If you ever ride in my car, you will immediately notice that my favorite Sirius channels are quite eclectic. I frequently channel surf from Jazz, Classical, and Soul and Today’s Hits and Classic Vinyl (although I dislike vinyl) with lots of stops in between, including Classic Country and all that soft pop stuff found on The Bridge.
Yes, I also listen to all those generational channels devoted to hits from various decades, from the 1950s through the 2000s. Most people are amazed that I frequently listen to contemporary music, alternating between Ed Sheeran and Claude Debussy (twin brothers from different time zones). Needless to say, I was tuned in on May 18 to hear the very first song–”All You Need Is Love”–played on the new Beatles channel. I have noticed that several of the Sirius pop channels are now featuring occasional Beatles tunes in their playlists, but I was taken aback when I heard the not-so-well-known Beatles’ song “Hey, Bulldog” on the Today’s Hits channel (Hits 1). In fact, this song is featured in heavy rotation on that channel and has developed quite a fanbase. Yes, if you listen long enough (which won’t be that long) you will hear the song sandwiched in between the likes of Frank Montana, Shawn Mendes, Ed Sheeran, The Chainsmokers, Halsey, Julia Michaels, Panic At The Disco, and Hailee Steinfeld.
According to a Jim Harrington piece for a recent edition of The Mercury News, “it was ‘Hey Bulldog’ mania, as–intentionally or not–fans were reportedly getting an old-fashioned one-song marathon on Hits 1 channel.” Why did this happen? No one seems to know. Maybe the station was hacked (by the Russians, perhaps?), maybe it was a not-so-clever (but attention-grabbing) promo for the new Beatles channel, or quite possibly a new outbreak of Beatlemania. In any event, it is always interesting to mix-and-match the Beatles with Liam Payne and friends.
Because of this phenomenon, we have seen the appearance of several new online featurettes, such as Sirius’ “Hey Bulldog: 9 things you didn’t know about this overlooked Beatles song.” For examples, did you know that the original title of this 1969 song, which was included on the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack, was originally titled “Hey, Bullfrog”? Or that this song was on the flip side of the “Lady Madonna” single and that when the video of this hit song was made, we see the Fab Four recording “Hey Bulldog” while “Lady Madonna” is playing? At this point we are directed to recording engineer Geoff Emerick’s fascinating book HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE: MY LIFE RECORDING THE MUSIC OF THE BEATLES (2006) for a first-hand account of why the song was the last time the Beatles seemed to be having fun in the recording studio before their much-publicized breakup in 1970.
The take-away from all this hoopla is that we should not really be amazed, but very thankful, that the Beatles song has been playing on a station that would not usually think of playing anything as old as “Hey, Bulldog.” In fact, we should take this as a cue to broaden our musical horizons. I would like to hear a station featuring a playlist of songs from all genres–from J.S. Bach and Frank Sinatra to Shawn Mendes and George Jones. Of course, we can do this like I do in my car everyday–we can create our own custom stations by fiddling around (no pun intended) with our preset buttons. However, I bet most people only listen to two or three stations from the large selection offered by Sirius. Just think of all the interesting things they are missing by narrowing their listening choices. If you want to learn how to listen to and evaluate music in this age of endless playlists, I encourage you to read Ben Ratliff’s suggestive EVERY SONG EVER: TWENTY WAYS TO LISTEN IN AN AGE OF MUSICAL PLENTY, a book I reviewed here once upon a time.
While we are on the subject of books and the Beatles, let me close by recommending a new anthology, edited by Andrew Blauner, IN THEIR LIVES: GREAT WRITERS ON GREAT BEATLES SONGS. This just might be the best collection of reflections on the enduring presence of the Beatles in our lives. Each of the book’s twenty-eight writers chooses a Beatles song and shares with us how the song still has meaning in their lives. Many of the authors are much too young to remember the Beatles in the context of the 1960s and one of them, Pico Iyer, admits that “I am (almost defiantly) immune to their charms [and] I never mourned their breakup, and I never revisit their tunes.” He does, however, single out “Yesterday” as the one Beatles song that has become a touchstone in his life. “Hey Bulldog” is not among the songs selected by these writers, perhaps for good reason. It is, in my estimation, not one of the band’s best efforts, although Emerick believes it contains one of Paul’s most inspired bass lines.
The inexplicable insertion of “Hey Bulldog” in the Hits 1 playlist does remind us of the important place the Beatles hold in the history of popular culture. As Bill Flanagan says in the closing paragraph of his essay on the Beatles song “Two Of Us,” “There is a period in your life for running around, having fun with your gang, and then there’s a time for finding your partner and having kids and building a family. The Beatles left us, but they didn’t leave us alone. They left us with a map to follow. They showed us the way to go out into the world and get lost and they showed us the way to get back home.” And the “home” to which he refers is not the 1960s but our own place in time.
While we listen for other anomalies on Sirius, I will bid you a fond farewell until next week.