The Beatles, “Hey Bulldog” (1969): Deep Cuts

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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.

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