Circus impresario P.T. Barnum famously claimed, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” If that’s true, then wrap your head around these headlines from the rock music world:
“KEITH RICHARDS MARRIES ADELE”
“OZZY OSBOURNE PERFORMS WITH MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR”
“SONY TO ISSUE NEW ALBUMS AS EMBEDDED MICROCHIPS”
These aren’t true, of course, but these days, you could be forgiven for believing they are. Almost nothing surprises me anymore.
But today, in particular, I suggest we all watch out for friends, colleagues and loved ones who enjoy duping us with practical jokes and pranks. It’s April Fool’s Day, the 24-hour period when we try to see how gullible people can be. All in good fun, of course.
It’s a tradition that dates back many centuries when nobles would send servants on “fool’s errands” to mark the beginning of Spring following the vernal equinox. The first printed reference occurred in Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” (1392) when the vain rooster is tricked by the fox on March 32nd (oops, April 1st).
Radio and TV stations have sometimes fooled their listeners and viewers into believing fake announcements and news stories broadcast during the early morning hours of April 1 in hopes of generating buzz and publicity. In 1961, the BBC announced a concert featuring the “distinguished and experimental” pianist Lirpa Loof that very evening. Of course, no concert occurred, as Lirpa Loof is “April Fool” backwards.
I recall one instance in the mid-1980s when the DJs on the “Morning Zoo” program at WMMS-FM in Cleveland generated outrage among their devoted rock and roll listeners by announcing a change in format from album-oriented rock to easy listening. The phone lines lit up like they were on fire until the prank was revealed a couple of hours later.
In honor of today’s commemoration of fools everywhere, I offer a playlist of 20 classic rock songs that focus on fooling someone, playing the fool, and embracing foolish things. There’s a Spotify playlist at the end (with 10 honorable mentions too) that should serve nicely as a soundtrack to your day. No foolin’!
“April Fool,” Ronnie Lane & Pete Townshend, 1977
Lane, formerly with Small Faces, invited The Who’s Townshend to produce his solo album “Rough Mix,” which turned into a full-blown collaboration between the two, with Townshend writing and singing most of the tracks. “April Fool,” however, was Lane’s tune, a gentle British folk song that bemoans a lost relationship: “She said, I’ll see you in the morning, darling, I’ll see you when the kids have gone to school, /Oh well, I know tomorrow is your birthday, I know you know that you’re an April Fool…”
“Chain of Fools,” Aretha Franklin, 1968
This excellent soul tune by Don Covay was one of The Queen of Soul’s signature songs, which rose to #2 and won a Grammy that year for Best R&B Song, and ranked #234 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs of All Time. The legendary Aretha, who recorded the track in one amazing take, wails about the betrayal and humiliation she feels when she learns her man has many lady friends: “For five long years, I thought you were my man, but I found out I’m just a link in your chain, chain-chain-chain, chain of fools…”
“Only a Fool Would Say That,” Steely Dan, 1972
Steely Dan’s outstanding debut LP, “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” is brimming with the kinds of irresistible melodies, undeniable hooks, flashy guitar solos and intriguing lyrics we soon learned to expect from maestros Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. One of the sleepers on the album is this compelling samba rock tune that spells out some of the foolish things people say: “I heard it was you talkin’ ’bout a world where all is free, it just couldn’t be, /And only a fool would say that…”
“Everybody Plays the Fool,” The Main Ingredient, 1972
This classic #3 hit single was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Song in 1973 and then enjoyed a second life when Aaron Neville’s version went to #8 in the early ’90s. The lyrics by veteran songwriters Rudy Clark and J.R. Bailey speak of the universal truth of how you feel when you love someone but that feeling is not reciprocated: “Everybody plays the fool sometimes, there’s no exception to the rule, it may be factual, it may be cruel, I ain’t lyin’, everybody plays the fool…”
“These Foolish Things,” Billie Holiday, 1936
This jazz/blues standard by a pair of British songwriters dates to the 1930s, and was first recorded by Billie Holiday in 1936. Dozens more renditions have been released through the decades by the likes of Nat King Cole, Etta James, Sam Cooke, Aaron Neville, James Brown, Bryan Ferry and Rod Stewart. The lyrics rattle off a number of “foolish things” that bring back memories of lost love: “The winds of March that make my heart a dancer, a telephone that rings but who’s to answer, oh how the ghost of you clings, these foolish things remind me of you…”
