Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Fool on the Hill


The Fool on the Hill paulmccartney.filminspector.com
Paul McCartney in "The Fool on the Hill" film.



"The Fool on the Hill" is a classic Beatles tune and one that is apt to provoke a real emotional reaction in the listener. A track on the "Magical Mystery Tour" album and EP, "The Fool on the Hill" was written and sung by Paul McCartney. Many consider "The Fool on the Hill" to be the best new song on "Magical Mystery Tour." Paul occasionally performs it on tour, such as in 1979, 1989-90, 2001-02, and 2016-17. It also has been covered by over 100 other artists, from Vera Lynn to Bjork.

The Fool on the Hill paulmccartney.filminspector.com


While it is very subtle and perhaps not appreciated by every single listener at the time, "The Fool on the Hill" plays on a common theme in literature of the "wise fool." This is a medieval trope in which a supposed simpleton, such as a court jester, uses his appearance to disarm those around him and actually conveys great insight into deep and sometimes even unrecognized problems. In effect, the "fool's" very nature of being a supposedly powerless pawn of others allows him to operate under the radar and reveal what's really important. Now, the song can be taken at face value, too, with absolutely no loss of appreciation to the listener, so you take what you want out of "The Fool on the Hill."

The Fool on the Hill paulmccartney.filminspector.com


The "wise fool" is a theme that pops up in Shakespeare, such as in "King Lear," and Paul McCartney is known for occasionally taking inspiration from the Bard (see "The End" for another such example). The bright, bouncy tune of "The Fool on the Hill" juxtaposes sharply with a very deep, almost sad take on someone who isn't properly appreciated for what he knows. It creates a dichotomy of emotions that is amplified by the ambiguous video, in which we can't quite figure out what Paul is portraying.

The Fool on the Hill paulmccartney.filminspector.com


Now, it is not at all clear that Paul himself had the "wise fool" trope in mind, though he seems to have had the general idea in mind. Rather than over-interpret "The Fool on the Hill," let's allow Paul himself to explain what he had in mind:
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 … 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.’
Surprisingly, Paul hasn't had a whole lot to say about composing "The Fool on the Hill." It's pretty clear that he did it himself, though, and John Lennon complimented McCartney later for "Another good lyric" and showing that he was "capable of writing complete songs." As usual, there is a back-handed aspect to John's compliments of Paul, but any ... fool .... can see that "The Fool on the Hill" is a brilliant composition.

The Fool on the Hill paulmccartney.filminspector.com


As with some other of his songs, Paul recorded a demo on his own time on 6 September 1967 (this wound up on the Beatles' "Anthology 2" album). Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues contributed harmonicas, and flute players Christopher Taylor, Richard Taylor, and Jack Ellory also contributed. Sérgio Mendes & Brasil '66 recorded a version that was No. 1 on the US Adult Contemporary Chart for six weeks in the fall of 1968 - the same time that the Beatles' own "Hey Jude" was No. 1 on the pop chart. So, the Beatles in a sense had the No. 1 song on both charts at the same time with different songs - now that is chart domination.

The Fool on the Hill paulmccartney.filminspector.com


The Beatles made a video, or promotional film as they would have said at the time, to promote "The Fool on the Hill," and it is all Paul. Paul has said:
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. 
We shouldn't have really had just one cameraman, it was anti-union. That was another reason to go to France. The unions wouldn't have allowed it in Britain, nor probably in France, but they didn't know we were doing it.
Filmed near Nice, France on 30/31 October 1967, the video shows Paul prancing over hillsides and through meadows and almost impressionistic in its depiction of a "fool." Paul is quite the sport here and shows that he has no trouble making a fool of himself, which also qualifies him as a great actor. Anyway, one of the under-rated Beatles songs and one that can be hauled out regularly to play as background music for the nightly news.

The Fool on the Hill paulmccartney.filminspector.com


It is my personal impression that "The Fool on the Hill" creates an extraordinary bond in some listeners. Who hasn't felt foolish and perhaps a bit unappreciated? "The Fool on the Hill" is a brilliant song and makes my list of "most underrated Macca" songs. But "The Fool on the Hill" is appreciated by anyone who stops to listen to it, and rightly so.

The Fool on the Hill paulmccartney.filminspector.com



Day after day
Alone on a hill
The man with the foolish grin
Is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him
They can see that he's just a fool
And he never gives an answer

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning round

Well on the way
Head in a cloud
The man of a thousand voices
Talking perfectly loud

But nobody ever hears him
Or the sound he appears to make
And he never seems to notice

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning round

And nobody seems to like him
They can tell what he wants to do
And he never shows his feelings

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning round, oh oh oh, round round round round

He never listens to them
He knows that they're the fools
They don't like him

The fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning round

Oh, round round round round, oh

The Fool on the Hill paulmccartney.filminspector.com


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