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notes on ...

Notes on "Hey Bulldog"


Notes on ... Series #159 (HB)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: C Major / c minor
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Verse (instrumental) |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Outro (fade-out)
        CD: "Yellow Submarine", Track 4 (Parlophone CDP7 46445-2)
        CD: "Yellow Submarine Songtrack", Track 2 (EMI 5 21481-2)
  Recorded: 11th February 1968, Abbey Road 3
UK-release: 17th January 1969 (LP "Yellow Submarine")
US-release: 13th January 1969 (LP "Yellow Submarine")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note There's a rare number of days each one of us is given even if you're a Beatle, that are impossible to plan for, but on which all matters, manners, and influences just seem to fall in place, "so perfectly well timed." For my money, this song happened on one such day.
  Next note Based on his listen to the unedited studio tapes, Lewisohn was moved to note the "undoubtedly ... productive mood" at the session of the 11th February of 1968 in which "Hey Bulldog" was arranged and recorded in its entirety; see Lewisohn's "Recording Sessions", page 134. Independent of whatever social cues from behind the curtain that he was reacting to, I dare say his observation is vividly borne out by the effect (and "affect") of the finished product.
  Next note "Hey Bulldog" is easily the most substantive and significant of the four new songs recorded for the "Yellow Submarine" film. Nowadays the song enjoys a cult-like popularity and high regard among the cognoscenti that I am convinced is amplified and enhanced in part by the song's accidental, relative obscurity; cut eventually from the film, and relegated to the middle of a single-song-sided album that many neglect to include in their collections.
  Next note But don't kid yourself, this song needs no hype nor twist of fate in order to deserve attention. Compositionally it's got something for everyone. Musically, it creates a paradoxical mood, equal parts kick-ass and jumping-jittery; quite uncannily in sympathy with the helluva mixed message delivered by the lyrics. Do you really believe the protagonist is interested in talking to you if you're lonely?
  Next note The formal outline is similar to what we've described elsewhere as the Two Bridge Model with a pair of middle verses, one of which is instrumental. But there also are some novel innovations:
  • The "bridge" is closer in style to what we'd call a refrain; without the track listing, you might have assumed that the song was titled "If You're Lonely (You Can Talk To Me)".
  • The second refrain proceeds directly into an extended outro; there is no final verse.
  • The introductory riff is virtually ubiquitous; reappearing at the end of the refrain section, becoming further developed in the outro, and even influencing the tune of the refrain.
  • The title phrase doesn't appear until the outro! You think it's been there, if not all along, then early on, but look carefully; the opening couplet speak only of a sheep dog, and a bull frog. So clever is Mr. Lennon with the wordplay.
  Next note The changeable, off-beat scanning of the words against the beat contributes as much to the underlying subtext of the song as any other musical element.
  Next note Note how the first lines of the verse and guitar solo switch around the choice of resting on the downbeat versus the syncopated hit on "two":
   |1           &        2      &     3       &       4      &       |
    «rest»      Sheep    DOG
    STANDing    in the   rain

     DA -   da- da- da-  dah
     «rest» da- da- da-  DAH

   [Figure 159.1]
  Next note The refrain opens with a threepeat of the same phrase, scanned differently each time to climactic effect. Significant details include the large number of syllables syncopated on either the eighth or (even sharper) sixteenth of a beat, the fact that the second and third repeats are in identical rhythm but start off in a different half of the measure, and the way that the contrasting final phrase starts off with even eighths:
   |1         &       2       &       3       &       4       &       |
   |You       can     -       talk    -       -       to      me      |
   |-         -       -       -       You can -  talk -       to   me |
   |-         -       -       -       -       -       -       -       |
   |You  can  -  talk -       to  me  -       -       If      you're  |
   |Lone-     ley     you     can     talk    -       to      me      |

   [Figure 159.2]
  Next note The opening riff features alternating off-beat syncopations in close proximity to each other, on the last sixteenth before "three" and "three-and".

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The home key mode shifts repeatedly: minor for the intro, outro, and refrains, and Mixolydian-tinged Major for the verses. A touch of the blues prevails above all throughout the song. Therefore, even those supposedly Major mode verses are shot through with flat thirds and sevenths.
  Next note The above factor send the chords of the song off toward the "flat" side of the circle of fifths, with a naturally occurring flat-VII chord and the v appearing unusually as a minor chord. See our note on "She Said She Said" for a broader discussion of this type of modal harmony.
  Next note The refrain features a rising chromatic line in one of the inner voices that is a stock dramatic gambit of sorts, used earlier by John most conspicuously on "Glass Onion".


