song before?  Yes

What my research dug up:

According to music reviewer Richie Unterberger, “Aside from ‘I Am the Walrus,’ ‘The Fool on the Hill’ was the offering of highest quality on the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ soundtrack. …The subject was, indeed, a fool on a hill, one who to surface appearances does little but stand there and observe the spinning world. …The tune lightly implies that the fool on the hill might be a lot wiser than people think, or indeed might be wiser than those people who would make fun are.”

“The Fool On The Hill was mine and I think I was writing about someone like Maharishi. His detractors called him a fool. Because of his giggle he wasn’t taken too seriously. It was this idea of a fool on the hill, a guru in a cave, I was attracted to. I was sitting at the piano at my father’s house in Liverpool hitting a D 6th chord, and I made up ‘Fool on the Hill.’” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)

For some reason I was under the impression “Fool” was one of John’s songs, but I obviously stand corrected.

Unterberger also noted, “It’s interesting, though, that the Fool, a group of Dutch hippies, had begun to do some artistic and design work for the Beatles around this time. Perhaps McCartney had this specific Fool in mind, either consciously or subliminally; he wrote in his autobiography that ‘The Fool on the Hill’ grew out of his experiences of having his Tarot cards read by the Fool. The playful idiot-savant character of the fool is emphasized by the rather woolly and wobbly recorder that takes over on the instrumental break.”

Records of another possible inspiration come from Paul’s friend Alistair Taylor. According to Taylor, “Paul was walking his dog, Martha, on Primrose Hill one morning. As he watched the sun rise, he noticed that Martha was missing. Paul turned around to look for his dog, and there a man stood, who appeared on the hill without making a sound. The gentleman was dressed respectably, in a belted raincoat. Paul knew this man had not been there seconds earlier as he had looked in that direction for Martha. Paul and the stranger exchanged a greeting, and this man then spoke of what a beautiful view it was from the top of this hill that overlooked London. Within a few seconds, Paul looked around again, and the man was gone. He had vanished as he had appeared” (Songfacts, “The Fool on the Hill”).

Hunter Davies observed a moment of the writing process for “Fool” and recounted it in his Beatles biography, The Beatles. While working on “With a Little Help From My Friends”…

“Paul then went back to his guitar and started to sing and play a very slow, beautiful song about a foolish man sitting on the hill. John listened to it quietly, staring blankly out of the window, almost as if he wasn’t listening. Paul sang it many times, la la-ing words he hadn’t thought of yet. When at last he finished, John said he’d better write the words down or he’d forget them. Paul said it was OK. He wouldn’t forget them. It was the first time Paul had played it for John.” – Hunter Davies, The Beatles

Paul recorded a solo demo of “Fool” on Sept. 6, which later appeared on “Anthology 2.”

Recordings of “Fool” vary drastically from Sept. 25 to Sept. 26. Here’s a take from the first day, which also appears on “Anthology 2” and which Wikipedia calls “noticeably slower, somewhat heavier and with slightly different vocals.”

Here’s how “Fool” appeared on the “Magical Mystery Tour” album.

I don’t know, Wikipedia, this one sounds slower to me.  However, as former flautist, I can’t not appreciate the flute part heard in the finish product.

For the “Magical Mystery Tour” film, Paul, Mal Evans, and cameraman Aubrey Dewar went to France. According to the Beatles Bible, “Despite having no money or passport with him, [Paul] managed to talk his way through customs. The sequence was filmed in the mountains near Nice, shortly after sunrise” on Oct. 30-31, 1967.

“I just ad-libbed the whole thing. I went, ‘Right, get over there: let me dance. Let me jump from this rock to this rock. Get a lot of the sun rising. Get a perfect shot and let me stand in front of it.’ I just had a little Philips cassette to mime to and roughly get the feeling of the song. There was no clapper because there was no sound… It was very spontaneous, as was the whole of ‘Magical Mystery Tour.’ Later, when we came to try to edit it all, it was very difficult because I hadn’t sung it to synch.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)

At least he had fun shooting it?  I can kind of understand why “Walk Hard” cast Jack Black as Paul now (well, apart from Jack being friends with the producers).

All in all, I’ve always liked this song and don’t have much to add beyond those two cents.

 

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fool_on_the_Hill

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/the-fool-on-the-hill/

http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/AWP/foth.shtml

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=134

http://www.allmusic.com/song/the-fool-on-the-hill-from-the-film-magical-mystery-tour-mt0030346752

Alistair Taylor, Yesteryear

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2 thoughts on “Day 66: “The Fool on the Hill”

  1. Maybe the reason why you thought John wrote this song was because he actually did write a song about the Maharishi! “Sexy Sadie” from the White Album is John pretty much tearing the Marahishi apart. It’s interesting to note that Paul wrote “Fool” before The Beatles went to India, and John wrote “Sexy Sadie” after.

    1. That is interesting! I do know “Sexy Sadie” (mostly because I had a dog named Sadie and people often asked if she was named for the Beatles song, which was… different), but it’s fascinating to hear John approaches a similar theme from the opposite side of the India experience. I’ll have to keep it in mind when I finally get around to that song.

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