"Hey Jude" is a song written by Paul McCartney, credited to Lennon/McCartney, and released as a single by The Beatles in 1968. Originally titled "Hey Jules," McCartney wrote the ballad to comfort John Lennon's son Julian during his parents' divorce.
"Hey Jude" was the first single from The Beatles' record label Apple Records. Over seven minutes in length, "Hey Jude" was at the time the longest single ever to top the British charts. It also spent nine weeks as number one in the United States—the longest run at the top of the American charts for a Beatles single. The single has sold approximately eight million copies and is frequently included on professional lists of the all-time best songs.
"Hey Jude" begins with a verse-bridge structure based around McCartney's vocal performance and piano accompaniment; further details are added as the song progresses to distinguish sections. After the fourth verse, the song shifts to a fade-out coda that lasts for more than four minutes.
Inspiration and composition
In 1968, John Lennon and his wife Cynthia Lennon separated due to his affair with Yoko Ono. Soon afterwards, Paul McCartney drove out to visit Cynthia and Julian, her son with Lennon. "We'd been very good friends for millions of years and I thought it was a bit much for them suddenly to be personae non gratae and out of my life," McCartney said. Later, Cynthia Lennon recalled, "I was truly surprised when, one afternoon, Paul arrived on his own. I was touched by his obvious concern for our welfare.... On the 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."
The song's original title was "Hey Jules", and it was intended to comfort Julian Lennon from the stress of his parents' divorce. McCartney said, "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 divorces ... I had the idea [for the song] by the time I got there. I changed it to 'Jude' because I thought that sounded a bit better." Julian Lennon discovered the song had been written for him almost twenty years later. He remembered being closer to McCartney than to his father: "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."
Although McCartney originally wrote the song for Julian Lennon, John Lennon thought it had actually been written for him:
"But I always heard it as a song to me. If you think about it... Yoko's just come into the picture. He's saying. 'Hey, Jude—Hey, John.' I know I'm sounding like one of those fans who reads things into it, but you can hear it as a song to me ... Subconsciously, he was saying, Go ahead, leave me. On a conscious level, he didn't want me to go ahead."
Other people believed McCartney wrote the song about them, including Judith Simons, a journalist with the Daily Express. Still others, including John Lennon, have speculated that McCartney's failing long-term relationship with Jane Asher when he wrote "Hey Jude" was an unconscious "message to himself." In fact, when John Lennon mentioned that he thought the song was about him, McCartney denied it, and told Lennon he had written the song about himself.
McCartney changed the title to "Hey Jude" because the name Jude was easier to sing. Much as he did with "Yesterday", McCartney played the song for other musicians and friends. Ron Griffith of Badfinger, the first band to join the Beatles-owned record label Apple Records, recalled that on their first day in the studio, "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."
"Hey Jude" begins with McCartney singing lead vocals and playing the piano. The patterns McCartney plays are based on three chords: F, C and B-flat (I, V and IV); the second verse adds accompaniment by guitar and a single tambourine. The main chord progression is "flipped on its head" for the refrain, as the C chord is replaced by E-flat. Writer Tim Riley notes, "As Ringo offers a restrained tom-tom and cymbal fill, the piano shifts downward to add a flat seventh to the tonic chord, making the downbeat of the bridge the point of arrival ('And any time you feel the pain')." At the end of each bridge, McCartney sings a brief phrase ("Na-na-na na . . .") and plays a piano fill which leads to the next verse; the phrase McCartney sings serves to "reorient the harmony for the verse as the piano figure turns upside down into a vocal aside." Additional details, such as tambourine on the third verse and subtle harmonies that accompany the lead vocal, are added to sustain the interest of the listener throughout the four-verse, two-bridge song.
