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“FIXING A HOLE”
(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)
As we examine the later Beatles catalog, we can’t help but notice the stark differences in lyric writing as compared to their earlier work. Whether this was due to their dissatisfaction of sticking to the approved pop formula of the day, their recent spiritual awakenings, or simply the mind-expanding hallucinogens they were ingesting (or all of the above), they nonetheless developed a ‘no holds barred’ attitude to expressing themselves in their lyrics.
John Lennon appears as the first to totally discard the “I Want To Hold Your Hand” mentality, constructing his storylines on whatever suited his fancy – anything but romantic relationships. George Harrison was also quick to follow suit, focusing primarily on higher consciousness-attaining subjects. But, as evident on their landmark 1966 album “Revolver,” Paul McCartney showed himself to be the last holdout for writing songs about the standard topic of love. As tantalizing as “Here, There And Everywhere” and “Good Day Sunshine” are, he didn’t stray too far from the ‘romance’ formula. While he did admit that “Got To Get You Into My Life” was indeed about marijuana, he still disguised the subject matter under the premise of a romantic relationship.
Finally, under the “Sgt. Pepper” formula, he threw off these shackles (at least temporarily) for his eccentric “Fixing A Hole.” Like Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Harrison’s “Love You To” from the previous year, listeners were now also scratching their heads about this McCartney track. What could it all mean? Does it mean what we think it means? Or is it as Paul sings in the song: “It really doesn’t matter”?
The rumor mill at the time of the release of “Sgt. Pepper” and thereafter made the easy assumption that “Fixing A Hole” was about heroin. After all, with phrases like “I get high” and “I’d love to turn you on” peppered through the album, as well as the supposed de-coding of the title “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” to stand for LSD, it was not a far jump to say this song concerned getting a “fix” by shooting heroin. Especially with Paul’s recent admission to the press that he’d taken LSD, it all seemed to make sense. Why else would their music have become so “weird”?
When asked in 1967 in an interview with artist Alan Aldridge about the drug associations circulating about “Fixing A Hole,” Paul dismissed it by saying: “If you’re a junky sitting in a room and fixing a hole then that’s what it will mean to you, but when I wrote it I meant if there’s a crack, or the room in uncolorful, then I’ll paint it.” Another quote from Paul has him stating that the song was “about the hole in the road where the rain gets in; a good old analogy.”
He continued to avoid any drug connections by focusing on specific lines in the song, as we see here in yet another 1967 quote: “It’s about the hole in your make-up which lets the rain in and stops your mind going where it will. The ‘silly people who run around, they worry me, and never ask why they don’t get in my door.’ These were the fans that constantly besieged my home, often camping outside on the pavement for days…If they only knew the best way to get in is not to do that, because obviously anyone who is going to be straight and be like a real friend is going to get in... but they simply stand there and give off the impression, 'Dont let us in.' I actually do enjoy having them in. I used to do it more, but I don't as much now because I invited one in once and the next day she was in The Daily Mirror with her mother saying we were going to get married."
An admission, of sorts, did finally surface in Paul’s ‘tell all’ book “Many Years From Now.” Co-author Barry Miles has this to say about the song: “Another inaccurate but frequently told story is that ‘Fixing A Hole’ was about heroin. This track is actually about marijuana. Like ‘Got To Get You Into My Life,’ it is described by Paul as ‘another ode to pot,’ the drug that got him out of the rut of everyday consciousness and gave him the freedom to explore.”
Paul himself then explains: “’Fixing later became associated with fixing heroin but at that time I didn’t associate it really. I know a lot of heroin people thought that was what it meant because that’s exactly what you do, fix in a hole. It’s not my meaning at all.”
“‘Fixing A Hole’ was about all those pissy people who told you, ‘Don’t daydream, don’t do this, don’t do that.’ It seemed to me that that was all wrong and that it was now time to fix all of that. Mending was my meaning. Wanting to be free enough to let my mind wander, let myself be artistic, let myself not sneer at avant-garde things. It was the idea of me being on my own now, able to do what I want. If I want I’ll paint the room in a colorful way. I’m fixing the hole, I’m fixing the crack in the door, I won’t allow that to happen anymore, I’ll take hold of my life a bit more. It’s all okay, I can do what I want and I’m going to set about fixing things. I was living now pretty much on my own in Cavendish Avenue, and enjoying my freedom and my new house and the salon-ness of it all.”
