- Published on 1969
- Author: Harrison
- Track 2 on “Yellow Submarine“
GEORGE 1980: “‘Northern Song’ was a joke relating to Liverpool, the Holy City in the North of England. In addition, the song was copyrighted Northern Songs LTD, which I don’t own.”
GEORGE 1999: “It was at the point that I realized Dick James had conned me out of the copyrights for my own songs by offering to become my publisher. As an 18 or 19-year-old kid, I thought, ‘Great, somebody’s gonna publish my songs!’ But he never said, ‘And incidentally, when you sign this document here, you’re assigning me the ownership of the songs,’ which is what it is. It was just a blatant theft. By the time I realized what had happened, when they were going public and making all this money out of this catalog, I wrote ‘Only A Northern Song’ as what we call a ‘piss-take,’ just to have a joke about it.”
About “Only A Northern Song”
“Only a Northern Song” was written by George Harrison and was released in 1969 on the soundtrack album for the animated film “Yellow Submarine.” The song was recorded during the sessions for the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, but it was not included in the final tracklist.
The song features a distinctive psychedelic sound, which was characteristic of the experimental phase The Beatles were going through during this period.
The lyrics of “Only a Northern Song” reflect George Harrison’s feelings of detachment and disillusionment. He sings about feeling undervalued and unappreciated, as well as being stuck in a situation where his creativity is not fully recognized.
The song was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London during the sessions for the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. However, it was not included on the album and was instead held for the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack.
“Only a Northern Song” was first released on the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack album in January 1969. It was subsequently included in the remastered CD version of the album “Yellow Submarine” released in 1999.
While “Only a Northern Song” was not one of The Beatles’ biggest hits, it remains an interesting and notable piece in their discography due to its unique sound and George Harrison’s personal reflections in the lyrics.
It’s worth noting that George Harrison’s concerns about publishing rights and creative control were significant factors that contributed to the eventual dissolution of The Beatles.
Meaning of “Only A Northern Song”
“Only a Northern Song” by George Harrison is a song that encapsulates Harrison’s deep frustration with the business aspects of the music industry. The track serves as a poignant commentary on his relationship with the Beatles’ publishing company, Northern Songs.
In the lyrics, Harrison expresses a sense of disillusionment and resignation, emphasizing that it seemingly doesn’t matter what chords he plays, the words he sings, or even the time of day – because, in his view, it’s ‘only a Northern Song.’ This refrain serves as a biting reminder of his perceived lack of control over his own creative output, particularly in terms of publishing rights.
The term ‘Northern Song’ is significant. On one level, it’s a reference to the actual publishing company owned by the Beatles. Harrison believed that, despite his significant contributions to the band’s music, he had little influence over the rights to his own compositions. The major shareholders of Northern Songs, primarily John Lennon and Paul McCartney, were reaping greater financial benefits from his work.
Beyond its specific context, the song can be interpreted as a broader critique of the music industry itself, where artists often find themselves with limited control over their own creations. Harrison’s lyrics convey this sentiment with a touch of sarcasm and irony, reflecting his frustration and, perhaps, a certain resignation to the situation.
Furthermore, the term ‘Northern Song’ could carry a dual meaning. It may serve as a play on words, referring to Liverpool, the northern English city where the Beatles originated. This geographical reference adds another layer of meaning to the song.
“Only a Northern Song” can also be seen as a meta-song. Harrison uses unconventional chords and musical dissonance to highlight the futility of composing for Northern Songs. This unique approach amplifies the sense of dissatisfaction and discontent embedded in the lyrics.
In sum, “Only a Northern Song” stands as George Harrison’s poignant commentary on the challenges and complexities of being a creative artist within a large commercial enterprise, specifically within the Beatles’ publishing company. It’s a song of reflection, frustration, and ultimately, resignation to the realities of the music industry.
- George Harrison – vocals, Hammond organ, additional organ, dialogue, noises
- John Lennon – glockenspiel, piano, dialogue, noises
- Paul McCartney – bass guitar, trumpet, noises
- Ringo Starr – drums, noises
- uncredited (played by the Beatles) – timpani, Mellotron, additional percussion