Monday, September 28, 2009

Fixing a Hole

Sometimes it seems all I do these days is fix holes where the rain gets in. You know what I mean, kids? Of course you do. And especially on a day when poor Lucy has passed away (more here), it seem only fitting to delve into the Sgt. Pepper universe.

"Fixing a Hole" boasts not only a wicked pleasant melody, but an arrangement that's so clever and sophisticated that it just gives you a light happy feeling to listen to it. In fact, this might sound strange, but I always detect a whiff of jazz hanging around "Fixing a Hole." This is kind of a hilarious assertion for me to be making, because if there's one thing in the world I know nothing about, it's jazz. (I have nothing against it-- it's just, you know, there's only so much time in the day, and I haven't quite gotten there yet.) But do you hear what I mean? It's in the verses. We begin with that very chilled-out psychedelic harpsichord line-- which sounds almost floral, if it's possible for a line of music to sound that way-- but the first verse gets progressively jazzier, as Ringo peppers the texture with more and more cymbal over Paul's simple one-five-one bassline. The second verse brings in more bass drumming, followed by particularly resonant cymbals, and it ends up sounding so beautifully atmospheric. That persistent keyboard is what roots us to the more contemporary Sgt. Pepper sound, but the jazz is there even so.

But then it kind of slinks that mantle off in the bridge-- again, just gradually. The drums feel like they get more of a swing in the bridge, and then by the time "see the people standing there" kick in, the guitar part (which I believe Paul is playing) has led us back into the pop sphere pretty resolutely. This happens again at the guitar solo (which is George's), whose rough garage-rockish edges seem to have almost nothing to do with the chill jazz of the verses, while at the same time making perfect sense. (This is the Beatley genius at work, right here.) And in the last verse, the backup vocals on "ooh" thicken it up so much that, even though it's otherwise largely the same, I'm not even thinking about jazz anymore. In fact, maybe elsewhere I'm overthinking the jazz thing, or whatever I mean by that exactly, but I swear they're playing around with genre here on purpose. Is all. (And by the way: all of this, especially the cymbals, is particularly noticeable in the new mono version, to my ear.) And they're not just playing around with genre-- they're playing around with arranging generally. All of Sgt. Pepper is obviously checkered with experimentation, but whereas you could say that "She's Leaving Home" or "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" are both pieces virtually defined by their envelope-pushing natures, "Fixing a Hole" is both more subtle and more artful, in a way, because all of the fun is being had in the deft play between timbres. I hope this makes sense, because it does in my head.

Despite my flippancy up top, I don't really know what it means to be fixing a hole where the rain gets in. Paul has said that he wrote "Fixing a Hole" about maintenance men outside his London home who were patching up holes in the road, and he has also said that he was smoking a lot of pot at the time. I totally buy these lyrics being the scribbled ramblings of someone who's gotten high, especially if it's a genius like Paul who's gotten high. Most stuff people write on pot is garbage (if meeting stoner poets in college has taught me anything, it's that), but there's something a little nonsensical here that makes me think Paul might very well have been indulging heavily. It's just a little self-consciously philosophical for Paul, while still not meaning anything in particular, at least not literally. 

But even if we don't know what it means, "Fixing a Hole" occupies a nice little slot on Sgt. Pepper. There are people who swear by this one. Myself, I'm content to just like it a lot. But the playing and the arranging is really super-smart throughout-- Ringo in particular deserves props.  Remember that in November XBox users will be able to buy the entire Sgt. Pepper album for their Beatles Rock Band game. And thanks to the awesome instrumental lines here, this is a song sure to be pretty kickass in Rock Band.

"Fixing a Hole," released in the U.K. side A track 5 of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, June 1, 1967; in the U.S. June 2, 1967.


  1. I'm like you, I think -- I like the arrangement more than the song. If there were no guitar in this, I might never want to listen to it; those are great guitar lines and great sounds they got for them.

  2. I'm content to think this song is about what it feels like, on a day when you have nothing to do and no where to be, to let your mind wander free of distraction. To me, both the lyrics and the music capture what it must feel like to be floating along on a cloud. I don't think the song needs to mean anything more than that.

    Anyway, great tune. One of my favorites on Pepper.

  3. This is one of those songs for which writing about it made me like it even more. One more reason why doing this blog is good for me...

  4. well, the boys do a good job on this song, but George Burns really owns it, no?

  5. I've always assumed that that movie would give me a hernia, so I've never had the honor of witnessing George Burns on this song. Should I stop averting my eyes and give it a look? Something tells me, or rather continues to tell me, no.