Released on the soundtrack to the Yellow Submarine animation, ‘Hey Bulldog’ was written and recorded while The Beatles were being filmed for a promotional film for ‘Lady Madonna’.

The song started life as ‘Hey Bullfrog’, based on a few ideas sketched out by John Lennon. The line ‘Some kind of solitude is measured out in you’ was originally ‘measured out in news’, but Paul McCartney claimed to have misread Lennon’s handwriting.

Paul said we should do a real song in the studio, to save wasting time. Could I whip one off? I had a few words at home so I brought them in.
John Lennon
The Beatles, Hunter Davies

The title came about after McCartney made a barking sound during the session, as he and Lennon ad-libbed during the finale. The Beatles decided to keep the barking in, and changed the title to ‘Hey Bulldog’ to fit.

Hunter Davies also recounted how Lennon originally tried playing a sitar on the track, strumming it like George Formby’s banjolele and singing in a Lancashire accent. Although an intriguing proposition, The Beatles were unable to work this into the song.

Musically, the song harks back to the early R&B riffs of songs such as ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’, and retains a similar blues feel as ‘Lady Madonna’ – the two songs were combined on the Love album.

An animated sequence for ‘Hey Bulldog’ was made for the Yellow Submarine film, although it was originally included only in European prints.

That’s me, ’cause of the Yellow Submarine people, who were gross animals apart from the guy who drew the paintings for the movie. They lifted all the ideas for the movie out of our heads and didn’t give us any credit. We had nothing to do with that movie, and we sort of resented them. It was the third movie that we owed United Artists. Brian had set it up and we had nothing to do with it. But I liked the movie, the artwork. They wanted another song, so I knocked off ‘Hey Bulldog’. It’s a good-sounding record that means nothing.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The recording of ‘Hey Bulldog’, unusually, was captured by a film crew. As The Beatles were preparing to travel to India, a promotional film for ‘Lady Madonna’ was commissioned, to be issued in their absence.

The ‘Hey Bulldog’ animated sequence was restored for the 1999 worldwide re-release of Yellow Submarine. At the same time Apple revisited the original studio footage of The Beatles and synchronised it with the song, to create a new promo clip.

When we were in the studio recording ‘Bulldog’, apparently it was at a time when they needed some footage for something else, some other record, and a film crew came along and filmed us. Then they cut up the footage and used some of the shots for something else. But it was Neil Aspinall who found out that when you watched and listened to what the original thing was, we were recording ‘Bulldog’. This was apparently the only time we were actually filmed recording something, so what Neil did was, he put it all back together again and put the ‘Bulldog’ soundtrack onto it, and there it was.

‘Hey Bulldog’ was later cited by The Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick as one of their final true group efforts, with equal contributions from all members. Following their Indian jaunt The Beatles’ sense of togetherness began to sour; they tended to work separately, with increasingly frequent disagreements which eventually led to their split.

In the studio

On 11 February The Beatles recorded, completed and mixed ‘Hey Bulldog’ during a 10-hour session. The basic rhythm tracks consisted of piano, drums, tambourine, lead guitar and bass.

By take 10 they had a good version, and so onto this were overdubbed more drums, fuzz bass, a guitar solo, double tracked lead vocals by John Lennon and backing vocals from Paul McCartney.

I remember ‘Hey Bulldog’ as being one of John’s songs and I helped him finish it off in the studio, but it’s mainly his vibe. There’s a little rap at the end between John and I; we went into a crazy little thing at the end.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

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Next song: ‘It’s All Too Much’
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