Another very possible inspiration to the song lyrically, although not confirmed, is in the 1956 Elvis Presley song “We’re Gonna Move,” which contains the words “Well, there’s a hole in the roof where the rains pours in.” Being the huge Elvis fans that The Beatles were, these lyrics are too close to those in “Fixing A Hole” to not have been thought of, if not subconsciously.
Many writers have come to believe that the “fixing” that was being referred to in the song had to do with Paul’s farmhouse, named High Park, near Campbeltown on the west coast of Scotland, which he purchased sight unseen in June of 1966. Aside from needing to mend a hole in the roof “where the rain gets in,” his drab brown walls needed to be painted “in a colorful way.” Alistair Taylor, Brian Epstein’s assistant, had even given vivid details about him, Paul and girlfriend Jane Asher spending hours in the house decorating the inside walls with “colored pens” to “relieve the gloom,” insinuating that this inspired some of this songs' lyrics.
As detailed in the book “Many Years From Now,” Paul sets this record straight: “It was much later that I ever got round to fixing the roof on the Scottish farm, I never did any of that till I met Linda. People just make it up! They know I’ve got a farm, they know it has a roof, they know I might be given to handyman tendencies so it’s a very small leap for mankind…to make up the rest of the story.”
As to Lennon’s involvement in this ‘Lennon/McCartney’ composition, there appears to have been none. “That’s Paul…again writing a good lyric,” John himself stated in 1980. “It’s pretty much my song, as I recall,” Paul himself stated.
However, this apparently isn’t the end of the story. In the diary of roadie and friend Mal Evans, this entry is found for the day January 27th, 1967: “Started writing song with Paul upstairs in his room, he on piano…Did a lot more of ‘when the rain comes in.’” This insinuation that he co-wrote “Fixing A Hole” with Paul appears to be valid as substantiated by a taped interview Mal made shortly before his death in 1976. There he staed: “I stayed with (Paul) for four months and he had a music room at the top of his house with his multi-colored piano and we were up there a lot of the time. We wrote ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and also another song on the album, ‘Fixing A Hole.’ When the album came out, I remember it very clearly, we were driving somewhere late at night…Paul turned round to me and said, ‘Look Mal, do you mind if we don’t put your name on the songs? You’ll get your royalties and all that, because Lennon and McCartney are the biggest thing in our lives. We are really a hot item and we don’t want to make it ‘Lennon /McCartney /Evans. So, would you mind?’ I didn’t mind, because I was so in love with the group that it didn’t matter to me. I knew myself what had happened.”
Regent Sound Studio, London
On February 9th, 1967, about two weeks after the song was finished being written (according to Mal Evans’ January 27th diary entry), the group entered the studio to work on the song. However, it was not at their usual EMI Studios that the rhythm track for “Fixing A Hole” was recorded. “I’m afraid the boys didn’t plan very much,” recalled producer George Martin, “and when they wanted to come into a studio they never said to me, ‘keep the next two weeks free, because we’re sure we’re going to be needing a studio.’ They would ring me up at 10 in the morning and say, ‘We want to record tonight at 7 o’clock, OK?’ And I had to find a damned studio.”
The “damned studio” that he found was Regent Sound Studio in London where many of the early Rolling Stones hits were recorded, as well as other popular artists. “Regent Sound was a pretty awful little studio, very cramped and boxy,” relates George Martin. Engineer Geoff Emerick, in his book “Here, There And Everywhere,” recalls his frustration of not being able to attend this session: “Ridiculously, even though we’d recorded almost every note on the album up to that point, Richard (Lush) and I couldn’t go there because we were EMI employees. George Martin, on the other hand, could attend, because he was working as an independent contractor.” This procedure changed in later years, allowing recording staff to complete a project no matter what studio was used on a given day. But as it was on this day, Adrian Ibbetson was used as a replacement for Geoff Emerick. The hours The Beatles were in Regent Sound on this day is not known but, if recent habits dictate, the session probably began around 7 pm and lasted until early morning the next day.
