The Fool on the Hill
Composer(s) : Lennon and McCartney
Year : 1967
Chords/Tabs: The Fool on the Hill
Notes on "Fool On The Hill" (FOTH)
KEY D Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Refrain ->
Verse -> Refrain ->
Verse (Instrumental) -> Refrain ->
Verse (Instrumental) -> Refrain -> Outro (fadeout)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- This song surely belongs in McCartney's top drawer. On one level,
it is one of his most explicit efforts in the evocative direction
of the Early Romantic (19th century) "art song." Yet, on another
level, it can also be described as an intruiguing fusion of the
sort that is arguably one of Paul's specialties of the house.
- The form is completely flat (no pejoriative connoatations, please) with
four uninterrupted iterations of the Verse/Refrain sections. This ballad
form is equally at home in both folk music as well as the art song; for
examples of the latter, browse through Schubert's cycle, "Die Schoene
Muellerin." For examples of the former, see anything by Pete Seeger
or Peter, Paul and Mary, or any song on _Blonde on Blonde_, with the
exception, of course, of "I Want You (so bad)" (how's *that* for a
Beatles/Dylan cross-pollination!!) "Just Like A Woman," and maybe
one or two others.
- Lyrically, the song explores some of the same themes of lonely,
alienated isolation covered in the likes of
"Eleanor Rigby" or
"She's Leaving Home."
Whereas the earlier songs for the most part
merely suggest the inner lives, thoughts and feelings of their
protagonists through attention to tell-tale, albeit painfully mundane
details, we find the attention focused here almost exclusively on
the main character's inner life, with the external references having
become vague and abstract. Contrast, for example, Father MacKenzie's
darning of socks with the unamed "man of a thousand voices."
Melody and Harmony
- The melodies of both Verse and Refrain feature nice melodic arches.
The refrain tops out on F natural (on the the first syllable of
"spinning") whereas the verse tops out ever so slightly higher on F#
(on the first word of the phrase "know him".)
- Poignance in the song is intensified by a number of juicy apppoggiaturas
of the sort that Paul always liked:
- D-D-C#-A-B "grin is keeping per-..."
Technically, speaking, this one is an "echapee"
or "escape" tone. Note how the C# wraps *around*
the B to which it will resolve by first "escaping"
down to A.
- B-E-E-E-D-F#-E "nobody wants to know him ..."
This is a garden variety 6->5 leaning tone.
- E-F-E-D "word spinning round ..."
A 9->8 leaning tone spiced up by the melodic
line's going up to F before allowing the dissonant
E to resolve to D
- The Verse is in D Major; the Refrain in d minor. This alternation
between parallel Major and minor keys is a venerable "cliche" of the
Early Romantic school of composers. The Beatles, too, had always liked
it. Look back for early parallels in the likes of
"Things We Said Today"
and "I'll Be Back."
- The early two examples differ from our current song in that they
transition from minor to Major, rather than the other way around.
This is a significant variation, "historically" speaking. The
classical models for this home key gambit are so heavily weighted
toward the minor -> Major strategy, that the rare examples of the
opposite tack (Major -> minor) elicit comment.
- For examples of the former, look at Beethoven's 5th and 9th symphonies
where the shift to Major mode for the final movements provides an aesthetic
paradigm for expressing ultimate victory over monumentally tragic
suffering. For an example of the latter, see Mendelsohn's "Italian"
symphony where the shift to the *minor* mode for the final movement,
a breakneck-paced Saltarello, no less, in relentlessly fast triplets,
provides an enigmatically demonic ending to a piece that had opened
up with equally relentless fast triplets in the *Major* mode, connoting
a kind of unbridleable youthful energy and optimism.
- Perhaps, for McCartney, the difference between these two harmonic
strategies reflects the same difference between the conscious
bitter-sweetness of unrequited love (in the earlier songs) and the
questionable paradise of oblivious, lonesome foolishness (in the latter).
