Only a Northern Song

Album: Yellow Submarine (1969)


  • George Harrison wrote this. He called it, "A joke relating to Liverpool, the Holy City in the North of England." Liverpool is north of London.

    Harrison used some real wit and humor in composing this (remember, out of all the Beatles, he was closest with Monty Python and Python alumnus Terry Gilliam, to the point of composing the closing theme to Time Bandits). In this song, he picks out a haphazard series of chords when he starts singing "it really doesn't matter...", with a B-melody note, E chord, B minor 7th, G chord, C-sharp 7th, F-sharp 7th. It sounds chaotic at first, but there's order underneath, expressing that he felt that he was buried brilliance over-shadowed by the Lennon-McCartney dominance.

    The above intricate joke is even lampshaded by the lyric: "You may think the chords are going wrong. But they're not; He just wrote it like that."
  • Northern Songs was The Beatles publishing company, so they were in charge of paying royalties to the songwriters. Harrison had a bad deal and didn't always get a fair share of the publishing royalties. He took out those frustrations in this song.
  • Rumor has it that George wrote this song in about an hour in the middle of the night while an orchestra was waiting for him. The producer of the Yellow Submarine film needed one more song as filler and George volunteered to go write one. The song, however, was written in February of 1967 when they were working on Sgt. Pepper. To quote Steve Turner in his book A Hard Day's Write, "The song was a sly dig at the business arrangements of the Beatles. Their songs had always been published by Northern Songs Ltd, 30% of whose shares belonged to John and Paul with Ringo and George owning only 1.6% each. This meant that John and Paul, in addition to being the groups main songwriters, were benefiting again as prime shareholders in the publishing company. As far as Northern Songs was concerned, George was merely a contracted writer."
    So, as far as George was concerned, it didn't matter what he wrote because the bulk of the money was going into other people's pockets. In the beginning, this didn't bother him, but when he started to feel that his songs were actually good, that's when he started feeling screwed.
  • Technically, "Only a Northern Song" is one of The Beatles' most psychedelic songs, including the use of such eccentric instruments as timpani, glockenspiel and chimes. There's also a mix of two version of the same rhythm track, causing a phasing effect. The stuttering, distorted trumpets were added later. The Beatles were becoming more competent sound studio engineers with every album, and were also finding it hard to resist overproducing their tracks.
  • The working title of this song was "Not Known."

Comments: 21

  • K.c. from NhMy younger daughter was about 3 when she watched "Yellow Submarine" with me. She became instantly hooked on the Beatles, preferring them over absolutely everyone with the sole exception of Elvis (I'd like to know how; neither my husband nor I were ever Elvis fans & never had any of his music in our home). This and "Hey, Bulldog" are among her favorite Beatles songs. (She also prefers their later stuff to their earlier.) For the record, she's 10 now (2015).
  • Mary from Grand Rapids, MiPoor George, he was so underrated and his amazing songs were not hugely popular. Even when he made great songs he wasnt payed well for them...

  • Meocyber from Alma, Co Very underated Beatles song. It was easily one of their best "psychadelia" time period songs. His guitar work is excellent ,really fits the song. I've also heard it's a jab at the anti north England bias of southern UK ,mostly London snobbery. Beatles= musical genius's.
  • S from Liverpool, United KingdomThis song was about John and Paul rejecting George's songs. So George wrote this song, also Northern Songs was a record company that they were licensed too and that where the Northern Song was in use of Only a Northern Song
  • Jema from South Portland, MeI've always loved the part when he says "It doesn't really matter what clothes I wear or how I fair or if my hair is brown".I think it's funny how when he says "brown" it's lower.
  • George from Belleville, NjI think this is one of the coolest rock songs.It has a powerful bass sound and pounding beat.This is an unsung masterpiece.George was really starting to write some complex pieces of music.This was considered a throwaway by the Beatles,yet it is better than most of the songs by the other bands.It goes to show how far ahead the Beatles were compared to all other bands.
  • Breanna from Henderson, NvGreat song!
  • Milton from Sao Paulo, BrazilFantastic! This is the only word I can write to define this song! George was the greatest!
  • Julia from Richland, WaI love this song! It actually shows George's sarcastic humor kicking in.
  • Chloe from St. Louis, Moawesome job, george! its a problem a lot of musicians have gone through- no matter what they play, the screaming girls will still like it. pink floyd wrote a lot of songs about it, too- it particularly ticked roger waters off.
  • Randy from Reading, PaI heard George comment that they could write anything and it would sell. That makes sense in the song when he sings it doesnt really matter what chords I play.....etc
  • Chanel from Somewhere, WaI love Yellow Submarine! Great film.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyThis was recorded at the "Sergeant Pepper" sessions in early 1967. George was allowd two tracks per album and this song and "Within You, Without You" were to be his contributions. But since the Beatles had signed a contract to provide new material for the "Yellow Submarine" animated project due out the next year, George volunteered this song (since he didn't much like it, anyway) and agreed to only having a single track on "Sergeant Pepper".
  • Krista from Elyria, OhI agree, I like the scene played in the Yellow Submarine when they play this. It's got purdy colours! This is one of my faves on the album soundtrack!
  • I'm Awesome from Boulder, Coi love this scenen in the yellow submarine....
  • Dennis from Anchorage, AkGeorge eventually created his own publishing company, called "Harrisongs," to publish the songs he wrote with the Beatles and as a solo artist. This gave him more control and a better cut of the dough. This is why some books of Beatle lyrics leave out some of his best songs, like Something and Here Comes The Sun.
  • Steve from Fenton, MoI agree this is a very underrated song. I like it better than Within You, Without You.
  • Scott Baldwin from Edmonton, CanadaWatch the scene in Yellow Submarine where it was used
  • Martin from London, EnglandThis brilliant piece was recorded during the "Sgt Pepper" sessions, but put aside as unsuitable. It was resurrected the following year for the "Yellow Submarine" cartoon film - one of its underrated gems.
  • Tzipora Leah from Cedarhurst, NyThis song is hilarious! I love it!! Too bad it's hardly famous or anything
  • Adrian from Wilmington, DeI'm sure glad George changed the lyrics from the ones that were on the Anthology 2 version.
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