The Fool on the Hill (the song, not me)

It’s hard for me to judge my own work.  As I mentioned in my first entry, I have nine projects in various states of research and writing; six are music-related and three are sports-related.

Four of the music projects are related to each other. Today I’ll share an excerpt from one of them.

Several years ago, because of a conversation I had with a friend, I began doing some heavy-duty research on the annual top-hits-of-the-year charts that appeared in Billboard magazine in the last issue of each calendar year. One thing led to another, and I decided to take the information I found and compile it into four decade-spanning charts.  I used a formula based on the weekly chart position of each song; i then gave some added weight to songs that hit #1, made the top 5, and/or made the top 10, and I came up with four lists:

The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s
The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1970s
The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1980s
The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1990s

These are not necessarily the “best” hits of these decades, because that is a pure judgment call. Of course, the point system I used involved judgment as well. If there is enough interest, I can share the system I used to determine the order and the system I used to break the inevitable ties in points (at least once I had to resort to a ninth tiebreaker). I put them in “countdown” order, starting with #1000 and continuing upward to #1, as if the late Casey Kasem was doing a special series of radio shows.

Originally this was more of an intellectual exercise than anything else. Then I decided, what the heck, let me take one of the four charts, transfer it to a document file and start writing about each of the songs. Semi-randomly, I chose the 1960s list to work on first. Today, I am going to share one of those entries.

Here is the way I have them arranged:

Position
Title / Artist / Label and number of the 45 available when the song was most popular
Chart data (total points, debut week, peak, total weeks on chart)
Narrative
“Collector’s notes” about the 45 – pressing plant variations, picture sleeve availability, etc.
“Fast fact” – something about the song or artist that didn’t fit in the narrative that I still found interesting

One more thing: Whenever possible, I will post a YouTube link to the song, which of course I could not do in a book.

If you like it, let me know, and I’ll share some more.

# 828
The Fool on the Hill / Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66
/ A&M 961
(Total points: 973 / Chart debut: 8/10/1968 / Chart peak: 6 / Weeks on chart: 12)

Not every song the Beatles recorded could become a single hit. Those that weren’t issued on 45 – and some that were – proved to be a source of frequent covers and remakes. Of the thousands of these in the 1960s alone, this jazzy version of an album cut from Magical Mystery Tour became the only one to make the Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s.

Though credited to both John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “The Fool on the Hill” was solely a McCartney composition. Two different stories exist as to the inspiration for the song: McCartney has said that it was inspired by a man like the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation and, in the impression McCartney had of him before the Beatles met him in 1968, a wise man that the world considered to be a fool. Another story suggests that “The Fool on the Hill” was inspired by a mysterious stranger McCartney encountered while walking his sheepdog Martha on Primrose Hill in London one morning. Whichever is correct, McCartney then wrote the song at the piano in his father’s Liverpool home and played it for John Lennon during the sessions for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Lennon told McCartney to write it down so it wouldn’t be forgotten.

The Beatles recorded it for their BBC television special, also called Magical Mystery Tour. Their version was not destined to be a single, as another song from the same period, “Hello Goodbye,” was issued on 45 at the same time “The Fool on the Hill” was released on an album.

Meanwhile, Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 were coming off their first big hit single, “The Look of Love,” which is elsewhere in our countdown. As the follow-up, and as the first 45 from a brand-new album, Mendes chose this new Beatles song. It was hardly the first time he and his group had chosen a Fab Four track to record; in the past, “All My Loving,” “Day Tripper” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” all had received the Mendes treatment.

Probably because Mendes was coming off a hit, more people paid attention to “The Fool on the Hill.” Some significant changes in the arrangement added to its appeal; the most obvious was on the word “world,” which was held progressively longer in each verse until it all but reached the breaking point in its final repeat.

Coincidentally, it was also the first single by a revamped Brasil ’66 lineup; the only people who remained from “The Look of Love” were Mendes and co-lead singer Lani Hall, who sings lead on “The Fool on the Hill.” Nonetheless, the new 45 debuted on the Hot 100 on August 6, 1968 at #61 and climbed to its #6 peak in its eighth week on the chart.

Though Mendes would continue to have great success as an album artist through various incarnations of his group (Brasil ’77, Brasil ’88 and others), he would not return to the top 10 of the Hot 100 until 1983, when “Never Gonna Let You Go” – sung by Joe Pizzulo and Leza Miller – peaked at #4. As recently as 2014, Mendes had a new album, Magic.

Collector’s notes: Most copies of “The Fool on the Hill” have the title on one line, but at least one pressing has the title on two lines. Two slightly different picture sleeves exist; interestingly, they are in a similar vein to the variant picture sleeves of most Beatles 45s, because one has a straight-cut top edge and the other has one side with a die-cut top. Both of them have the title as “Fool on the Hill.”

A stereo white-label promo — without the CSG processing that marred the stereo LP version – exists on A&M 961. It has the same B-side as the 45, and both sides are labeled “stereo” and play in stereo. Regular stock copies are mono.

Fast fact: Dave Grusin, who composed the incidental music for the film The Graduate and became a major jazz recording artist in his own right, wrote the orchestral arrangement for the song.

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2 thoughts on “The Fool on the Hill (the song, not me)

  1. I remember when this song played on my transistor radio. As a nine year old I thought it was sad for some reason. But I had fun holding the “world” for as long as I could when I sang along.

    Like

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