There is one other person known to have been present on this day. Paul relates: “The funny thing about that was the night when we were going to record it, at Regent Sound Studios at Tottenham Court Road, I brought a guy who was Jesus. A guy arrived at my front gate and I said, ‘Yes? Hello’ because I always used to answer it to everyone. If they were boring I would say, ‘Sorry, no,’ and they generally went away. This guy said, ‘I’m Jesus Christ.’ I said, ‘Oop,’ slightly shocked. I said, ‘Well, you’d better come in then.’ I thought, Well, it probably isn’t. But if he is, I’m not going to be the one to turn him away. So I gave him a cup of tea and we just chatted and I asked, ‘Why do you think you are Jesus?’ There were a lot of casualties about then. We used to get a lot of people who were maybe insecure or going through emotional breakdowns or whatever.”
“So I said, ‘I’ve got to go to a session but if you promise to be very quiet and just sit in a corner, you can come.’ So he did, he came to the session and he did sit very quietly and I never saw him after that. I introduced him to the guys. They said, ‘Who’s this?’ I said, ‘He’s Jesus Christ.’ We had a bit of a giggle over that…But that was it. Last we ever saw of Jesus!”
With Jesus Christ in the corner, The Beatles began their studio time on this day with extensive rehearsals led by Paul, at least six unofficial takes being recorded before they had the arrangement ironed out. “Paul knew exactly where he was going with 'Fixing A Hole,'" wrote George Martin in the book “Summer Of Love.” He continues: “As a result, it was one of the fastest tracks we recorded, in an album of 13 songs that took some five months to complete…It's a very simply constructed song, built around a harpsichord and a bass guitar. Even before we got into the studio Paul had decided to use a harpsichord as the mainstay of his rhythm; even so, the bass line is more important than the harpsichord line.”
Once everyone’s parts were learned, the group taped three official ‘takes’ of the rhythm track of the song. Unusually, they reverted back to the recording technique of the early Beatles sessions by recording all the instruments and lead vocals live, even the lead guitar work. Common practice for the past year had them overdubbing the lead vocals, bass and lead guitar afterward in order to ‘fine tune’ these performances. Possibly because of the cramped and unfamiliar setting of Regent Sound Studios, they reverted back to basics for “Fixing A Hole.”
Even though Geoff Emerick couldn’t be there, he was impressed by the performance nonetheless. “We listened to the tapes a few days later, and while they were a bit disappointing sonically, I was impressed with the vibe: all four Beatles played together on the backing track, just like in the old days, and George Harrison played a good guitar solo, too.”
The question, however, is the identity of the players of the instruments. George is on lead guitar and, of course, Ringo is on drums, but there is discrepancy about the other instruments. Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall, writing in the magazine “The Beatles Monthly,” claims to have witnessed Paul playing the distinctive harpsichord part. And, while engineer Richard Lush wasn’t present on this day, he is quoted in Andy Babiuk’s book “Beatles Gear” as saying: “I do remember that Lennon played the bass on that track. He used a Fender bass on it. If you play the album you can pick it out because it’s very simple, and a ploppy sort of sound. It didn’t sound as rich as Paul’s Rickenbacker bass.”
While this seems to settle the issue, there is much more to consider. We have to remember that, since Richard Lush wasn’t allowed to be present by EMI on that day, his opinion is based on listening to the recordings of that day when they re-convened to add overdubs to it nearly two weeks later (February 21st). The bass was recorded live on the rhythm track utilizing an engineer using standard procedures, the Rickenbacker bass sound on the rest of the “Sgt. Pepper” album being overdubbed afterward for optimal quality. As Geoff Emerick related, the recording was “disappointing sonically.”
Someone who was there, however, was producer George Martin. In the book “Summer Of Love” he states: “Paul had to play bass guitar on it, because nobody could (or can) play that instrument quite like him. That meant someone else was going to have to play keyboards. This was unusual, because Paul always liked to play his own keyboards on his own compositions. The part of honorary stand-in keyboard player to the greatest group in the world was offered to me.” Neil Aspinall’s account of witnessing Paul on harpsichord could very well have been early rehearsals of the song or in instructing George Martin on how he wanted the keyboard part to be played.
