Hey Jude

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"Hey Jude"
Missing image

Single by The Beatles
Not featured on an original album
Single Released 26 August 1968
Single Format vinyl record (7")
Recorded Abbey Road Studios, July 1968
Song Length 7:12
Record label EMI
Producer George Martin
Chart positions 1 (UK)
1 (USA)
The Beatles single chronology
"Lady Madonna"
"Hey Jude"
"Get Back"
For the album of the same name, see Hey Jude (album).

"Hey Jude" is a song attributed to Paul McCartney and John Lennon (though largely the work of McCartney), originally recorded by The Beatles for the self-titled The Beatles album, but released instead as a single. The song, despite its unusual length (7 minutes, 12 seconds), became the Beatles' best-selling single, although they did produce a trimmed down version for American radio due to most stations' refusal to air a song of such length.

The song, originally titled "Hey Jules", was written for John Lennon's son Julian by McCartney, at a trying time for the Lennon family when John and his first wife, Cynthia, were getting divorced. The senior Lennon related to the song extremely well too, as he had just begun his relationship with his future second wife, Yoko Ono. McCartney had also just broken up with Jane Asher and was about to start seeing Linda Eastman.


Sympathy of a friend

In 1968, John Lennon was living with Yoko Ono, and made clear his intention to leave Cynthia for her. McCartney was profoundly affected, and decided to cheer up John and Cynthia's son, Julian, by writing a little song for him while he was on his way to see them at their home. McCartney said later, "I started with the idea 'Hey Jules', which was Julian, 'don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Hey, try and deal with this terrible thing.' I knew it was not going to be easy for him. I always feel sorry for kids in divorce. The adults may be fine but the kids... I had the idea by the time I got there."

Later, Cynthia recalled, "I was truly surprised when, one afternoon, Paul arrived on his own. I was touched by his obvious concern for our welfare and even more moved when he presented me with a single red rose accompanied by a jokey remark about our future: 'How about it, Cyn. How about you and me getting married?' We both laughed at the thought of the world's reaction to an announcement like that being let loose. On his journey down he composed 'Hey Jude' in the car. I will never forget Paul's gesture of care and concern in coming to see us. It made me feel important and loved, as opposed to feeling discarded and obsolete."

Julian Lennon only discovered the song had been written for him almost 20 years after the fact; however, he did remember being closer to McCartney than his biological father: "I've never really wanted to know the truth about how dad was with me. There was some very negative stuff talked about me — like when he said I'd come out of a whiskey bottle on a Saturday night. Stuff like that. You think, where's the love in that? Paul and I used to hang about quite a bit — more than dad and I did. We had a great friendship going and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad."

McCartney was rather dissatisfied with his original draft, however, particularly with the line "The movement you need is on your shoulder", thinking it sounded like he was talking to a parrot. However, John Lennon was strongly opposed to the idea of drastically altering the song, especially the aforementioned line, considering it marvellously avant-garde. As McCartney would recall in 1974, "I remember I played it to John and Yoko, and I was saying, 'These words won't be on the finished version.' Some of the words were: 'The movement you need is on your shoulder,' and John was saying, 'It's great!' I'm saying, 'It's crazy, it doesn't make any sense at all.' He's saying, 'Sure it does, it's great.'"

McCartney eventually came to the conclusion that Jude was a much easier name to sing than Jules, and appropriately modified the song to suit his latest change.

Oddly enough, the elder Lennon originally thought the song was for him. In the year of his death, 1980, he remembered: "He said it was written about Julian. He knew I was splitting with Cyn and leaving Julian then. He was driving to see Julian to say hello. He had been like an uncle. And he came up with 'Hey Jude.' But I always heard it as a song to me. Now I'm sounding like one of those fans reading things into it... Think about it: Yoko had just come into the picture. He is saying. 'Hey, Jude' — 'Hey, John.' Subconsciously, he was saying, 'Go ahead, leave me.' On a conscious level, he didn't want me to go ahead. The angel in him was saying, 'Bless you.' The devil in him didn't like it at all, because he didn't want to lose his partner."

Lennon wasn't the only Beatle who could relate to the song — so did McCartney. Not long after the release, John Lennon said, "Well, when Paul first sang 'Hey Jude' to me... or played me the little tape he'd made of it... I took it very personally. 'Ah, it's me,' I said, 'It's me.' He says, 'No, it's me.' I said, 'Check. We're going through the same bit.' So we all are. Whoever is going through a bit with us is going through it, that's the groove." This wasn't particularly surprising, as McCartney had just ended his relationship with Jane Asher, and was about to begin dating his future wife, Linda Eastman.

Much as he did with "Yesterday", McCartney proudly went around playing his song to anyone he met, although not in fear of plagiarism this time. A member of Badfinger, the first band to join the Beatles-owned record label Apple Records, recalled that on their first day, "Paul walked over to the grand piano and said, 'Hey lads, have a listen', and he sat down and gave us a full concert rendition of 'Hey Jude'. We were gobsmacked."

