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The Beatles Songs: The Fool on the Hill

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The Beatles Songs: The Fool on the Hill

The original Magical Mystery Tour booklet artwork for "Fool on the Hill"

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The Fool on the Hill

Written by: Paul McCartney (100%)
(credited to Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: September 25-27, October 20, 1967 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: September 25-27, October 25, November 1, 1967
Length: 3:00
Takes: 6

Musicians:

John Lennon: acoustic rhythm guitar (1963 Gibson "Super Jumbo" J-200), bass harmonica (Hohner)
Paul McCartney: lead vocals (double-tracked), bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S), piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand "Mrs. Mills"), recorder
George Harrison: acoustic rhythm guitar (1964 Framus 12-string "Hootenanny"), bass harmonica (Hohner)
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig), finger cymbals, maracas
Jack Ellory, Christopher Taylor, Richard Taylor: flutes

Available on: (CDs in bold)

Magical Mystery Tour
(UK: Parlophone MMT1 (mono), SMMT1 (stereo) (EP); Capitol MAL 2835 (mono), Capitol SMAL 2835 (stereo); UK: Parlophone CDP 7 48062 2, US: Capitol C1-48062, remastered: Apple/Parlophone 0946 3 82465 2 7)

The Beatles 1967-1970
(UK: Apple PCSP 718, US: Apple SKBO 3404, Apple CDP 0777 7 97039 2 0)

History:

  • Written by Paul alone in March 1967 at his father's Liverpool home, the inspiration for this character sketch was, according to McCartney, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the spiritual leader whom the Beatles would later famously study under during an extended stay in India. However, Paul hadn't yet met the guru in March 1967. George's new wife, model Pattie Boyd, claims to have gone to one of the Maharishi's lectures in February and then told the rest of the band about it, and the guru was also well-known to Britons in general by that point, having appeared on TV on and off for the past ten years -- but the band wouldn't go to one of his lectures until August, when he appeared in London.
  • However, Alistair Taylor, assistant to Beatles manager Brian Epstein, claims that the inspiration for this song was a morning walk the two of them took on London's Primrose Hill. As Paul walked his sheepdog Martha, he and Taylor conversed about the nature of God. At that moment a complete stranger appeared from nowhere, according to Taylor, commented on the beautiful view, and was gone. Though Alistair and Paul had a clear view of the hill, they were flabbergasted to see no trace of their visitor, and as they'd had nothing more than a few belts of Scotch, they were at a loss to explain his sudden appearance and departure.
  • Whatever the genesis, the song was nearly complete in March, when John stopped by Paul's home to work on the Sgt. Pepper tune "With a Little Help from My Friends." During a break in the writing, author Hunter Davies, who was present, recalled that Paul began playing "Fool on the Hill" for John. Though Lennon was not always impressed by McCartney's lyrics, he loved these, and told the bassist to "write that one down." Paul assured him he wouldn't forget it, and didn't.
  • On September 6, Paul entered Abbey Road studios, sat at the piano alone, and made a demo of "Fool," one which shows the work already near completion, missing only a third verse. On September 25, the band made their first full pass at recording the song, and while the results were not scrapped entirely, Paul replaced most of the elements the next day, again with the help of the band: Paul's piano and bass, Ringo's drums, finger cymbals, and maracas, and George and John's acoustic guitars, buried in the mix in the left speaker. (The demo and the original Take 4 from September 25 are available on Anthology 2.) Paul added a solo, also double-tracked, that he played himself on a plastic recorder. To heighten the effect of the "oom-pah" rhythm in the break, John and George also added two bass harmonicas, much like they had in "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" These were reversed in spots for an extra psychedelic touch.
  • The next day, Paul re-recorded his double-tracked lead, and there the song sat until October 20, when, wrapping up sessions for Magical Mystery Tour, he decided to add three flutes for color. Having learned the lessons of "Magical Mystery Tour" (the song), McCartney came up with a score ahead of time, composing it on piano and then giving it to producer George Martin to make notation. (There's also a strange, "Tomorrow Never Knows"-style tape loop, sped up and panning left to right, at 2:40.) For some reason, Paul also trimmed a full minute off the end of the song; no bootlegs exist to show what he might have taken out.

Trivia:

  • There are several differences between the original band version and the released version. For one thing, Paul plays with the melody of the song a little, as was his style; the lyrics are also not quite complete. In the second verse, the fool is "the man with the empty mind" instead "the man of a thousand voices." "No one will go quite near him" later becomes "he never seems to notice." Most tellingly, the third verse claims simply "he's no fool," whereas in the finished product Paul emphasizes that "he knows that they're the fools."
  • The mono mix of "Fool" fades the ad-lib at the end of the song ("round and round and round") sooner than the stereo mix.
  • The segment of the Magical Mystery Tour TV movie that features "Fool on the Hill" was actually filmed a full month after the actual tour itself. On October 30, 1967, Paul visited France and had some footage shot of him alternately brooding and cavorting on a hill just outside of Nice. In a somewhat notorious incident, McCartney had neglected to take his passport with him, and also enough money to cover his hotel stay, but a few phone calls resolved both problems. He returned the next day.
  • Paul first performed "Fool on the Hill" during Wings' 1979 tour, then again on his World Tour of 1989-1990, and also on January 13, 1990 at London's Wembley Arena.
  • "Paul is dead" enthusiasts found several "clues" in both the lyrics of "Fool on the Hill" and the artwork devoted to the song in the Magical Mystery Tour booklet. John's later song "Glass Onion," an attempt to mock and confuse the fans who played this parlor game, starts out its last verse with John claiming, "I told you 'bout the fool on the hill / I tell you man, he living there still," which was followed by several mocking flute notes.

Covered by: Sergo Mendes and Brazil '66, The Four Tops, Bjork, Sarah Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey, John Williams, Santo and Johnny, Ray Stevens, Bobby Gentry, Helen Reddy, Eddie Fisher, Lena Horne with Gabor Szabo, Mickey Dolenz, Stone the Crows, Vera Lynn, Enoch Light, Andre Kostalanetz, The Boston Pops, Corry Brokken, The King's Singers, Ze Ramalho, Living Jazz, Bud Shank, Today's People, Mulgrew Miller, The Chopsticks, Mark Mallman, Lana Cantrell, Barry Goldberg, Little Roger, Sharon Tandy, Libby Titus, Singers Unlimited, Isabelle Aubret, Eddy Mitchell

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