This would, therefore, leave John Lennon out of the picture. Upon listening to the released recording, however, it appears the maracas heard throughout the song were also part of the rhythm track since it is panned specifically to the left channel of the stereo mix along with the rhythm track recorded on this day. This appears to be the best explanation of the instrumentalists on “Fixing A Hole”: Paul on bass and lead vocals, George Harrison on lead guitar, Ringo on drums, John on maracas and George Martin on harpsichord.
Of the official three ‘takes’ of the song recorded on this day, the first two were complete and the third broke down before the song was complete but was viewed as desirable by the group nonetheless. In any event, as related in Mark Lewisohn’s book “The Beatles Recording Sessions”: “The first two (takes) were both very good so onto the tape box was written, rather ambiguously, ‘master’ for take one and ‘final master’ for take two.” Although it may have not been decided which ‘take’ was going to be used for overdubs, they apparently knew they accomplished what they set out to do on this day.
February 21st, 1967, was the second and last day needed to complete “Fixing A Hole.” They were back in EMI Studio Two this time around with engineers Geoff Emerick and Richard Lush back on the job, the session scheduled to begin at 7 pm. The first thought was to salvage the partial ‘take three’ that was recorded two weeks prior even though it broke down before the song was completed. There must have been something they liked on this ‘take’ even though it wasn’t complete. Therefore, the group recorded another ‘take’ of the song (incorrectly labeling it ‘take one’) with the intention of mixing it together with the incomplete ‘take three.’
Apparently, this idea didn’t work out as planned and they dropped it. Instead, a reduction mix was made of ‘take two’ (the one originally labeled ‘final master’) in order to free up some empty tracks for overdubbing. George’s lead guitar work was isolated to a separate track, however, to single it out in the stereo mix. Paul’s bass was combined with the rest of the instruments, leaving a performance flub in the third verse which therefore couldn’t be corrected later. To confuse things even more, they labeled this reduction mix ‘take three,’ not to be confused with the incomplete ‘take three’ recorded at Regent Sound. Still with me?
This being done, they recorded overdubs, which comprised Paul double-tracking his lead vocals in strategic spots, George double-tracking his lead guitar work, and John and George performing backing vocals. The mono mix was tackled on this day as well with The Beatles present. Five attempts at the mono mix was made (for some reason labeled remixes 2 through 6), an edit of remix 3 and 6 being used for the final product. Ringo’s drums are quite prominent throughout the song while George’s lead guitar work is somewhat subdued in the mix. In the fade out, Paul is heard singing a high pitched but faintly audible “hey” twice, the second during the lead vocal overdub.
The stereo mix wasn’t created until April 7th, 1967, in the control room of EMI Studio Two by the same Martin, Emerick and Lush team. The rhythm track is predominantly in the left channel while both lead vocal parts from Paul are centered in the mix. Both tracks of George’s lead guitar are panned to the right channel as are the background vocals of John and George. The drums are a little more subdued than on the mono mix but the lead guitar passages are more prominent. This stereo mix fades a little sooner so as not to hear the “hey” exclamations as heard on the mono mix.
Song Structure and Style
Apparent here is a quite usual structure of ‘verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse/ verse (solo)/ bridge/ verse’ (or aabaaba) with a quick intro and a repeating verse acting as a faded conclusion. But, as usual, the group has other tricks up its’ sleeve to make “Fixing A Hole” unique.
A distinctive two-and-a-half measure introduction begins things with George Martin playing a descending chromatic line (descending as on the introduction to “Lucy In The Sky” two songs prior) on the harpsichord in a staccato-like pattern that gives you the impression that the song that follows is in straight 4/4 time. The taps on Ringo’s hi-hat in the final measure says differently, however, as the swing beat (as heard in the previous “Getting Better”) emerges and stays for the remainder of the song.
