Song Thoughts: Fools Through the Years

Deep Purple has had fifty years and eight lineups, with a total of four singers, four guitarists, three bassists, two keyboardists, and one drummer. This has given the band as a whole a chance to explore a wide range of music. Better yet, they’ve been able to revisit old songs with greater musical experience and different players. The result has been a chance to see the many ways different pieces of theirs can be interpreted.

One such piece that gets this treatment is “Fools“, a masterpiece from Fireball. As a gaggle of twenty-somethings have just begun their musical journeys when this piece was written, Purple was already hitting the nail on the head so to speak with writing and interpretation in the studio, with this being a fine example of their abilities. It was then shelved for thirty years before it finally was broken out on the touring circuit right at the climax of Jon Lord’s time with the band stretching on into the first year or so of Don Airey’s tenure.

Deep Purple picture
Two of the lineups which tackled Fools: Deep Purple Mark II and Deep Purple Mark VII. Retrieved from here.

I’ll be focusing in my analysis on the Mark II (Gillan-Blackmore-Glover-Lord Paice) album version and the Mark VIII (Gillan-Morse-Glover-Airey-Paice) live versions, which I believe are a great example of how songs can change over the years.

In the Studio

The original fools is a masterwork of musical angst. From the moment of the first tap on the hi-hats from Ian Paice, accompanied by Roger Glover and Jon Lord’s dirge-like opening, the piece is infused with mourning for the state of the world. The piece only builds from there, with Ian Gillan’s soft entrance and Ritchie Blackmore establishing the key (b minor) and providing Jon with support. Paice and Blackmore bring greater ferocity about a minute and a half in which remains with the piece until the end, the former keeping the mood of the piece driving on throughout the remaining seven-ish minutes.

Blackmore and Glover’s co-played riff dominates the main sections of the song, providing a fantastic counterbalance to Gillan’s performance. As always, this vocal work knocks it out of the park. As well as a massive range and a strong command of it, Gillan has an ability to marshal the right emotional mood when singing, and here is no exception. The sorrow in his voice at the peril of the whole world is apparent.

The Album Version of “Fools” off Fireball (1971) accompanied by unrelated footage of that era of Deep Purple

Interestingly, on the riff, the intervals between the first couple of notes are the same as those between the first three notes on Smoke on the Water (in Fools a B-D-E, in Smoke a G-B flat-C, or a minor third and then a whole step). Perhaps the beginnings of the song had already entered the band’s mind.

Ritchie Blackmore’s work on the extended bridge section is actually quite enjoyable. With chordal work from Lord and the ever-present Paice, he spins a fairly coherent traipse through the b minor key before the final section features a bit more angst in the musical form with the verse-chorus portions from earlier in the song.

Onstage

This piece finally returned to the Purple repertoire in 2000, nearly 30 years since it had been written. By that time, Steve Morse had joined the band. Don Airey swooped in at literally the last minute on their 2001 late summer Europe tour to replace an injured Jon Lord, still using much of the same repertoire. Thus, “Fools” was included as one of the first pieces he played when stepping into place with the band he has since been with.

Since this was played rather early in Don Airey’s work with Deep Purple and has not been regularly played since 2002, he had less of a chance to infuse his own views. However, his ability to access the mood of a piece with the tiniest of details, as remarkable as it is rare, is still definitely on display here. He gives the opening chords a clear, raw sound to contrast with Jon Lord’s choice of quieter, more mournful soundscape at the beginning. This sharpness is also apparent in the bridge section, when he (and Lord earlier) stepped in to take over what was formerly the guitar solo. All in all, it changes the tone of the song from quiet despair to bitter grieving.

Fragment of “Fools” live in Ukraine, 2002, the only version I could find with Don Airey readily available.

If the keyboards have been given what was originally the guitar solo, what is left for the guitar? Steve Morse, with the unenviable task of replacing Ritchie Blackmore, seems unable to win with his interpretations of old Blackmore tunes. His choice in this song, then, to leave the keyboards to take Blackmore’s place and to create his own solo out of wholecloth, is particularly interesting.

Live at Perihelion, 2001

First and foremost, Morse (with a cue from the keyboards) changes the key of the solo, from b minor to D Major. Thankfully the shift to the relative major is not overly disorienting, but nonetheless changes the entire meaning of the piece. The solo features his hallmark soaring lines and long notes to make for a very “wide” sound. After the claustrophobic, mournful feeling of the rest of the piece, it is like stepping into the sunlight after being trapped underground. As usual, the exact bits vary night to night, but the overall effect is the same each time. Given the piece now ends with a fragment of this solo (accompanied by vocal sounds from Ian Gillan), the song is changed drastically. With the exact same lyrics, the piece is nonetheless  far more hopeful where before it was hopeless.

In these two vastly different takes on the same song, Deep Purple as an institution shows its flexibility and the musicians within show their remarkable talent for both writing and interpretation.

To you, which of these interpretations is better? Why?

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  • Edit on 2020-05-13: fixed identification of the “Fools” video.
  • Edit on 2020-08-20: Optimized for new site

0 thoughts on “Song Thoughts: Fools Through the Years

  1. fools is just a pop song in its verse , with the usual riff from Blackmore in its refrain , nothing more, the rest are improvisations. and the words come from a SF novel read by Glover at that time.

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