The verse-bridge structure of the song persists for approximately three minutes, after which the band leads into a four-minute long outro refrain. During the outro, the rest of band, backed by an orchestra that also provides backing vocals, repeat the phrase "Na-na-na na" followed by the words "Hey Jude" until the song gradually fades out. Time magazine described the outro as "a fadeout that engagingly spoofs the fadeout as a gimmick for ending pop records." Riley notes the repeated chord progression of the outro (I-flat VII-IV-I) "answers all the musical questions raised at the beginnings and ends of bridges," for "The flat seventh that pose dominant turns into bridges now has an entire chord built on it." This three-chord refrain allows McCartney "a bedding [. . .] to leap about on vocally," as he ad-libs his vocal performance for the rest of the song. Riley concludes that the song "becomes a tour of Paul's vocal range: from the graceful inviting tones of the opening verse, through the mounting excitement of the song itself, to the surging raves of the coda."
While "Hey Jude" was intended to address Julian Lennon, writer Mark Hertsgaard noted "many of the song's lyrics do seem directed more at a grown man on the verge of a powerful new love, especially the lines 'you have found her now go and get her' and 'you're waiting for someone to perform with.'" Tim Riley wrote, "If the song is about self-worth and self-consolation in the face of hardship, the vocal performance itself conveys much of the journey. He begins by singing to comfort someone else, finds himself weighing his own feelings in the process, and finally, in the repeated refrains that nurture his own approbation, he comes to believe in himself."
The Beatles recorded 25 takes of "Hey Jude" at Abbey Road Studios in two nights, 29 July and 30 July 1968. These were mostly rehearsals, however, as they planned to record the master track at Trident Studios to utilise their eight-track recording machine (Abbey Road was still limited to four-tracks). One take from 29 July is available on the Anthology 3 CD. The master rhythm track was recorded on 31 July at Trident. Four takes were recorded; take one was selected. The song was completed on 1 August with additional overdubs including a 36-piece orchestra for the song's long refrain, scored by George Martin. The orchestra consisted of ten violins, three violas, three cellos, two flutes, one contra bassoon, one bassoon, two clarinets, one contra bass clarinet, four trumpets, four trombones, two horns, percussion, and two string basses. While adding backing vocals, The Beatles asked the orchestra members if they would clap their hands and sing along to the refrain in the song's coda. Most complied (for a double fee), but one declined, saying "I'm not going to clap my hands and sing Paul McCartney's bloody song!"
Ringo Starr almost missed his drum cue. He left for a toilet break—unnoticed by the other Beatles—and the Beatles started recording. In 1994, McCartney said, "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."
During the recording of the master take, Lennon shouted "Oh!" followed by "Fucking hell!" at 2:56 and 2:58, respectively, into the song. This occurs after he sings "let her under your skin" under McCartney's "then you'll begin." Sound engineer Ken Scott later told Mojo's Chris Hunt, "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'."
George Harrison and McCartney had a disagreement over this song. According to McCartney, during a rehearsal Harrison played an answer to every line of the vocal. This did not fit with McCartney's idea of the song's arrangement, and he vetoed it. In a 1994 interview, McCartney said, "We were joking when we made the Anthology: I was saying: 'I realise I was a bossy git.' And George said, 'Oh no, Paul, you never did anything like that!' ... But it was essential for me and looking back on it, I think, Okay. Well, it was bossy, but it was ballsy of me, because I could have bowed to the pressure." Ron Richards, who worked for George Martin at both Parlophone at AIR Studios, and who discovered The Hollies, was present for many Beatle recording sessions. He said McCartney was "oblivious to anyone else's feelings in the studio," and that he was driven to make the best possible record, at almost any cost.
"Hey Jude" was released on 26 August 1968 in the United States and 30 August in the United Kingdom, backed with "Revolution" on the B-side of a 7" single. The single was the debut release of the Beatles' record label Apple Records, and it was also the first Beatles single to be issued in a paper sleeve instead of a picture cover. Even though "Hey Jude" was recorded during the sessions for the album The Beatles, also known as The White Album, it was always intended as a single and not an album track. Lennon wanted "Revolution" to be the A-side of the single, but the other Beatles did not agree. In his 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, he said "Hey Jude" was worthy of an A-side, "but we could have had both." Ten years later in 1980, he told Playboy he still disagreed with the decision.