- A detail in the harmony that smirkingly reminds you that this is
so-called "popular" music is the number of added sixth and gratuitous
- The finished track incorporates a large number of instruments in a
busy manner typical of the period immediately following the "Sgt. Pepper"
album. The flute and recorder parts deserve special mention.
- The use of an instrumental section in which the vocal parts resume
in the second half has its Beatles precedents as far back as
"From Me To You."
- Paul's lead vocal is single tracked in the verses and double tracked
in the refrains.
- Two outtakes of this song are now available on the second Anthology:
the plain piano self-accompaniment demo, widely available before for years
on bootlegs, as well as a half-finished studio take that is close-but-no-
cigar in comparison to the finished track.
- *Both* outtakes feature a four-measure intro in which syncopated eighth
note motion plays a role from the beginning and a minor->Major harmonic
gambit (the reverse of what actually appears in the body of the song) is
immediately exposed and repeated.
- The official version contains a one-measure intro; with just a plain
four-in-the-bar plodding away on the I-added-sixth chord, and any hints
of a Major/minor mode shift kept mum until it actually occurs. Similarly,
there is no appearance, yet, of the eighth-note motion which underlies the
remaineder of the song.
- The wisdom of revising one's draft material after it has sat unexamined
for a bit of time after the drafting proper and/or the seasoned hand of
Mr. George Martin are to be inferred from this example.
- The verse is an unusual seven measures long with its final phrase
truncated so that it elides with the start of the refrain:
|D |G6/4 |D |G added 6th |
D: I IV I IV
|e A |D b |e A |
ii V I vi ii V
- The harmony of the first four measures is suspended over a pedal
point in the manner of a Bach prelude; refer to "Eight Days a Week"
for an uncanny precedent. If you buy this, I think you'll agree with
me that the chord in the fourth measure is G Major (6/4) with an added
sixth, rather than an e minor 7 in the fourth (4/2) inversion.
- Once the pedal point ends, the harmonic rhythm is doubled for the
second half of this section.
- Whatever potential montony might be caused by the flat form here is
lightened up by the many small variations in the instrumentation from
section to section, as well as the use of half-instrumental forms of
the verse in the second half of the song. With respect to the latter,
you almost don't notice, immediately, that those break sections are,
indeed, so closely patterned on the verse.
- The refrain is only four measures long with one additional measure
tacked on to bridge back to the next verse:
|d g d |Bb |C |d |D |
d: i iv6/4 i VI6/3 flat-VII i I
- The mode changes abruptly to minor as we enter the refrain, and the
effect is quite chilling; like the sun suddenly "going in" on an otherwise
lovely sunny day. The switch back to Major is, in fact, *not* dealt
with as suddenly; the extra solitary measure at the end here gives you
a chance to adjust to the change before the next verse begins.
- Rhythmic activity and harmonic rhythm subtly increase from the intro
of the song up through the start of the refrain. The intro has only
those block quarter notes, the verse introduces the rocking eighth
note rhythm in the piano part though the harmonic rhythm remains
slow at first, picking up in the second half; the harmonic rhythm
finally reaching its fastest single moment at the start of the refrain
over a reprise of the pedal point. The assertion of a rigid march
beat in the final two verses, in spite of the continuation of rocking
eighth notes in the background nicely balances out the first half of
- The outro contains no new material, but rather fades out over one
last repeat of the half-instrumental verse section.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- Over the course of the '67/'68 season, the Beatles garnered a special
notariety for their rich, extravagant production values; beyond a point
it became somehow "expected" of them to deliver on this point. The
handful of acoustic numbers on the White Album aside, I think we can
agree that a completely, 100% unplugged, _The Beatles_ album would have
been unthinkable at the time.
- And yet, you can only marvel at how such classic, romantic elegance is
achieved in the likes of our current song by simple means, in *spite
of* the elaborate arrangement. The simple demo acetate of this song
along with all the other home and studio demos of this period drive
home the point in spades.
"Guten Morgen, mein Herr. Koennen sie nach ein Tea haben?" 122396#123
Copyright (c) 1996 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
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