Hey Bulldog (1969)
Legend has it that the “Hey Bulldog” session was the last time The Beatles really and truly played as a band in which all the members were integral cogs, and was also the last time they all had fun together. Indisputably, for a song with lyrics filled by many strange reflections and brain-teasing aphorisms, it does come across as a lot of fun and surely is one of The Beatles’ Grade A prime rockers.
It draws heavily on 1959′s “Money (That’s What I Want)” performed by Barrett Strong for one of Motown’s under-labels, Anna Records. The Beatles covered and thumped out “Money” resoundingly in their early years.
“Money” by Barrett Strong, 1959
“Money” by The Beatles
“Hey Bulldog” also is a gassed up riff on the Fabs’ own “Lady Madonna.” It is primarily a Lennon song, “Madonna” a McCartney tune. The two songs are entwined like a honeysuckle and its host tree. The promotional video for “Lady Madonna” (recorded March ’68) was in part made up of snippets of the studio filming of “Hey Bulldog” (recorded February ’68). (See Mangoids box at bottom.)
Other older R&B songs that influenced “Hey Bulldog” are “I’m Walking” by Fats Domino (1957); “Speedo” by The Cadillacs (1955) and Jerry Lee Lewis’s adrenaline-infused “Great Balls Of Fire” (also 1957).
The track comes out of the starting blocks with John Lennon’s pounding, ominous piano that cues an equally strong, lapel-grabbing bass line by Paul McCartney. He later went back and dubbed in additional bass work with a fuzztone slapped onto it.
The lyrics of “Hey Bulldog” (originally Lennon had written it as “Hey Bullfrog”) are a combination of nonsense lyrics and profundity that often marked John’s writing in the middle to late period of The Beatles.
No one understands
In your sweaty hands
Some kind of innocence
is measured out in years
You don’t know what it’s like
to listen to your fears
Much of this is no sharp contrast from “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” (Mother Superior jump the gun); “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” (Now she sucks her thumb and wonders/By the banks of her old lagoon) and “Come Together” (He got monkey finger, he shoot coca-cola/He say “I know you, you know me”/One thing I can tell you is you got to be free.)
But the two real stories are the hard-driving instruments throughout the song and then the madhouse spoken interchange as the song fades out.
George Harrison delivers one of his best lead lines and solos, projecting a wailing and gnashing of teeth, as if he were airing out some very deep personal grievance. It’s an angry, assertive guitar, out of character for the usually mysticism-enamored Harrison. It harks back to his earliest work when The Beatles rocked and rolled with the best of them.
McCartney’s bass lines are dazzling, simple in a way, but filling in the spaces between. If he painted rather than played bass, we would be talking about his use of “negative space.” He fills, but just enough. As usual, he works beautifully with both Lennon – who in this case is working both the piano and rhythm guitar parts – and George’s screaming guitar. It is always a given that he and Ringo work well on the rhythm side and “Hey Bulldog” is no exception.
Atop that, Ringo’s drumming is a master turn. He backbeats it, he slaps it, he shuffles, he sends out the snare drum like a tail gunner’s rounds and he does straight up Rock drumming. He is the under-sung Beatle, and he is one of the most-dismissed pop drummers of the era. In fact, he is the consummate team player, a guy with a load of talent willing to do his part and never ever make a mistake.
After the third, final, verse and repeated chorus, to end the tune the band descends into a super-strobe maelstrom of humorous goings-on – barking, snapping out goofball spoken lines, creating the kind of fun chaos and goodwill that launched them to the top of the heap five years earlier.
Underneath the hilarity the band cooks like a blast furnace.
Hey man, what’s that noise?
What d’you say?
I said woof!
D’you know anymore?
Wooaah ha ha ha!
You’ve got it, that’s great!
That’s right! That’s it, man, hoo!
Give it to me, man, hurry!
I’ve got ten children, ho!
[Laughing and noise] Quiet boy, quiet!
- The video (in the first slot, at left) is the only one ever shot in the studio as The Beatles were actually in the midst of recording a song.
- John Lennon said of “Hey Bulldog”: “It’s a good sounding record that means nothing.”
- The song was recorded, additional tracks added and mixed during a single 10-hour session.
Also by The Beatles on SongMango.com:
- A Day In The LifeWhen the transition occurs between the two songs we are totally unprepared, the shift so unpredictable, abrupt yet so smooth.
- I'm Only SleepingIt's not about drugs. It’s about the big snooza-palooza, one of Lennon's lifelong "passions." Hey, nap dog.
- She Loves YouThe yeah-yeah-yeah’s are a foundational assertion that signaled the start of the 1960s. The '60s of lofty legend and conservative loathing.
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps An odd mood, unyielding rhythm, Eric Clapton’s spot lead guitar, plus palpable group tension turn the work into a major masterpiece.