The first 24 hours of the fourth month each year, popularly known as April Fool’s Day, is traditionally set aside for jokes, pranks, hoaxes, bunkum, and other comical trickery in which bafflement is turned into good humor by way of the post-punchline declaration, “April Fool!”
Rock-and-roll seems to take a more sober-minded approach to the concept of the “fool,” though. Classic rock songs that directly address “fools,” especially in the title, tend to have an air of warning, dismissal, outright mockery, and even anger. No fooling!
For this April Fool’s Day, take some time between crank calls and inflating Whoopee Cushions to check out our playlist of the Top 10 Classic Rock “Fool” songs.
“Fool in the Rain” – Led Zeppelin (1979)
The fool of the title from Zep’s last single to hit the pop charts waits on a corner during a downpour, sweating and fretting through each moment for a lady love who doesn’t show up to meet him.
The epic song, complete with a monstrous Latin percussion breakdown in the middle, ultimately pays off with a punchline that harkens back to the 1957 rock-and-roll classic “Silhouettes” by the Rays: “I’m just a fool waiting on the wrong block!”
Zep frontman Robert Plant expanded the notion from one waterlogged schlemiel to an entire boatload’s worth on his 1988 rock radio hit, “Ship of Fools.”
“Fool on the Hill” – The Beatles (1967)
The Beatles returned largely bitter and disillusioned from a 1968 India trip to visit meditation guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi George Harrison, who remained a lifelong cosmic seeker, was the exception). True to Ozzy Osbourne’s assessment of Paul McCartney and John Lennon as rock’s ultimate “sweet and sour” combo, Paul composed the gentle “Fool on the Hill” about his earlier assessment of the man a year earlier. John wrote the more scabrous “Sexy Sadie,” which was originally just titled “Maharishi” and lyrically makes his feelings very clear: “You made a fool of everyone!”
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” – The Who (1971)
The Who’s firestorm call to never trust authority casts both the listeners and the band themselves as fools who have been duped by the empty promises and hypocritical double-dealings of so-called leaders—but now we’re all wiser.
Still, the song remains bitterly hopeful in its assessment of how the 1960s’ cultural revolution changed the world, with Roger Daltrey singing Pete Townshend’s word about getting on his knees and praying that “we don’t get fooled again.” Then, after what rock critic Dave Marsh described as “the greatest scream in a career filled with screams,” the song ends on a crushing Orwellian note: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” In other words: don’t be a fool.
“Fool to Cry” – Rolling Stones (1976)
The soulful ballad “Fool to Cry” stands as the only real hit from the Rolling Stones’ 1976 album Black and Blue, a record that has its fans but which is popularly regarded as a placeholder between the classics It’s Only Rock ’n Roll (1974) and Some Girls (1978).
The lyrics are a curious confessional in which Mick Jagger sings of being “a certified fool” who cries relentlessly to his daughter, his woman in the poor part of town, and even his friends. Each time he weeps, they all respond, “Daddy, you’re a fool to cry.”
“What a Fool Believes” – Doobie Brothers (1979)
The Doobie Brothers’ biggest hit officially defined the group as being both the world-class biker-boogie outfit that they started out as and the powerhouse of lush, emotional rock-and-soul for adults that they became with the addition of vocalist and keyboard player Michael McDonald.
Irresistible from its joyful opening riff and McDonald’s soaring vocals, “What a Fool Believes” spins an age-old tale of a sucker who pines away for a lost love. She’s moved on, while the fool is “trying hard to recreate what had yet to be created.” We’ve all been there: bidden by a broken heart to buy into, too hard, what a fool believes.
“Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” – Styx (1978)
Upstart guitarist Tommy Shaw wrote “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” with Styx frontman Dennis DeYoung in mind. Shaw could never understand how DeYoung, as a the lead vocalist of one of the world’s hugest rock acts, always seemed stressed out and pissed off regarding band matters. Hence the words: “You’ve got it all in the palm of your hand/ But your hand’s wet with sweat and your head needs a rest/And you’re fooling yourself if you don’t believe it.”
In time, Shaw says he himself came to strongly identify with the lyrics—largely in frustration over the directions in which DeYoung led the band during the ’80s. Everybody plays the fool sometimes.
“Foolin’” – Def Leppard (1983)
After the amped-up power-pop of “Photograph” and the over-the-top near-parody metal of “Rock of Ages,” the third single from Def Leppard’s 1983 platinum-making machine Pyromania, “Foolin’”, took a turn for the dark and moody, adding dramatic power to the group’s polished sound and skills.
After a spooky intro about Lady Luck never smiling, frontman Joe Elliot laments his own loneliness by wailing, “Is anybody out there? Does anybody care?” So carried away by emotion is he that when assuring us he’s serious, Elliot and the other Leppards stutter (in the grand tradition of the Who’s “My Generation” and BTO’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”): “Baby I’m not f-f-f-foolin’!”
“Nobody’s Fool” – Cinderella (1986)
Philadelphia’s Cinderella infused their hair metal with snazzy blues licks and other interesting musical takes that noticeably elevated them above the standard issue poodle-heads of MTV’s high glam era.
Case in point: the group’s breakthrough hit “Nobody’s Fool.” The song combines haunting, almost gothic verses with a thunderous chorus in which Cinderella mastermind Tom Keifer hammers home that his foolish days wasted on an unrequited love are done.
There’s simply no way not to believe Keifer when he sings: “I scream my heart out just to make a dime/And with that dime I bought your love/But now I’ve changed my mind/I’m not your fool/Nobody’s fool!”
“Fool for the City” – Foghat (1975)
On the title track for Foghat’s biggest album (yes, the one that contains “Slow Ride”), frontman Lonesome Dave Peverett proclaims himself, as so many singers have for time immemorial, a fool for love. Alas, Peverett’s passion is not for a woman: it’s for down-and-dirty, rough-and-tumble, hardscrabble urban living.
“Breathin’ all the clean air, sittin’ in the sun,” Lonesome Dave sings, “When I get my train fare, I’ll get up and run/I’m ready for the city, air pollution here I come!”
“Dancin’ Fool” – Frank Zappa (1978)
Zappa’s anti-disco diatribe “Dancin’ Fool,” from his 1978 classic Sheik Yerbouti, offers no good-hearted kidding around when it comes to the open-shirted, neck-chained, coked-up, swinging singles dance culture of the post-Saturday Night Fever 1970s. “The beat goes on,” Zappa sings, “and I am so wrong.”
While hosting Saturday Night Live in 1978, Zappa performed “Dancin’ Fool” and, subsequently, the song hit #45 on the pop charts. It’s his second biggest chart hit after 1982’s #32-reaching duet with his daughter Moon Unity, “Valley Girl.”
Mike “McBeardo” McPadden is the author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, and Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever! (Bazillion Points).
[Photo: Mercury/Getty Images]