Paul McCartney wrote this as "Hey Jules," a song meant to comfort John Lennon's 5-year-old son Julian as his parents were getting a divorce. The change to "Jude" was inspired by the character "Jud" in the musical Oklahoma! (McCartney loves show tunes)
In 1987 Julian ran into Paul in New York City when they were staying at the same hotel and he finally heard Paul tell him the story of the song firsthand. He admitted to Paul that growing up, he'd always felt closer to him than to his own father. In Steve Turner's book The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song, Julian said: "Paul told me he'd been thinking about my circumstances, about what I was going through and what I'd have to go through. 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. I've never really wanted to know the truth of how Dad was and how he was with me. There was some very negative stuff - like when he said that I'd come out of a whisky bottle on a Saturday night. That's tough to deal with. You think, where's the love in that? It surprises me whenever I hear the song. It's strange to think someone has written a song about you. It still touches me."
This was the Beatles longest single, running 7:11, and at the time was the longest song ever released as a single. It was the first long song to get a lot of airplay, as radio stations still preferred short ones so they could play more of them. When this became a hit, stations learned that listeners would stick around if they liked the song, which paved the way for long songs like "American Pie
" and "Layla
." Disc jockeys were the real winners here, as they could finally take a reasonable bathroom break.
The Beatles inner circle was shifting when Paul McCartney wrote this song. John Lennon had recently taken up with Yoko and cast off his first wife, Cynthia; McCartney had broken off his engagement with his longtime girlfriend Jane Asher. He was the only Beatle to reach out to Cynthia and Julian at this time.
The drive to the Lennon home in Surrey was one of reflection for McCartney, who thought about Julian and how difficult life could be as a child of divorce. He wrote the line, "Don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better" thinking about how he could encourage the boy.
Paul was conditioned to think up songs on this trip, as he used to drive to the home for songwriting sessions with John - there were instruments and recording equipment in the attic.
This was the first song released on Apple Records, the record label owned by The Beatles. It was recorded at Trident Studios, London, on July 31 and August 1, 1968 with a 36 piece orchestra. Orchestra members clapped and sang on the fadeout - they earned double their normal rate for their efforts.
Paul McCartney on his songwriting partnership with John Lennon in Observer Music Monthly October 2007: "I have fond flashbacks of John writing - he'd scribble it down real quick, desperate to get back to the guitar. But I knew at that moment that this was going to be a good collaboration. Like when I did 'Hey Jude.' I was going through it for him and Yoko when I was living in London. I had a music room at the top of the house and I was playing 'Hey Jude' when I got to the line 'The movement you need is on your shoulder' and I turned round to John and said: 'I'll fix that if you want.' And he said: 'You won't, you know, that's a great line, that's the best line in it.' Now that's the other side of a great collaborator - don't touch it, man, that's OK."
This song hit #1 in at least 12 countries and by the end of 1968 had sold more than 5 million copies. It eventually sold over 10 million copies in the United States, becoming the fourth-biggest selling Beatles single there. Factoring in the price of records in 1968 vs. 1964, when the top-seller "I Want To Hold Your Hand
" was released, "Hey Jude" might be the biggest earner.
When McCartney played this song for John Lennon and Yoko Ono, John interpreted it as being about him; he heard the line "You were made to go out and get her" as Paul imploring him to leave his first wife and go after Yoko ("I always heard it as a song to me," said Lennon). This was one of Lennon's more narcissistic moments, as he failed to grasp that the song was written for his son.
This was going to be the B-side to "Revolution
," but it ended up the other way around. It is a testament to this song that it pushed "Revolution" to the other side of the record.
George Harrison wanted to play a guitar riff after the vocal phrases, but Paul wouldn't let him. Things got tense between them around this time as McCartney got very particular about how Harrison played on songs he wrote.
didn't find out that this song was written for him until he was a teenager. It was around this time that he reconnected with his dad, who he would visit in New York from time to time until his death.
