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
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.
McCartney 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, Paul McCartney recorded a solo demo of ‘The Fool On The Hill’ in a single take. He played the piano and sang, with no other Beatles appearing on the tape. This demo later appeared on 1996’s Anthology 2.
Recording with the full group began on 25 September. The Beatles recorded three takes of the rhythm track, then added a range of overdubs onto take three. By the close of the session ‘The Fool On The Hill’ featured two pianos, drums, acoustic guitar, recorders and lead vocals.
A reduction mix, numbered take four, was made to facilitate further overdubs, and a mono mmix was made towards the end of the session. The work in progress can also be heard on Anthology 2.
The next day, 26 September, The Beatles began recording the song afresh. The remake, take five, had Paul McCartney’s piano on one track, Ringo Starr’s drums and cymbals on another, and acoustic guitar and maracas on a third. Track four featured overdubs of celeste, more piano and a recorder.
A reduction mix – take six – was then made, onto which McCartney added double-tracked lead vocals and a recorder solo. John Lennon and George Harrison filled track four with bass harmonicas. A tape loop featuring a flourish of slowed-down guitars was also added to the fourth track; this can be heard immediately after the final line: “And the eyes in his head see the world spinning round”.
The finishing touches to ‘The Fool On The Hill’ were recorded on 20 October 1967. Three flautists – Jack Ellory and brothers Christopher and Richard Taylor – added their contribution, scored by George Martin to the suggestions of McCartney.
The flute parts were recorded on a separate tape, as take seven, as all tracks on the main tape were full. On 25 October takes six and seven were mixed in sync to create a final mono master.