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One Track Mind: The Beatles “Hey Bulldog”

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In February, 1968, before departing for an ill-fated trip to India for an extended course in transcendental meditation, the Beatles convened at the Abbey Road studios to cut a single that would keep them in the public eye while they were away. That single eventually became John Lennon & Paul McCartney’s “Lady Madonna” with George Harrison’s “The Inner Light” on the flip side. It was originally intended for Lennon’s “Across The Universe” to make it onto the single, but the group couldn’t decide how to record it. Lennon, however, did bring one more tune to the mini-sessions: “Hey Bulldog.”

Ever since I first heard the song over thirty years ago on the Rock And Roll Music compilation from 1976, “Hey Bulldog” has been my favorite Beatles song, and even today I can’t fully explain why. After all, it’s a toss off tune with lyrics that make little sense and the boys were goofing throughout the whole recording session. The song was originally supposed to be “Hey Bullfrog” until McCartney starts barking on it around the bridge’s last go around, setting off all the ad libs and repeated phrases of “hey bulldog” that ended the tune. You could say that this is not one of their most polished recordings.

However, it does boast one killer piano riff. And Lennon’s sneers convincingly on it, as when he sings “some kind of solitude is measured out in you/You think you know it but you haven’t got a clue.” Lennon was a slam dunk natural at conveying certain emotions in his singing and sneering was one of those.

Maybe another reason that makes the song endearing is that all the clowning going on that made it fun. Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick claims that this was the last time the Fab Four recorded a song in such an enthusiastic, jovial and team-oriented mood; when they returned again in May for the White Album sessions, the fun they had in making records together was largely gone. It’s no surprise that the band didn’t stay together much longer than a year after that.

This track didn’t see the light of day for almost a year, finally appearing as part of the Yellow Submarine soundtrack originally released early in 1969. There is an animated section in the movie featuring this song, but American audiences didn’t see it until 1999, when a new version of the flick was issued.

“Hey Bulldog,” as it turns out, is a rare Beatles studio track that was videotaped during the actual recording sessions. Some footage was needed to help make a promotional video for “Lady Madonna,” but the camera crew came out when the Beatles were already done with that song and had moved on to “Bulldog.” Yet, the raw footage to this was somehow left undiscovered all these years, even after the extensive research for the Anthology series, until around 1999. At that time, a promotional video to coincide with the Yellow Submarine re-issue was crafted that synced up the in-studio performances to the recording, and released by the three surviving Beatles. The result is what you see here:

“One Track Mind” is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.

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  • nicolas

    Yeah I loved Bulldog too. They knew at the time they were going to India and everybody was very excited.

    I’m not sure about the “ill-fated” thing though. What do you mean, “ill-fated”?

    As far as music, the Beatles never wrote that many songs EVER in their career: during the few months in India and just after, we got like about 50 new songs from the Beatles!!! That was incredible. And pretty much all of it went on to become a hit one way or another.

    Bless was the year the Beatles decided to visit India!

  • JC Mosquito

    There’s a whole lot of songs Len/Mac wrote but never recorded – they wrote quite a loto actually.

  • Thank you for posting the video clip, I’ve never seen that before. It’s one of my favourites too – and I too first heard it on Rock And Roll, I’d have it down as one of the Beatles’ best party records and a killer riff goes a long, long way. There must be some affection generated by the fact that it soundtracks one of the most effective sequences in Yellow Submarine too, It’s All Too Much works similarly well with the animation while suffering without it.

  • this is one of my fav!! actually is my ringphone

    Amazing, big riff, big solo, it was always like my little personal treasure until its released as a single.

    About the video: John & Paul singing together … beautiful, beautiful …

  • Stanz Man

    oh yea great Lennon vocal and killer harmonies from McCartney not to mention McCartney’s rollicking bass riff …and yea this was a toss off !!! wow most people would be happy to have this as one of their hits ~~

  • Thanks for the reminder of one of my favorite toss-offs — Bulldog’s always been a lot of fun, and I don’t mind when I can’t get it dislodged from my mind for what seems like hours on end…

  • Big Tom Wilson

    Love George’s solo and the signature guitar line. I think by “ill fated” he meant the stories planted in the press by “Magic Alex,” the Beatles’ hanger-on who (prior to Maharishi) would introduce himself as the Beatles’ “Guru.” Magic Al made up the stories about Maharishi fooling around with Mia Farrow (which Mia and her sister Prudence flatly denied). Sadly, John believed the stories and for a while denounced Maharishi, but the other Beatles kept meditating (Paul & Ringo still do). The press always gets the story wrong. I was there. In his last interview (Rolling Stone), John referred to Maharishi as the “father figure” of his life. Maybe he resolved it.

  • Wow, I had long thought I was among a very few who loved this song; always nice to see many others who agree with me.

    As for the “ill-fated” trip, Big Tom pretty much covered the explanation, including a few details I didn’t know about. Thanks for filling us in, BT.

  • Mark Dillman

    There is another song from the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack worth mentioning:

    “It’s All Too Much”

    I think this song is a psychedelic masterpiece. Even the finest books on the Beatles’ music fail to do more than mention it in passing. This has befuddled me ever since I first heard the song in 1969 when “Yellow Submarine” (motion picture & soundtrack LP) first came out. There are sounds in this song that are totally alien to me. I still have no idea how they made them, especially some of the percussion which almost sound like grunts from Mr. Lennon but I’m just not sure.

    For years I only guessed that “Hey Bulldog” was a number cut from the film. George’s guitar solo, Paul’s melodic bass notes, and Ringo’s stop and start percussion all march through the tune with almost military-like precision.

    In fact, I have always thought that all four tunes by the Beatles originally submitted for the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack are among their finest work, especially “It’s All Too Much.” Long ago I tired of reading comments like “throwaway” and “tossed-off” in regard to these songs. “After all, its JUST A CARTOON” seemes to be the attitude. I though Beatle fans would know better.

    Remember, too, that when “Yellow Submarine”, the motion picture, was released, the golden age of animated cartoons was over and even the bronze age was very quickly ending. This wonderful cartoon movie came out during what was quickly becoming a dark-age-like period for animated cartoons.

    I tend to feverishly defend “Yellow Submarine”. I think it is a masterpiece.

  • Mike

    Well, once again, it’s a masterpiece of McCartney bass work, too… very thick!! …