“What a Fool Believes,” The Doobie Brothers, 1979
Singer/songwriters Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins combined forces in 1978 to write this hugely popular song. Loggins recorded it first on his 1978 album “Nightwatch,” but it was The Doobie Brothers’ version featuring McDonald that became a worldwide #1 hit in 1979 and won multiple Grammys. The lyrics explore the feelings of a man who attempts to rekindle a romantic relationship with a woman from his past before learning no relationship ever really existed: “No wise man has the power to reason away, what seems to be is always better than nothing, there’s nothing at all but what a fool believes he sees…”
“Get Yourself Another Fool,” Sam Cooke, 1963
One of the greatest gospel and soul vocalists of all time, Cooke could also wrap his voice around a smooth blues number like this one from his 1963 LP “Night Beat.” You can also find it on the superlative compilation album “The Rhythm and the Blues.” The lyrics speak of the difficulty in learning how his lady has mistreated him: “Oh, at last I’ve awakened to see what you’ve done, what can I do but pack up and run, now I know the rules, get yourself another fool…”
“I Played the Fool,” Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, 1978
Steve Van Zandt, guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, produced and wrote many songs for this fabulous Jersey Shore band that never seemed able to make the charts, despite a killer catalog of great soul/R&B tunes like this one from the band’s “Hearts of Stone” LP. The lyrics bemoan how badly it hurts when you’ve been duped: “I’m just the kind of guy who never learns, I guess you had to go, why was I the last to know, I played the fool, girl, I did just what you expected…”
“Ship of Fools,” Bob Seger, 1976
While Seger’s “Night Moves” album — his first studio effort with The Silver Bullet Band — rocks out convincingly, there are a few acoustic tracks with mellower arrangements that show influence from artists like Dylan and Van Morrison. On “Ship of Fools,” Seger tells a sad tale of a sea captain who kept fiercely to himself, foolishly refusing to answer questions about his past. A storm claimed his life, but the narrator lived to tell the tale: “He stood there, like some idol, and he listened, like some temple, and then he turned away… I alone survived the sinking, I alone possessed the tools, on that ship of fools…”
“I Was a Fool to Care,” James Taylor, 1975
There are several tracks on Taylor’s mostly uplifting 1975 LP “Gorilla” that really tug at the heartstrings. Look no further than “I Was a Fool to Care,” which focuses on the pain of being hoodwinked by a former lover. His denial of her dishonesty only made the pain worse: “Had I listened to the grapevine, I might have had my doubts, but I did my level best just to block them out, /’Cause love is so unwise and love has no eyes, and it took a while for a fool to see what his friends were on about…”
“Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, 1956
One of rock ‘n roll’s earliest tunes, this classic reached #6 in early 1956 for the New York-based group when Lymon was only 15. Twenty-five years later in 1981, Diana Ross had a #7 hit with her vivacious rendition. The pessimistic lyrics, co-written by Lymon and two other members of The Teenagers, regard love as a dangerous place for gullible types: “Love is a losing game, love can be a shame, I know a fool you see, for that fool is me! /Tell me why, who do fools fall in love?…”
“Fool to Cry,” The Rolling Stones, 1976
Lead guitarist Mick Taylor had just left The Rolling Stones when this Jagger-Richards ballad was recorded in late 1974. It ended up as the first single from the group’s 1976 LP, “Black and Blue,” and reached #10 on the US singles chart. The lyrics describe a man who has the love of family and ought to feel grateful and happy but nevertheless feels sad and can’t seem to pinpoint why: “I put my head on her shoulder, she whispers in my ear so sweet, you know what she says? ‘Ooh, daddy, you’re a fool to cry, you’re a fool to cry, and it makes me wonder why’…”
“Who But a Fool,” Bonnie Raitt, 1986
Always a critic’s favorite, Raitt cultivated a modest but loyal fan base that consistently put her work in the Top 30 on the album charts throughout the ’70s. In the ’80s, she hit a rough patch before the overdue Grammy/platinum success of the early ’90s. The 1986 album “Nine Lines” did poorly, but it included a wonderfully funky track that wonders who falls for the man who steals hearts and is unfaithful: “Anybody on the street knows that you cheat, /The damage that you’re doin doesn’t cross your mind, /Steal the heart just like a thief, /Who but a fool lets a thief into paradise? Tell me, tell me, tell me, /Who??…”
“Fool on the Hill,” The Beatles, 1967
