As April 1st — April Fools’ Day — came and went this week, the coronavirus continues its spread across the nation. Mister Boomer can’t help but think of the trickster Puck’s pronouncement in Shakespeare’s, Midsummer Night’s Dream: “…what fools these mortals be!” Once again, as many times before, human beings are humbled in the face of a force so much larger and more powerful than their species. And, as boomers will recall in commercials, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”
What Mister Boomer is saying is that we humans like to think we’re at the top of heap, A-number one; that we rule the world — but we are outnumbered by a host of other creatures, including insects, bacteria and viruses. But this is supposed to be about baby boomers, and there is time enough for apocalyptic discussion. So here we are at the beginning of April, a befitting time to instead explore how “fool” made its way into the songs of our era. Besides, viruses don’t record music. The word “fool” was popular in songs all through the 1950s through to the 1970s. More often than not, it referred to love in one form or another. Here are just a few that Mister Boomer has chosen as his must-hear favorites while you are self-isolating:
A Fool For You, Ray Charles (1955)
The song was written and performed by Ray Charles and produced by Jerry Wexler, who also produced Otis Redding (who also recorded a version) and later, Aretha Franklin. The song was also recorded by Ike & Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison and Michael Jackson.
Why Do Fools Fall in Love, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers (1956)
The Diamonds released their version a week after Lymon’s. Both versions reached the Top 40 — at the same time — though Frankie’s version won out at number one. The Beach Boys released their version in 1964 and a host of others recorded it in the following two decades. Lymon’s version was used in the much-loved-by-boomers film, American Graffiti, in 1973.
Poor Little Fool, Ricky Nelson (1958)
Another number one hit, the song was written by fifteen year old Sharon Sheely. She literally drove to Ricky Nelson’s house and sprang it on him under the guise that her car had broken down (sounds foolish, but it worked). The Fleetwoods recorded it in 1962.
(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I, Elvis Presley (1959)
The song was recorded and intended to be released while Elvis was in the army, to keep him on the charts. Before Elvis did his thing, it was recorded by Hank Snow. After Elvis, Jo Stafford, Petula Clark and Bob Dylan had their versions released.
Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool, Connie Francis (1960)
The song, written by Jack Keller and Howard Greenfield, was Connie’s first number one hit.
‘Cause everybody’s somebody’s fool
Everybody’s somebody’s plaything
And there are no exceptions to the rule
Yes, everybody’s somebody’s fool
Fool #1, Brenda Lee (1961)
Speaking of everybody, everybody knows Brenda Lee for her version of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (1964), but boomers recall what a big star she was in the 1950s and ’60s. By the time Brenda Lee recorded this song, written by Kathryn Fuller, she was already a regular fixture in the Top Ten rankings. This one was one of her biggest hits, reaching number three on the charts.
What Kind of Fool Am I?, Sammy Davis Jr. (1962)
The song was written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley and introduced by Newley in the musical, Stop The World – I Want To Get Off in 1961. Subsequent recording were released by Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Lesley Gore, James Brown (yes! look it up!), and a host of others.
Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread), Ricky Nelson (1963)
The song had been around since Johnny Mercer recorded it in 1940. It was recorded by Brook Benton in 1960; Etta James in 1962; Ricky Nelson in 1963; and Elvis in 1972, among others. Ricky seemed to have an affinity for “fool” songs — his version was the biggest hit of the bunch.
She’s A Fool, Lesley Gore (1963)
Produced by Quincy Jones, the song reached number five on the Billboard Top 100. It was part of a group of songs that launched her career, the third of four consecutive Top 5 hits (which included It’s My Party, Judy’s Turn to Cry and You Don’t Own Me).
Chain of Fools, Aretha Franklin (1967)
Another “fool” song that hit number one, Aretha’s quintessential version also won her the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performances that year. Rolling Stone ranked it smack in the middle of its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The Fool on the Hill, The Beatles (1967)
Paul McCartney explained that, unlike a lot of the “fool” songs of the era, this song was more about how someone could be seen as a fool when in fact they were silently and brilliantly doing their own thing, like the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi whom the group met that same year. The song was released on the Magical Mystery Tour album.
A Day in the Life of a Fool, Frank Sinatra (1969)
The song was included on Frank’s My Way album, which was primarily a collection of popular songs at the time, including Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson and The Beatles’ Yesterday. Ultimately, it was a ballad that was eclipsed by the title song, My Way, which later became his signature.
Won’t Get Fooled Again, The Who (1971)
Mister Boomer asks, can you truly call yourself a boomer rock & roll fan without having owned a copy of this song in one format or another through the years? Mister Boomer had in on vinyl, then 8-track and now, digitally. What’s next?
Everybody Plays the Fool, The Main Ingredient (1972)
Mister B thinks this is certainly near the top of the list of boomer-era “fool” songs. Written by J.R. Bailey, Rudy Clark and Ken Williams, it hit number three on the Billboard Top 100 and was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category Best R&B Song. Aaron Neville brought the song back to the charts in 1991, landing at number 8.
Dirty Work, Steely Dan (1972)
The lyrics say it all:
I’m a fool to do your dirty work
I don’t want to do your dirty work
Whether served with an up-tempo dance beat or sung as an introspective ballad, boomers sure loved their “fool” songs, as evidenced by how many times these songs were covered by other artists who also had hits with them.
As that boomer-era TV character might say, “I pity the fool …” that does not heed the lessons of history. Stay home and stay safe, boomers, and perhaps listen to some of these songs if you haven’t heard them in a while. What “fool” songs are swirling through the jasmine of your minds these days, boomers?