The first eight-measure verse then begins with Paul’s single-tracked vocals premiering the song’s title while his bass kicks in with a very simple alternating pattern between two notes as Ringo continues playing the hi-hat pattern while sometimes opening the cymbals slightly. The harpsichord repeats the descending chromatic line of the introduction in the swing beat this time but then alters it slightly to fill out the verse. Interestingly, the first chord heard in the verse is F major but then it switches immediately into a minor key for the remainder of the verse.
The second half of the verse has many unique characteristics that differentiate it from the first half. Paul’s bass begins a simple but somewhat syncopated three-note pattern that leaves the downbeat empty, something not usual for a Beatles song. As Paul enters the fifth measure, he begins singing double-tracked on the key line “where it will go,” this lifting his voice into falsetto for the final word which is extended into the sixth measure. George Harrison then comes in for the first time in the seventh and eighth measure with his descending double-tracked guitar phrase.
The second verse comes next which repeats the arrangement above but with minor adjustments. Ringo begins playing his full drum kit for the first time here, the first four measures alternating his snare beats with two taps on the tom (somewhat like a slow rumba beat) and then plays a more conventional beat for the next three measures. Paul still double-tracks his vocals for the line “where it will go,” but with a slight crack in his voice on the sustained falsetto high note. A ‘Beatle break’ is then instituted for the eighth measure to allow Paul to begin his vocal line (“and it”) for the bridge that follows.
The first eight-measure bridge brings in an optimistic major F key to make it stand out from the verses. This is also quite different from their usual songwriting habit, the bridges usually altering the key temporarily and then finding a way to transition back into the song’s key when the next verse begins (see “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Ticket To Ride” for two of many examples). In this case, a switch from minor to major was deemed enough of a difference.
Ringo plays more vibrantly on his full drum kit for the bridge as Paul’s bass bounces along effortlessly but simply in an alternating two-note pattern performed while singing lead vocals simultaneously during the recording of the rhythm track. His vocals are double-tracked throughout the bridge, singing a high pitched single note reminiscent of what John was prone to write (see “Help!” and “Girl” for two of many examples). George Martin’s harpsichord is heard throughout the entire bridge while George Harrison’s lead guitar shows up at the end of the fourth measure which plays a vibrant double-tracked counter-melody to add movement to the song while Paul’s single note melody line is being sung.
The third verse is identical in arrangement to the second but with more minor subtle changes. This verse shows the first evidence of John’s maracas and Paul adds a nice touch by singing along with George’s descending guitar phrase in the seventh and eighth measure. There is no ‘Beatle break’ at the end of the verse, however, Paul interjecting a double-tracked “heh, heh, hey” to introduce the guitar solo verse that follows. The aforementioned bass flub occurs in the fifth measure where Paul begins his syncopated three-note run too early, him catching himself and correcting it in the sixth measure.
The guitar solo verse is next with all instruments playing as if it was a regular vocal verse. Paul adds one more double-tracked “hey” on the downbeat of the second measure and then excitedly begins his syncopated three-note bass run one measure early, beginning it in the fourth measure instead of the fifth. John’s maracas are in full bloom in the bridge, no doubt inspired by George’s impressive syncopated guitar solo. Ringo even forgot to stop for the planned ‘Beatle break’ in the eighth measure, remnants of hi-hat and snare inadvertently making it onto the released product. No biggie!
The bridge is now repeated, the most noticeable change being the addition of John and George (and Paul?) singing harmonized “ooh”s in the first four measures and “dit, dit” in the last four (not the naughty “tit, tit” as heard in “Girl”). The fifth verse then appears with yet different lyrics from all the others, the arrangement differing from the rest by the addition of “ooh” harmonies throughout. Paul sings along with George’s ending guitar phrase once again to round out the verse.
The first verse is then repeated twice as the song fades away, Paul altering the melody line substantially from what he sang earlier, double-tracked all the way. With John’s maracas prominent in the mix through the fade-out, George continues playing his descending guitar phrase throughout all of the measures of the second repeat of the concluding verse, syncopating the phrase in the third and fourth measures in the rhythm track while playing it straight during the double-tracking, creating an interesting back-and-forth effect.