This wistful Paul McCartney ballad showed up in a scene from The Beatles’ haphazard experimental film project, “Magical Mystery Tour,” which followed the spectacular success of the “Sgt. Pepper” LP in late 1967. The Beatles never released “Fool on the Hill” as a single, but the Latin/jazz/bossa nova combo led by Sergio Mendes had a #8 US hit with their version the following spring. McCartney said the lyric refers to a solitary man — “kind of like the Maharishi with his giggle” — who is not well understood by others but is actually wise. “The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still, but nobody wants to know him, they can see that he’s just a fool…”
“Poor Damned Fool,” Harry Chapin, 1978
Chapin was a talented song craftsman, especially when it came to lyrics. He could tell a story that grabbed us by the lapels and pulled us in. On the otherwise lackluster LP “Living Room Suite,” this song shines through, taking an unusual approach in which the guy who gets the girl feels sorry for the guy before him who let her get away: “I’ve heard ’bout finders keepers, and how losers are the weepers, /It’s OK, I know it’s my lucky day, still I just got to say, /That he’s a poor damned fool ’cause he went and let you go now, /Just a poor damned fool, he never will know now…”
“A Fool’s Paradise,” Lazarus, 1973
The late Billie Hughes was the singer-songwriter-guitarist behind Lazarus, a three-man group from Texas who recorded only two albums in the early ’70s, but oh, what fine albums they were. Songs like “Blessed,” “Warmth of Your Eyes” and “Ladyfriends I and II” boast shimmering harmonies and Hughes’ strong tenor out front. On their second LP, the title track warns us not to get fooled by fleeting visions of a false Eden: “A fool’s paradise ain’t like another man’s you ever seen before, /And it looks oh so nice when you first walk in through them open doors, let me go, let me go back home, ’cause I just can’t go on this way…”
“Dancin’ Fool,” The Guess Who, 1974
When The Guess Who’s Burton Cummings wrote this song in 1974, he probably had no idea its title would become so widely used to describe anyone who’s crazy about dancing, whether they’re any good at it or not. It turned out to be the Canadian band’s last of 15 Top 40 hits, reaching #28. Here was a shy guy who hadn’t had the nerve to ask a girl to dance, but once he got out there, he found he had good moves: “Never thought that I could shake and groove it, now I’m a dancin’ fool, /No more time for feelin’ shy and lonely, now I’m a dancin’ fool…”
“Fool For the City,” Foghat, 1974
“Lonesome Dave” Peverett, lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Foghat, came up with this classic mid-’70s rocker, carried by the forceful guitar work of Rod Price. Born and raised in London, Peverett (formerly of Savoy Brown) wrote this after spending two months in the English countryside. “I like the beauty and quiet out there, but I found myself craving the excitement and chaos of the big city,” he said. “That’s where I belong.” Indeed: “Breathin’ all the clean air, sittin’ in the sun, when I get my train fare, I’ll get up and run, /I’m ready for the city, air pollution here I come, /’Cause I’m a fool for the city…”
“Fool in the Rain,” Led Zeppelin, 1979
Robert Plant and John Paul Jones collaborated on this invigorating track for Led Zep’s “In Through the Out Door” album after hearing the lively samba beats played during the World Cup in Argentina. Drummer John Bonham gets quite a workout as the tempo shifts from stutter-step rock to a Latin double-time. Plant devised the words about a poor sap who waits in the rain, looking for the girl who never shows up: “And I’ll run in the rain ’til I’m breathless, when I’m breathless I’ll run ’til I drop, /The thoughts of a fool’s kind of careless, I’m just a fool waiting on the wrong block…”
“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” The Who, 1971
One of the iconic anthems of rock ‘n roll is this seismic finale from The Who’s best LP, “Who’s Next.” The eight-minute track, one of the first to successfully integrate the synthesizer into a rock song, clocked in at more than eight minutes but was edited down to 3:35 for the single, which reached #15 in the US. Many have interpreted composer Pete Townshend’s lyrics as pro-revolutionary, but he insists it’s more about keeping realistic expectations where the government is concerned. “Me, I just pick up my guitar and play,” he said, “and I get on my knees and pray we don’t get fooled again…and again…and again…”
“Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” Elvin Bishop, 1976; “Poor Little Fool,” Ricky Nelson, 1958; “I Pity the Fool,” B.B. King & Buddy Guy, 1993; “Foolish Heart,” Grateful Dead, 1989; “The Bigger the Fool (The Harder the Fall),” Kris Kristofferson, 1978; “Fool For You,” James Taylor, 1972; “Ship of Fools,” Robert Plant, 1988; “Fool For Your Loving,” Whitesnake, 1980; “Dancin’ Fool,” Frank Zappa, 1979; “A Fool For Your Stockings,” ZZ Top, 1979; “You Fool No One,” Deep Purple, 1974, “Ship of Fools,” World Party, 1987.