The classic Beatles song John Lennon described as ‘meaningless’
We’re continuing our odyssey through The Beatles extensive back catalogue to look back at some of their finest songs—well, the best ones if you don’t consider John Lennon’s opinion.
John Lennon would never shy away from letting you know his opinion, either. The singer and songwriter for The Beatles had become quietly accustomed to his position of power in the music business and wasn’t afraid of sharing his caustic views once in a while—even when it concerned the iconic Liverpudlian band. In fact, for the most part, in Lennon’s eyes, only The Beatles could remark on the Fab Four.
During his interviews, especially after the band’s split, Lennon spent a fair bit of time offering up harsh reviews on The Beatles’ work following their disbandment in 1970. His main problem was not with their standout singles, he appreciated most of them for what they were as chart-topping “toe tappers” or “pot boilers”, but the songs he called “fill-ins” were always up for debate.
“I’m not an album person,” Lennon told Playboy in 1980. “There’s too many fill-ins and padding. I like the inspired stuff, not the created, clever stuff,” he said in reference to The Beatles and the latter-day pursuit of creative purity. It’s a story that checks out too.
The musician would spend several takes getting things right when he and the band were approaching their finer material like ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ or ‘Across The Universe’. However, when it came to album fillers, they were quick to rush through them and get them on the tape as quickly as possible.
The group would often find new tracks to fill the song quota for a new album if they were out of other ideas and deadlines were looming. There was also the chance that Ringo Starr or George Harrison fancied a song or two on the record, something the rest of the band likely tolerated but not relished. It meant that according to Lennon, a fair chunk of the Beatles back catalogue can be forgotten.
The same can be said for the band’s collection of B-sides on Yellow Submarine. One of which John Lennon deemed to be “meaning nothing”. The cause of surprise, however, comes as the aforementioned song may well be one of our favourite numbers from the Fab Four; the classic track ‘Hey Bulldog’.
As the band were preparing to head off to India to study meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi they needed to squeeze in some recordings which could be released while they were out there. One single scheduled for release was ‘Lady Madonna’.
To go alongside the single the band even made a classic promo video. As they already had the studio in place, the band decided to also record a new song Lennon had been jamming on at home. It was the bouncing rhythm of ‘Hey Bulldog’. Perhaps because of the song’s placement on the record the song never really grabbed the attention of fans at the time of release.
Paul McCartney said of the song: “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. We always tried to make every song different because we figured, ‘Why write something like the last one? We’ve done that.’
“We were on a ladder so there was never any sense of stepping down a rung, or even staying on the same rung, it was better to move one rung ahead.”
Instead, it’s since grown into a favoured deep cut. As musos and fans continue to paw over the band’s entire discography, one thing must be remembered, Lennon described the song to David Sheff in 1980 as “a good-sounding record that means nothing.”
But while it may have meant nothing to John Lennon, the beauty of The Beatles, and indeed art itself, is that we can look and relook at the work and find new textures, new patterns and new expression. It means a lot to us now.