Working in the studio

The Beatles were enchanted by the song's beauty, and sought to cultivate the best possible recording environment for "Hey Jude". They tried as many as 25 takes at the Abbey Road Studios on July 29 and July 30 1968, but eventually decided that they needed an orchestra for the recording. Upon hearing of the availability of an eight-track recording machine at Trident Studios, they decamped there on July 31, as the Abbey Road machine was still undergoing testing. They proceeded to try several different versions, but eventually settled on their very first take at Trident.

This decision was rather odd, given that the drumming came in much later than expected. It turned out that Ringo Starr, the Beatles' drummer, had left for a toilet break, and not noticing his absence, the other Beatles started to record the take. In 1994, McCartney would recount the tale: "There is an amusing story about recording it... Ringo walked out to go to the toilet and I hadn't noticed. The toilet was only a few yards from his drum booth, but he'd gone past my back and I still thought he was in his drum booth. I started what was the actual take – and 'Hey Jude' goes on for hours before the drums come in – and while I was doing it I suddenly felt Ringo tiptoeing past my back rather quickly, trying to get to his drums. And just as he got to his drums, boom boom boom, his timing was absolutely impeccable."

On August 1, George Martin arranged for the 36-piece orchestral accompaniment that would later be edited into the recording. The Beatles asked the orchestra members if they would mind clapping their hands and singing along to the refrain in the song's coda. Most complied, but one obstinately replied, "I'm not going to clap my hands and sing Paul McCartney's bloody song!" and stormed out of the studio.

That was not the only bad blood going around Trident Studios that day. George Harrison wanted to do a guitar riff for the song, but McCartney refused to allow it. McCartney recounted in 1985, "I remember on 'Hey Jude' telling George not to play guitar. He wanted to do echo riffs after the vocal phrases, which I didn't think was appropriate. He didn't see it like that, and it was a bit of a number for me to have to 'dare' to tell George Harrison — who's one of the greats — not to play. It was like an insult. But that's how we did a lot of our stuff."

That the Beatles selected their first take as the master became even odder when Ken Scott, the engineer in charge, realised that John Lennon had shouted "fucking 'ell!" 2:58 into the song after messing up the backing vocal. Scott later explained, "I was told about it at the time but could never hear it. But once I had it pointed out I can't miss it now. I have a sneaking suspicion they knew all along, as it was a track that should have been pulled out in the mix. I would imagine it was one of those things that happened — it was a mistake, they listened to it and thought, 'doesn't matter, it's fine'."

Instant classic

The recording had originally been made for the Beatles' self-titled White Album, which was released in the same year as "Hey Jude". However, the idea of releasing it on the album was abandoned, and "Hey Jude" was never released on an original album by The Beatles. Instead, they decided to pair "Hey Jude" on the A-Side with "Revolution" on the B-Side of a 7" single. "Revolution" had originally been written by John Lennon as the A-Side of a single he had planned to release as a statement about the Vietnam War (despite manager Brian Epstein's insistence that they avoid mentioning it), but, by the time he had polished the song sufficiently, McCartney had finished "Hey Jude", which the other Beatles felt was more deserving of the single's top billing. Lennon said: "We were getting real tense with each other. I did the slow version and I wanted it out as a single: as a statement of the Beatles' position on Vietnam and the Beatles' position on revolution. For years, on The Beatles' tours, Brian had stopped us from saying anything about Vietnam or the war. And he wouldn't allow questions about it. But on one of the last tours, I said, 'I am going to answer about the war. We can't ignore it.' I absolutely wanted The Beatles to say something about the war."

The single came out in the United States on August 26 1968 on the Apple Records label, entering the charts on September 14, where the song would stay for the next 19 weeks. Two weeks later, "Hey Jude" was propelled to number one in the charts, and held on to that position for the following nine weeks, in the process setting the American record for the longest time spent by a single at number one, as well as being the longest-playing single to reach number one. As mentioned earlier, however, American radio stations were averse to playing anything longer than the regulation three to three-and-a-half minutes, and Capitol Records pressed a shortened version specially for airplay.

Due to the American practice of counting sales and airplay for the A- and B-Sides of a single separately, at one point, Record World listed "Hey Jude" at number one, followed by its B-Side partner, "Revolution", at number two. "Hey Jude" was also the first Beatles single to be issued in a paper sleeve instead of a picture cover. Five months after its release, 3.75 million copies of "Hey Jude" had already been sold. To date, five million have been sold in the United States alone. The record was certified gold just the day before it entered the American charts, but took almost 30 years to be certified platinum, on February 17, 1999.

Missing image
For the promotional film of "Hey Jude", The Beatles performed the song on The Frost Programme, with a simulated live audience singing along in the final half of the song.

Meanwhile, "Hey Jude" came out in the United Kingdom four days after the American release, on August 30. It became the biggest-selling debut release for a record label ever, selling over eight million copies worldwide and topping the charts in 11 different countries. The single began its 16-week chart run on September 7, claiming the top spot a week later. It only lasted two weeks, before being knocked off by another single from Apple, this time Mary Hopkin's "Those Were the Days". Despite this, to this day, "Hey Jude" remains The Beatles' most successful song, fending off stiff competition from songs such as "Let It Be" and "Yesterday", both of which were also McCartney compositions. The released version clocked in at seven minutes and eleven seconds. The only other chart-topping song worldwide in the 1960s that ran over seven minutes was Richard Harris' "MacArthur Park". In the UK, where "MacArthur Park" did not top the chart, "Hey Jude" remained the longest number one hit for nearly a quarter of a century, until surpassed in 1993 by Meat Loaf's "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)", which ran to 7 minutes 58 seconds even as a single (the unedited album version ran to over twelve minutes).

