Released: 8 December 1967 (UK), 27 November 1967 (US)
Paul McCartney: vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, bass, recorder
John Lennon: harmonica, Jew’s harp
George Harrison: acoustic guitar, harmonica
Ringo Starr: drums, maracas, finger cymbals
Christopher Taylor, Richard Taylor, Jack Ellory: flutes
The Fool On The Hill was Paul McCartney’s major contribution to the Magical Mystery Tour EP and album. In the companion TV film it appeared over a sequence shot on a hilltop near Nice in France.
Now that’s Paul. Another good lyric. Shows he’s capable of writing complete songs.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
The song was composed on the piano at McCartney’s father’s house in Liverpool, “hitting a D 6th chord”.
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.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
The Beatles’ 1968 authorised biography contains a lengthy passage in which writer Hunter Davies observed Lennon and McCartney as they composed With A Little Help From My Friends, at McCartney’s house in London. A fascinating insight into their songwriting processes, it showed how they were content to be distracted while waiting for inspiration to arrive.
Paul then went back to his guitar and started to sing and play a very slow, beautiful song about a foolish man sitting on the hill. John listened to it quietly, staring blankly out of the window, almost as if he wasn’t listening. Paul sang it many times, la la-ing words he hadn’t thought of yet. When at last he finished, John said he’d better write the words down or he’d forget them. Paul said it was OK. He wouldn’t forget them. It was the first time Paul had played it for John. There was no discussion.
Paul decided to go to France to film the Magical Mystery Tour sequence, taking with him Mal Evans and cameraman Aubrey Dewar. Despite having no money or passport with him, he managed to talk his way through customs. The sequence was filmed in the mountains near Nice, shortly after sunrise.
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.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
In the studio
On 6 September 1967 McCartney recorded a solo demo of the song in a single take. He played the piano and sang, with no other Beatles appearing on the tape. This demo later appeared on the Anthology 2 album.
Recording with the full group began on 25 September. The Beatles recorded three takes of the rhythm track, with Lennon and Harrison playing harmonicas. Over the third take they overdubbed McCartney’s recorder and lead vocals and Starr’s drums. The song as it was at this point can also be heard on Anthology 2.
The next day was devoted to overdubs, which made the song barely recognisable from the previous day. Its length was extended from 3:50 to 4:25 (later edited back down to three minutes), and many of the earlier overdubs were replaced. They taped more piano, acoustic guitar, drums and bass, plus a new lead vocal. More vocals were also added on the following day.
The finishing touches were recorded on 20 October. Three flautists – Jack Ellory and brothers Christopher and Richard Taylor – added their contribution, scored by George Martin to the suggestions of McCartney.