This was always one of my favorite John songs:
Great guitar and piano riff; fucking stupendous lead guitar break!
But man! Did this song ever get screwed over!
It was recorded in February of 1968, but not released until January of 1969, as part of the sound track album for the animated movie Yellow Submarine. It was one of four new Beatles songs on the soundtrack album for that film - an album that is, by far, The Beatles' crappiest ... even worse than Let It Be, which is saying something. Yellow Submarine ran to album length only because side one was fleshed out to six songs with the inclusion of the previously-released songs "Yellow Submarine" (duh) and "All You Need is Love", the former having been released in the Summer of 1966, the latter, Summer 1967.
Side two of this alleged Beatles album is comprised entirely of incidental music from the movie, and none of it is Beatles music; the seven instrumentals on this side were all written by George Martin, the Beatles' producer.
It need hardly be pointed out that the Beatles themselves wanted nothing to do with this film; it was made only because they were contractually obliged to supply United Artists with a third film. The Beatles didn't even do the voices of their own cartoon counterparts in the film - voice actors were hired, instead1. This being the Beatles' attitude toward the film, it should come as no surprise that they didn't bother to write any songs specifically for the film - they just handed over songs they already had in the can that remained unreleased because they were considered to be of inferior quality.
One of those songs was "Hey Bulldog".
What a shame! Because I agree that George's "It's All Too Much" and "Only a Northern Song" and Paul's "All Together Now" are pretty unremarkable - crappy, even ... by Beatles standards. But "Hey Bulldog" is a truly great song.
To add insult to injury, the "Hey Bulldog" sequence in the film Yellow Submarine (see video above) was removed from the final cut2! The best new song in the film ended up on the editing room floor.
The Beatles recorded "HB" at around the same time they recorded "Lady Madonna", which was their Spring 1968 single. It was decided that they needed a promotional film for "LM" because the Beatles would be away in India when it was released and therefore wouldn't be available for interviews to promote it. And so a crew was allowed in to film the Beatles as they recorded "Hey Bulldog"3. The footage was edited randomly and used to accompany "Lady Madonna":
(Dig John's farrrrrrrr out mutton-chops!)
Then, years later, someone realized that the actual song the Beatles were recording here was "Hey Bulldog", and the footage's sequence was restored and synced to the recording of "HB":
This was truly The Rodney Dangerfield of Beatles Songs: It got no respect ... no respect at all.
When "Lady Madonna" was released in mid-March 1968, it was backed with ... George's "The Inner Light".
So "Hey Bulldog" got dissed again. John (who wrote "HB") didn't seem to mind. He never thought much of the song, especially the lyrics4. But what a single "Lady Madonna"/"Hey Bulldog" would have been5!
Originally, there was no bulldog mentioned in the lyrics of the song (though there was that "Sheepdog/ Standin' in the rain"); the song was renamed "Hey Bulldog" after Paul started barking at the end, after which he and John riffed the iterated "Hey Bulldog!" ending.
A remarkable song, especially considering that it was conceived and recorded essentially as an afterthought.
1 To the Beatles' apparent surprise, the film turned out to be a pretty groovy bit of psychedelia - clever and eminently entertaining (with a screenplay written in part by none other than Erich (Love Story) Segal!); after seeing a rough cut, they were impressed enough by the film to agree to appear in a live-action cameo coda.
2 In the US version, at least. In Europe, it was retained. The sequence was put back in the US theatrical reissue in 1999 .
3 This is the only film that exists of the Beatles recording a song in the studio.
4 Which, you can plainly see, neither he nor Paul committed to memory before recording the song - they're reading the lyrics from a sheet of paper as they sing it.
5 I don't mean this as an insult to "The Inner Light", which is itself a pretty song.