The Fool on the Hill…McCartney’s ode to differentness

“He never listens to them…
He knows that they’re the fools” – Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney, Fool on the Hill (image courtesy beatlesbyday.com)

Paul McCartney, Fool on the Hill (image courtesy beatlesbyday.com)

Here’s the thing about Paul. As I have  written before on more than one occasion, McCartney rubs a lot of people the wrong way. He’s the most musically gifted of The Beatles (though George Harrison fans would likely argue) and in some ways the most creative force in the band (which will likely make John Lennon fans see red). He has even been accused of being an occasional threat to Ringo’s self-esteem (unjustified) which seems unconscionable, especially to the most lovable  Beatle’s fans.

Here’s some truth that I doubt anyone would deny: Paul was and is the most driven Beatle, the one who wanted/needed to achieve. In a very real way, that has made him odd man out, even within The Beatles. Even within that close knit band of brothers, he felt his differentness.

As I noted in a piece written for his 70th birthday, if you want to know Paul, you’ll find him in his music. One of the songs that tells us a lot about Paul is “The Fool on the Hill.”

Paul, of course, as he is wont to do, explains away the composition of the song as a meditation on, of all people, the Maharishi:

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.

There is something, though, that suggests that Paul was writing about himself (perhaps it’s that qualifying “I think I was writing about….”). One clue is in the history of the shooting of the segment of Magical Mystery Tour that features the song. Paul went alone (well, he took Mal Evans and a cameraman) to Nice where, in the early morning hours he was filmed larking about in the hills outside the city. Literal representation of the song notwithstanding (after all, we do have someone goofing about like a fool on a hill), McCartney’s portrayal of “the fool” has a haunting quality and, despite himself, Paul reveals a little of the loneliness that must have been the lot that he, John, George and Ringo each felt as Beatles, seen on one hand as prophets of a new way and on the other as – fools on a hill:

And then, of course, there are Paul’s lyrics, lyrics that even his severest critic, John, complimented. “Now that’s Paul. Another good lyric. Shows he’s capable of writing complete songs.”

The Fool on the Hill

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.

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.

He never listens to them,
He knows that they’re the fools,
They don’t like him.
But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning ’round.

What McCartney achieves with this lyric is both conscious and unconscious, I think. He’s imagining what being “the fool on the hill ” is like while at the same time articulating his own loneliness and differentness. Remember, it was Paul who lit the creative sparks that fired both Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. Remember, too, the reception for both these endeavors: the first was adoringly hailed as a work of genius, the second scathingly dismissed as self-indulgent nonsense. Opinions on both works have shifted some with time, but in that annus mirabilis of 1967 Paul saw himself hailed as great artist and condemned as overreaching egotist within a six month period. And in the midst of that swirl of attention good and bad, he found himself longing for a solitude that his art desired and his fame denied him.

Fool on a hill, indeed.

Listen to the remastered “The Fool on the Hill” in good quality.

 

 

 

 

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About Jim Booth

Novelist, college professor, rock musician - are we getting the band back together? Maybe....
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