The Beatles hired Michael Lindsey-Hogg, who had previously directed their "Paperback Writer" promo, to shoot their promotional film for the song. They settled on the idea of performing in front of a live - albeit controlled - audience. Hogg shot the promotional film for The Frost Programme, with McCartney himself designing the set. Tony Bramwell remembered the design: "It was the piano, there; drums, there; and orchestra in two tiers at the back. Paul's ideas were usually attainable. John's were generally unattainable, and when Yoko turned up it was, 'Let's film John's cock.'" The eventual final film was a combination of two different takes, with David Frost introducing The Beatles as "the greatest tea-room orchestra in the world".

Although released by Apple Records, the rights to "Hey Jude", like almost all other Beatles songs, belonged to Parlophone in the United Kingdom and Capitol Records in the United States.

Awards and acclaim

"Hey Jude" was nominated for the Grammy Awards of 1968 in the Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal categories, but failed to win any of them. However, it did win the 1968 Ivor Novello Award for "A-Side With the Highest Sales".

Regardless of acclaim (or lack of it) from the critics, "Hey Jude" was evidently close to the hearts of many fans. In the NME 1968 Readers' Poll, "Hey Jude" was named the best single of the year.

In 2001, "Hey Jude" was inducted into the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Grammy Hall of Fame.

"Hey Jude" was ranked as the eighth best song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, and came in third in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Singles.

Auctioned lyrics

In 1996, Julian Lennon paid 25,000 for the recording notes to "Hey Jude" at an auction, which works out as 641 per word for 39 words (plus some additional scribbles). Lennon spent another 35,000 at the auction buying John Lennon memorabilia, in an attempt to get closer to the father he never knew. John Cousins, Julian Lennon's manager, stated, "He has a few photographs of his father, but not very much else. He is collecting for personal reasons, these are family heirlooms if you like." Julian reportedly later sold the production notes back to Paul.

In 2002, the original hand written lyrics for the song were nearly auctioned off at Christie's in London. The sheet of notepaper with the scrawled lyrics had been expected to fetch up to 80,000 at the auction, which was scheduled for April 30, 2002. McCartney went to court to stop the auction, claiming the paper had disappeared from his West London home. Richard Morgan, representing Christie's, said McCartney had provided no evidence that he had ever owned the piece of paper on which the lyrics were written. The courts decided in McCartney's favor and prohibited the sale of the lyrics. They were originally sent to Christie's for auction by Frenchman Florrent Tessier, who purchased the piece of paper at a street market stall in London for 10 in the early 1970s. In the original catalogue for the auction, Julian Lennon had written, "It's very strange to think that someone has written a song about you. It still touches me."

Lyrics and melody

Unlike other lengthy Beatles songs, such as "A Day in the Life", "Helter Skelter" and "You Never Give Me Your Money", "Hey Jude" is not a medley and does not contain an extended instrumental interlude. It breaks down into a three-minute ballad followed by a four-minute coda, consisting of four chords repeated over and over again. The song starts to fade out mid-way through the latter section, the fade lasting over two minutes; "Hey Jude"'s air of unity and harmony is reminiscent of "All You Need Is Love", and it is one of the few songs for which such a lengthy fade-out makes sense, conferring upon it an impression of endlessness.

The first half of the song is written in a traditional two-bridge manner. Interestingly, McCartney alternates the bridges, using "Let her into your heart" followed by "Let her under your skin". At one point McCartney sings a duet with himself, something which comes to prominence in the latter half of the song, which consists of a single musical phrase repeated several dozen times. He sings a wordless melody culminating at the end of each cycle with the song's title; furthermore, he accompanies himself with an exuberant display of vocal improvisation, reminiscent at times of James Brown. Midway through the song's finale the orchestra's brass section counterpoints the vocal melody, whilst the string section joins slightly later, almost inaudible, holding a single note until the song fades.

The melody elaborated in the verses has several arches, and skilfully incorporates high and low points in a way that conceals the composition's subtlety behind a veneer of singalong simplicity reminiscent of hymns or nursery rhymes. The bridge is based around a characteristically "Beatlesy" descending chord sequence, whilst the melody for the second half's refrain is an unbalanced arch somewhat biased toward the upper end. The first half uses the common chords of I, II, IV, and V, but the latter half instead opts for the double plagal cadence.

A sound bite from the song is available.


External links

  John Lennon Missing image
Paul McCartney

The Beatles George Harrison Ringo Starr  

History of the Beatles | Long-term influence | British Invasion | Classic rock era | Paul is Dead rumours | Apple Records | George Martin | Geoff Emerick | Brian Epstein | Beatlesque | Discography | Bootlegs | Beatlemania


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