The Rocking Beatles Song John Lennon Said Sounded Good but ‘Means Nothing’
Looking back on his work with The Beatles, John Lennon said he didn’t really have a favorite Fab Four album. And his reasoning was fairly simple. “I’m not an album person,” he told Playboy in 1980. “There’s too many fill-ins and padding. I like the inspired stuff, not the created, clever stuff.”
John didn’t hesitate to lump Beatles songs into this “fill-in” category. In some cases, it was a song written for Ringo, but in others (e.g., “Michelle“) the band simply needed another track so a record like Rubber Soul would go out on deadline.
When John worked on a track he hoped would become a single (e.g., “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Across the Universe”), he might try several different approaches until he got the right sound. But when he just wanted to bang out a B-side, he didn’t sweat it so much.
Outside of the singles they’d already released, Yellow Submarine was basically a collection of B-sides. And John didn’t hold “Hey Bulldog,” his original song on the soundtrack, in very high esteem.
John described ‘Hey Bulldog’ as cool-sounding but meaningless
Before The Beatles went off to India to study meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, they wanted to get some recordings done to be released in their absence. “Lady Madonna,” a single slotted to be issued in March ’68, was a product of those sessions.
To go with the single, the Fab Four made a promo video for “Lady Madonna.” And since they had to go into the studio anyway, John decided to record a song he’d started at home. That turned out to be the rocking “Hey Bulldog.”
Because of its placement on the soundtrack, “Hey Bulldog” never got the same sort of play other Beatles songs have. However, it has a driving rhythm and some clever Lennon lyrics (along with a solid George Harrison guitar solo). Over the years, it’s become a favorite deep cut for many Fab fans.
“Some kind of solitude is / Measured out in you,” John sings in one verse. (The chorus also sticks with the listener.) But when John was asked about it, he didn’t rate “Hey Bulldog” highly at all. “It’s a good-sounding record that means nothing,” he told David Sheff in 1980.
The ‘Hey Bulldog’ video wasn’t uncovered until the ’90s
While spinning “Hey Bulldog” on the turntable is enjoyable enough, the footage of the recording session offers a real treat for Beatles fans. You can see the band running through their various parts before John and Paul McCartney ad-libbed the goofy end to the song.
But this footage didn’t turn up until 1999. Once The Beatles had their “Lady Madonna” promo and sound recording of “Hey Bulldog,” everyone probably considered the matter closed. Even when the vaults got opened for the Anthology project, this footage remained lost.
However, a longtime Beatles associate recognized it as the recording of “Hey Bulldog” and had it synced to the music. Considering the dark times that came in ’68 and ’69 (the White Album and Let It Be sessions), it’s a beautiful thing seeing the Fab Four have this much fun together before they called it quits — fill-in song or not.