Being mostly a Paul composition (with Mal Evans, that is), he is in control of the proceedings. His bass work, while not perfect, works nicely in its’ surroundings, one of the simplest bass patterns on the whole “Sgt. Pepper” album. His lead (and possibly harmony) vocals are done effortlessly as usual. George Harrison puts in a gallant effort as lead guitarist and harmony vocalist, showing himself up for the task even if his mind was back in India at the time. John, of course, could shake a mean maraca and was straight enough to put in some proficient harmonies. George Martin wasn’t needed to show too many of his keyboard abilites here, but he held down the arrangement as the main rhythm instrument of the piece. Ringo wasn’t called on to innovate too much here either, but he delivered his assignments nicely, readying himself for another game of chess! I wonder if he played a game with Jesus in-between takes? :-)
The lyrical optimism of “Getting Better” takes a slight step backward in “Fixing A Hole” where Paul shows himself in the process of changing things in his life for the better. Hence the references to “fixing a hole,” “filling the cracks,” “painting the room” and “taking the time.” One thing is for sure, however: Paul enjoys allowing his mind to “wander” wherever he wants it to (“where it will go”) and he’ll do anything it takes to eliminate whatever gets in the way of that happening. Being “another ode to pot,” as Paul calls the song, I guess that marijuana smoking allowed him the ability to let his mind wander at will, something that straight society would want to discourage him from.
“I like the double meaning of ‘If I’m wrong I’m right where I belong,’” stated McCartney in his book “Many Years From Now.” The clever juxtaposition of opposite words, such as “wrong” and “right” (used even more prominently by George in “Old Brown Shoe” two years later) is accentuated in “Fixing A Hole” by the double meaning of the word “right.” We all like it too, Paul.
June 2nd, 1967 was the US release date of the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which featured “Fixing A Hole” as the fifth song on side one. Its’ laid-back and dreamy feel follows the sunny “Getting Better” very nicely, creating a contrast that encourages listener interpretation.
In 1978, Capitol followed the picture disc trend by releasing “Sgt. Pepper” with its’ legendary front cover on the a-side and a close-up of the “Pepper” drum head on the b-side. This disc is undoubtedly still hanging on the walls of audiophiles throughout the country.
The “Sgt. Pepper” album was released on compact disc for the first time on September 21st, 1987. For those wanting to hear it with the warm vinyl sound they remember in 1967, the CD was re-mastered and re-released on September 9th, 2009.
The interesting mono mix of “Fixing A Hole” is finally available again, thanks to the re-mastered box set “The Beatles In Mono.” This deluxe set also hit the market on September 9th, 2009.
Paul McCartney's "New World Tour" tour book
The Beatles may never have performed the song in concert, but Paul did periodically include the song in his 1993 “New World Tour” set list, the tour stretching from February 18th (Milan) to December 16th (Chile). He then performed a solo piano performance of the song (omitting the guitar solo section) during his “’US’ Tour,” which ran from September 16th (Miami) to November 30th (Los Angeles), 2005.
The Beatles in EMI Studio Two, 1967
While not making too many people’s ‘Favorite Beatles’ Songs’ list, and also not known for getting much radio airplay, it nonetheless stands the test of time as a strong group performance. It stands among an album filled with songs that have all the ‘bells and whistles’ included, such as Indian instruments, audience applause and laughter, a calliope, clarinets, raving orchestra swells and animal sound effects. “Fixing A Hole” has none of those things. What it does have, however, is a straightforward pop/rock arrangement using conventional instrumentation, the only eccentric touch being the inclusion of a harpsichord. The result is nothing less than imaginative and articulate for its time.
“Fixing A Hole”
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
Song Written: January, 1967
Song Recorded: February 9 & 21, 1967
First US Release Date: June 2, 1967
US Single Release: n/a
Highest Chart Position: n/a
Length: 2:35 (mono) 2:33 (stereo)
Producer: George Martin
Engineers: Adrian Ibbetson, Geoff Emerick, Richard Lush
Instrumentation (most likely):
Paul McCartney - Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S)
- George Harrison – Lead Guitar (1961 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster), Backing Vocals
John Lennon - Backing Vocals, Maracas
Ringo Starr – Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl)
George Martin - Harpsichord (unknown)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
John Lennon, Brian Epstein and Paul McCartney, circa 1967