"Hey Jude" began its sixteen-week run on the British charts on 7 September 1968, claiming the top spot a week later. It only lasted two weeks on top before being knocked off by another single from Apple, Mary Hopkin's "Those Were the Days." The single was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America on 13 September; that same week NME reported that two million copies of the single had been sold. The song entered the U.S. charts on 14 September 1968, where it stayed for the next nineteen weeks. Two weeks later, "Hey Jude" was number one in the charts, and held that position for the following nine weeks, setting the U.S. record for the longest time spent by a Beatles single at number one, as well as being the longest-playing single to reach number one. Because of the U.S. 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, "Revolution", at number two.
American radio stations were averse to playing anything longer than the usual three to three-and-a-half minutes, and Capitol Records pressed a shortened version of the song specifically for airplay. "Hey Jude" 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 it was surpassed in 1993 by Meat Loaf's "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)", which ran seven minutes fifty-eight seconds as a single.
On 30 November 1968 NME reported that sales had reached nearly six million copies worldwide. "Hey Jude" became the biggest-selling debut release for a record label ever, selling an estimated eight million copies worldwide and topping the charts in eleven countries. It remains the Beatles' most commercially successful single. "Hey Jude" was the top Billboard Hot 100 single for 1968, according to year-end charts. While the record was certified gold the day before it entered the U.S. charts, it took almost thirty years to be certified platinum, on 17 February 1999.
Upon the release of the "Hey Jude" single, Time contrasted it with its B-side "Revolution." Time wrote, "The other side of the new disk urges activism of a different sort" as McCartney "liltingly exhorts a friend to overcome his fears and commit himself in love." Music analyst Alan Pollack praised "Hey Jude" saying, "it's such a good illustration of two compositional lessons—how to fill a large canvas with simple means, and how to use diverse elements such as harmony, bassline, and orchestration to articulate form and contrast." He also said it is unusual for a long song because it uses a "binary form that combines a fully developed, hymn-like song together with an extended, mantra-like jam on a simple chord progression." Pollack described the song's long outro and fadeout as "an astonishingly transcendental effect," while Unterberger observed, "What could have very easily been boring is instead hypnotic."
"Hey Jude" was nominated for the Grammy Awards of 1969 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. It did win the 1968 Ivor Novello Award for "A-Side With the Highest Sales". 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. In 2004, it was ranked number 8 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. It came in third on Channel 4's list of 100 Greatest Singles. The Amusement & Music Operators Association ranked "Hey Jude" the 11th-best jukebox single of all time.
The Beatles hired Michael Lindsay-Hogg to shoot the "Hey Jude" promotional film (he had previously directed a 'promo' film for "Paperback Writer") and they settled on the idea of filming with a live, albeit controlled audience. Hogg shot the film at Twickenham Film Studios on 4 September 1968, with McCartney himself designing the set. Tony Bramwell, a friend of the Beatles, later described the set as "the piano, there; drums, there; and orchestra in two tiers at the back." The event is also memorable as it marked Starr's return to the group after a two-week hiatus, during which he had announced that he had left the band. The eventual, final film was a combination of several different takes and included filmed 'introductions' to the song by David Frost (who introduced the Beatles as "the greatest tea-room orchestra in the world") and Sir Cliff Richard, for their respective, eponymous TV programmes. As filming wore on, Lennon repeatedly asked Lindsay-Hogg if he had the footage he needed. After twelve takes, McCartney said, "I think that's enough" and filming concluded. It was first aired in the UK on 8 September 1968 and the film was later broadcast for the United States on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on 6 October 1968. Footage of the performance can be seen in the Anthology DVD series.
In 1996, Julian Lennon paid £25,000 for the recording notes to "Hey Jude" at an auction. Lennon spent another £35,000 at the auction buying John Lennon memorabilia. 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."
In 2002, the original handwritten 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 30 April 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 favour and prohibited the sale of the lyrics. They had been sent to Christie's for auction by Frenchman Florrent Tessier, who said he 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."
Released: 26 August 1968
Recorded: 31 July 1968 at Trident Studios, London
Length: 7:05 (standard version), 7:12 (mono single version)
Label: Apple Records
Producer: George Martin