Daily Song Study

The Beatles – The Fool on the Hill

In songs on July 29, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I’m generally in the habit of exposing people to songs they don’t know, because I figure the ones they do know are all out there for anyone to spend time studying. However, sometimes a song’s intricacies get overlooked precisely because it is omnipresent.

The Beatles are Exhibit A in this conundrum. Everyone knows Beatles songs, and everyone agrees they’re great. But sometimes it’s good to try and understand why. When people attempt to ape the band, they usually get one of the elements right (production, instrumentation, chord progression, vocal style, melodic pattern), but never all of them at once. The combination is what makes these songs continue to work over 40 years later.

Today’s tune has always been one of my favorites because it is simultaneously pretty and creepy. The bright, playful verse descends into a minor-key chorus that is ultimately a little disturbing. We’re left with a bit of concern about who the fool is and what exactly he’s on about, and also with sympathy for an outsider who is trying to be understood by a society that has written him off.

There’s not much I can write about this song that hasn’t been written before, but for a moment, just pretend you’ve never heard the Beatles, or this tune, and see what elements you notice.

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  1. It’s amazing. Even after all these years.

  2. […] the fragmenting of popular music into a vast panoply of niches has precluded the rise of another Beatles or Michael Jackson, some artist who bestrides the world and whose songs everyone knows. Some lament […]

  3. […] whose best work took place with arguably the most important rock band of the past century is thereafter going to be held to a standard that even the best songwriters would be hard-pressed […]

  4. […] the second-best songwriter in a band is not necessarily a bad thing. Think of the Beatles‘ third-best songwriter, George Harrison. Good is good, hierarchy be damned. […]

  5. […] lyrics. But if we write off early tunes based on later indiscretions, we’d have to chuck the Beatles catalog into the fire as […]

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