  Next note The backing track includes a relatively small complement of piano, bass, drums, and lead guitar. The incessant pounding eighth note piano chords and the bouncing off the walls bassline are critical success factors.
  Next note The final mix features a more elaborate than usual build out of the stereo image well worth your checking out by comparing the two channels. Some casual notes to guide your own more careful study:
  • The bass part appears to be split between the two tracks, as well as the lead guitar ostinato riff. But most everything else seems isolated to one side or the other.
  • The left channel features piano and drum kit with just a scattering of guitar licks. John's solo lead vocal appears only for the refrains. Here, too, is where you find the stray "yeah" (Ringo, again?) in the third verse.
  • The right channel features a two-part vocal for the verses sung by John and Paul[?] in surprisingly out of tune counterpoint. A heavily echoed drum track with hard shots on the off-beats shows up here for the refrains.
  • The outro sustains the pattern with the left channel isolated to the backing track and all the crazy barking and chatter isolated to the right.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro provides the classic-Beatles three-paired exposition of a catchy ostinato (read "riff") figure, with the predictable staggered entrances of the backing instruments.
  Next note The riff itself is in an AA' pattern in which the two-step chromatic rise of the A figure is cutely mirrored by a symmetrical descent in A'.
  Next note I'm tempted to assign this gambit of building the start of a track on the layered repeat of an ostinato to an entry on my canonical list of Beatles' trademarks-bordering-on-cliché. Take a look for starters at the likes "Ticket to Ride", "Day Tripper", and "I Want to Tell You".
  Next note By the same token, someone ought to do a sidebar on the non-Beatles' prequel and sequels to the same technique. Off the top of my head, I think of the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil". But where, indeed did the technique originate Pre-Beatles?


  Next note The verse is a four-square eight measures long with a phrasing pattern of AABB':
      |C              |g              |C              |g              |
   C:  I               v               I               v

      |B-flat   g     |F              |B-flat   g     |C              |
       flat-VII v      IV              flat-VII v      I

   [Figure 159.3]
  Next note The off-center impact of the Mixolydian/Blues/Minor overlap is strongly in evidence here. The minor v chord may not destroy your sense of the home key being C, but it does a much weaker job of reinforcing that fact than a Major V chord would. Given the sense of modulation to the unusual key of flat-VII that you feel during the second group of four measures, ask yourself honestly: does the final C chord in measure eight still sound like the I chord of the home key, or more like a V-of-V in the key of B-flat?


  Next note Here, the mode switches to minor.
      |G     Ab    |A-nat Bb    |C     Db    |D-nat Eb    |...        |
      |c           |-           |f           |-           |c     f    |
   c:  i                         iv                        i     iv

      |c           |-           |-           |-           |

   [Figure 159.4]
  Next note The dramatic rhetoric of the vocal part is amplified by the lengthening of the first phrase to an uneven five measures, and the slowdown of the harmonic rhythm; the chromatic rise in this section does not effect the harmony at a "grammatical" level.
  Next note The abbreviated reprise of the intro at the end of this section provides well needed space from the confrontational heat of the first half of the section.


  Next note This extended outro cleverly exploits ideas and material already presented: the ostinato is now deployed over a chord change; the random studio chat barely overheard during the guitar solo blossoms into a stage-center vignette; and the title phrase is finally placed in evidence, both explicitly, and by virtue of the barking noises and the like around which the "vignette" centers.
  Next note The ostinato figure gets through a full twelve iterations before the final fade-out:
      |C               |g               |...
   C:  I                v

   [Figure 159.5]
  Next note Here we have another one of that short list of Beatles' double fade-outs on record. In this case, the first fade-out is suddenly interrupted and the sound shifted up to full volume during repeat number eight, seemingly in response to John's having teased "the bulldog" into one particularly ripping bark.
  Next note That earlier appearance of background chatter in the guitar solo and the very first "woof" appearing in the final refrain (before the outro, proper, commences) subtly make the events of the outro seem more inevitable and less arbitrary.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note While it remains less infamous than, say, "Strawberry Fields Forever" or "Helter Skelter", the ending of this song is part of a pattern that could rightfully be called yet another Beatles' "trademark".
  Next note This penchant for making an outro the ultimate focal point of a track, to leverage it as an opportunity to further develop material heard earlier, or to surprise us with some MacLuhanesque F/X germane to the medium of recorded sound has had a lasting impact on the way we perceive the form and proportions of the so-called pop song down to the current time! I dare say it bears some analogy to what Beethoven did for the coda section of Sonata form; the latter, kind of outro of its own kind.
  Next note But where are the roots of this idea? We're more used to finding the deepest innovations of the Beatles in their synthesis of techniques and gambits taken from other artists and genres, rather than in pure new invention per se. Yet, can anyone out there put examples of extended, tricky outros on the table that are antecedent to those of your Own Sweet Boys? It's a good topic for a term paper ... or longer!
  Alan (121398#159)
Copyright © 1998 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.