The Beatles, “Fixing a Hole” from Sgt. Pepper’s (1967): Deep Beatles

An underrated track from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “Fixing a Hole” reveals the more eccentric side of Paul McCartney’s songwriting. More than that, however, the lyrics reflect the personal journeys many young adults were undertaking during the Summer of Love. Melding old and new in terms of genres and philosophy, “Fixing a Hole” retains some mystery, thanks to McCartney’s varying explanations of the words’ origins.

“Fixing a Hole” contains lyrics open to interpretation, and McCartney appears to prefer it that way. In 1967, he claimed it addressed the fans who loitered outside his home. “It’s really about the fans who hang around outside your door day and night. ‘See the people standing there / They worry me, and never win / And wonder why they don’t get in my door,’” McCartney said then. “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, ‘Don’t let us in.’”

Thirty years later, McCartney told biographer Barry Miles that the lyrics actually referred to pot and his freedom to smoke it, and they addressed his newfound independence: “‘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 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,” McCartney adds in Many Years From Now. “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 wan’t allow that to happen any more, I’ll take hold of my life a bit more. … 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. … I like the double meaning of ‘If I’m wrong I’m right where I belong.'”

Recording began on February 9, 1967 not at Abbey Road, but at Regent Sound Studios — a rare deviation from the Beatles’ routine. Abbey Road Studios was unavailable for the evening, thus forcing the venue change. Geoff Emerick points out in his memoir Here, There, and Everywhere that he and second engineer Richard Lush were unable to attend this initial session, as they were EMI employees and not freelancers (unlike George Martin). After the group rehearsed the song numerous times, Martin finally rolled the tapes, assisted by engineer Adrian Ibbetson.

Confusion as to who played which instrument and the number of takes the Beatles completed lingered, with Martin, Lush, and Neil Aspinall recalling details differently. The 2017 50th anniversary edition, however, finally settles the debate. According to the Deluxe Edition book, the Beatles completed three takes during the session. However, takes one and two were the same. Take one was “bounced” or moved back to the four track from another machine (thus creating take two); take three was complete but ultimately unused.

Track one contains Paul McCartney on harpsichord, as well as Ringo Starr playing drums and maracas. Track two consists of the bass, presumably played by John Lennon. Next, McCartney recorded his guide vocal on track four, then doubled tracked his vocal on track one. In order to make room for George Harrison’s guitar solo, both vocals were combined on track four, while the bass, harpsichord, drums, and maracas were dubbed to track one. Harrison recorded the solo on track two, then double-tracked it on track three (which also contains backing vocals).

The night the Beatles recorded “Fixing a Hole” at Regent Sound Studios, McCartney brought along an interesting guest. Before he left for the studio, a man knocked on McCartney’s door, announcing he was Jesus Christ. “I said, ‘well, you’d better come in then,'” McCartney told Miles. “I thought, well, it probably isn’t. But if he is, I’m not going to be the one to turn him away.”

After politely chatting with the stranger, McCartney strangely invited him to sit in on the recording session. “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,” McCartney recalled. As they walked in, McCartney introduced the man as Jesus to the other Beatles. “We had a bit of a giggle over that,” he said. The man did remain quiet, and the Beatles never saw “Jesus” again after that night.

When the Beatles returned to “Fixing a Hole” on February 21 — now back at Abbey Road — George Martin and Paul McCartney recorded additional harpsichord and bass, respectively. After reduction mixes were completed, according to the 50th anniversary book, the final master included two bass parts, two harpsichords, and two drum tracks. Five mono mixes were completed during this session (remixes two to six), and an edit joined remix three and six to create the final mono master. The anniversary book states this occurs at 2:06.

“Fixing a Hole” is a fascinating merger of old and new in terms of sound and philosophy. The opening harpsichord suggests a curtain rising on a stage, with McCartney assuming the role of a jaunty narrator straight out of vaudeville. Yet the lyrics reflect cultural and political changes of 1967, of personal growth and growing independence.

Getting Better” and “She’s Leaving Home” can be seen as thematic companion pieces to this track, which further details someone altering his personal outlook, consequences be damned. The first two verses involve the narrator “fixing a hole where the rain gets in” and “filing the tracks that ran through the door,” both metaphors for social convention discouraging him from wallowing in daydreams. Toward the bridge, the music resembles a march as McCartney proclaims his manifesto: “It really doesn’t matter / If I’m wrong, I’m right / Where I belong, I’m right.” In other words, the narrator can do as he pleases, which may involve making mistakes.

He immediately chastises those who disagree with his views: “See the people standing there / Who disagree and never win / And wonder why they don’t get in my door.” While McCartney later claimed he was referring to fans hanging outside his home, the lines could also refer to naysayers. As he told Barry Miles, “all those pissy people who told you, ‘Don’t daydream, don’t do this, don’t do that.’” The second bridge more explicitly scolds the naysayers: “Silly people run around / Who worry me and never ask me / Why they don’t get past my door.” Clearly these “silly people” are not on the narrator’s wavelength and do not share his enlightened views.

Several lines in “Fixing a Hole” also sum up the general themes of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, such as “I’m painting the room in a colorful way” and “I’m taking the time for a number of things / That weren’t important yesterday.” Clearly the protagonist is undergoing personal change, opening himself up to new experiences; Paul McCartney may have been referring to pot, but the lyrics could also describe breaking away from 1950s conservative views.

Unusual chord changes, particularly in the “ooh ooh” sections, further distinguish this Beatles song from what initially appears to be a vaudevillian ode. George Harrison’s blistering, fuzzy guitar solo firmly places the track in 1967 and in the rock tradition; it also represents one of his more underrated performances. The 2017 remix fully reveals the galloping bass, while Ringo Starr’s drumming remains steady and slightly reminiscent of a soft-shoe shuffle.

Clashing generations, contrasting musical styles, breaking with convention: all of these elements interweave to form the Beatles’ “Fixing a Hole,” one of the odder yet revealing compositions on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It accurately describes the Summer of Love, the counterculture movement, and a new generation’s desire to “paint the room in a colorful way.”

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kit O'Toole
  • Jerry Edinger

    This song has stayed in my top 5 list for many years. It has a quality about it that very, very few songs have. It’s not an easy song to comment on. As some would say, ” No word has reached it, no tongue has soiled it.”

    • Kit O’Toole

      Indeed–it’s a complicated track that defies easy explanation!

  • KFC Owens

    Very good article. Thank you.