It is not an exaggeration to state that “Hey Jude” by The Beatles did change the history of music. Clocking at a staggering 7 minutes and 11 seconds, this was one of the longest songs to have released on-air, despite the warnings from the Beatles’ management that radios might not play it. John Lennon merely said, “They will if it’s us…” Thus, history was changed forever, paving the way for other lengthy productions such as “American Pie” by Don McLean and even “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.
Released on August 26, 1968, and included in the band’s 1970’s compilation album, “Hey Jude” became one of The Beatles’ most iconic tracks. The song also performed extremely well on the charts despite the extended running time. The song peaked at #1 on Billboard Hot 100 for 9 weeks and became number one selling song in many countries including the US, UK, Canada and Australia in its release week. By 1999, the song had sold over 8 million copies worldwide according to RIAA, and continues to sell even today. The song was also the most downloaded track on Apple Music when The Beatles’ catalogue was finally listed on the music streaming service in 2010.
“Hey Jude” is ranked at #8 on the Rolling Stones magazine’s ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time‘ list, highest-ranked Beatles song on the list. The song was inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s ‘500 Songs That Shaped Rock & Roll’ and also into the ‘Grammy Hall of Fame’ by The Recording Academy.
Inspiration and Story Behind “Hey Jude” by The Beatles
The 7-minute composition is a gift by Paul McCartney to John Lennon’s then 5-year-old son Julian Lennon. John Lennon was going through a divorce with his then wife Cynthia Lennon in May 1968. Lennon was moving onto a new life with the Japanese artist Yoko Ono. Understanding how stressful this situation could be tp the young Julian, Paul McCartney had the idea for this song while driving out to see Julian. Cynthia recalls his visit and the song fondly; “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 had the original title of “Hey Jules” to match Julian’s name. However, McCartney changed it to “Jude” because he thought it “sounded better.”
Julian spoke about the song in Steve Turner’s book ‘The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song,’ “Paul and I used to hang out quite a bit – more than Dad and I did… There seem to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing at that age than me and Dad. It surprises me whenever I hear the song. It’s strange to think someone has written a song about you. It still touches me.”
The Beatles recorded a ‘promotional film’ for the visuals of “Hey Jude” in September 1968. This performance included live vocals by an orchestra. Watch below.
Listen to “Hey Jude” by The Beatles
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The song starts off with the first and second verses as an attempt to console the 5-year-old baby Julian. Paul McCartney tries to tell Julian that it will all be alright and that his new mommy, Yoko Ono, would be as good as Cynthia. Paul suggests to Julian that he gives her a chance, “let her into your heart” and “let her under your skin,” and things will feel alright. John Lennon was going forward with his divorce with Cynthia no matter how it affected people around him. Julian claims that John was not a very good father growing up. Paul McCartney was more of a father to him than John ever was.
However, John Lennon interpreted this song as Paul McCartney speaking to 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. The words ‘go out and get her’ – subconsciously he was saying, Go ahead, leave me.” – John Lennon (1980)
In the first bridge of the song, Paul goes on to sing to Julian that he is not alone in this world. He does not have to carry all the burden of the world on his shoulders, he has The Beatles there to help him out in this trying times and ahead. But Julian also doesn’t have to internalize all his problems as if nothing is wrong. Whatever the case is, there are people to help him out.
The third verse of “Hey Jude,” is probably the biggest reason why John Lennon imagined this song was written for him and his new wife Yoko Ono. We hear Paul McCartney asking the subject of the song to go and lock her down and that he found her. Given the timing of this song, when John Lennon was moving on with Yoko Ono, one can see how John could have misinterpreted the song. In essence, Paul was telling Julian that he has found an equally good mother. Of course, Paul had no way of knowing this for sure. But he was merely trying to make the best out of a worse situation.
The second bridge contains the “best line” in the song as per John Lennon. In the ‘Beatles Anthology,’ Paul McCartney spoke about the “The movement you need is on your shoulder” lyric; “I was in the music room upstairs when John and Yoko came to visit and they were right behind me over my right shoulder, standing up, listening to it as I played it to them, and when I got to the line, ‘The movement you need is on your shoulder,’ I looked over my shoulder and I said, ‘I’ll change that, it’s a bit crummy. I was just blocking it out,’ and John said, ‘You won’t, you know. That’s the best line in it!’”
“Let it out and let it in” could be a reference to how Julian has to forego his actual mother now and adjust to the new mother.
The fourth and final verse of the song is a repetition of the first verse with the exception of the last line which repeats the word “better.” There is also an infamous easter egg hidden in this verse when Paul McCartney shouts out a curse word. There are several theories about why Paul had to shout out this curse word during the recording, which they were not able to take out of the song. Listen carefully to the uncensored expletive below.
The outro of “Hey Jude” is yet another remarkable piece of musical work. There is an endless repetition of vocalization with “na na na” sound with the occasional ‘hey Jude’ mixed in. This outro is lengthier than the rest of the song.
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Check out the complete lyrics to the song on Genius.