The Fool on the Hill

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Cover versions and notes on The Beatles' song "The Fool on the Hill".

Provenance
Written By: 
Lennon/McCartney
Year: 
1967
Primary Recording
By: 
The Beatles
Lead Vocal: 
Paul McCartney
Cover Versions
Alan W. Pollack's "Notes On"

Notes on "Fool On The Hill" (FOTH)

KEY	D Major

METER	4/4

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 seventh chords.


Arrangement

- 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.

SECTION-BY-SECTION WALKTHROUGH


Intro

- 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.


Verse

- 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.


Refrain

- 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 piece.


Outro

- 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.


Regards,

Alan (awp@world.std.com)

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"Guten Morgen, mein Herr.  Koennen sie nach ein Tea haben?"     122396#123
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                Copyright (c) 1996 by Alan W. Pollack
                          All Rights Reserved
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