The Beatles filmed a music video (called a "promotional film" at the time) for this song, which was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. He had the Beatles mime the song in front of an audience of about 100 people, who sang it with them. This was the closest the Beatles had come to a live performance since they had stopped touring two years earlier.
The clip first aired on the UK program The David Frost Show in 1968, and was quickly picked up by other shows, giving the song a big promotional push.
In terms of songcraft, this is one of the most studied Beatles songs. It starts with a vocal - Paul's voice singing "Hey" - then the piano comes in (an F chord). The song gradually builds, with McCartney alone playing on the first verse, then the sounds of George Harrison's guitar, Ringo's tambourine, and harmony vocals by George and John. The drums enter about 50 seconds in, and the song builds from there, reaching a peak of intensity with McCartney delivering the "better... better... better" line punctuated by a Little Richard-style scream, then the famous singalong resolution.
The "na na na" fadeout takes four minutes. The chorus is repeated 19 times.
"Jude" is the German word for "Jew." The Beatles owned a retail store on Baker Street in London called the Apple Boutique, which they closed around the time this song was released. On the shuttered building, an employee scrawled the words "Revolution" and "Hey Jude" to promote the new Beatles single. Without proper context, this proved offensive to Jewish residents, who read it as hateful graffiti.
Wilson Pickett recorded this shortly after The Beatles did. His version hit #16 UK and #23 US and provided the name for his album. Duane Allman played on it and got a huge career boost when the song became a hit. He spent the next year as a session guitarist for many famous singers and then formed The Allman Brothers, who are considered the greatest Southern Rock band of all time.
Thanks to the communal nature of this song, it is sometimes used to pay tribute to those who have passed. When Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr appeared on the 2014 CBS special The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles, Paul dedicated the song John Lennon and George Harrison. Musicians who performed earlier in the show joined on stage for the ending, which closed the telecast.
In America, an album called Hey Jude (originally titled "The Beatles Again") was released in 1970 containing this and several other Beatles songs that were released as singles or B-sides. The album has not appeared as a CD because Apple Records made the decision to copy only the British LP releases onto CD. In the '60s the American record company managed to get extra LPs off the British releases by cutting down the number of tracks, then putting them out with singles and B-sides as additional albums. (thanks, Tommy - Glasgow, Scotland)
As discussed in the DVD Composing the Beatles Songbook
, while Paul wrote this song for Julian, in a lot of ways McCartney wrote this song about his brand-new relationship with Linda Eastman.
After the "Oh" in the crescendo, McCartney sings "YEAH!" in a non-falsetto voice. The note he hits is F Natural above male High C, a very difficult note for a male to hit in a non-falsetto voice.
The original 1968 version was recorded in mono, and many listeners find it far superior to the stereo remake from 1970, which is much more heavily produced.
On The Beatles Anthology 3, there is a version of this song with an introduction spoken by John and Paul: "From the heart of the black country: When I was a robber in Boston place You gathered round me with your fine embrace."
"Boston place" (mentioned by Paul) is a small London street where The Beatles' company Apple had just installed an electronics laboratory. In a more familiar scene, Boston Street was that street in which The Beatles ran for the title sequence of their film A Hard Day's Night. John spoke of the "Black Country," which was the name of the old smokestack industrial region in the middle of England.
Richie Havens played this at Woodstock when he opened the festival in 1969.
If you listen at about 2:55, you hear a sound from John Lennon while Paul keeps singing. It sounds like "Ohh!" at first, but it is really him saying "...chord!" You can barely hear it, but if you listen really closely, you can hear him say "Got the wrong CHORD." He says "chord" much louder than the other words. And about two or three counts later, you can hear McCartney say "F**king hell." (thanks, Sydney - McHenry, IL)
The song debuted at #10 in the Hot 100, and in doing so it made history by becoming the first ever single to reach the top 10 in its first week on the chart.
When the Beatles music was made available for download for the first time - on iTunes November 16, 2010 - "Hey Jude" was the most downloaded Beatles song that day.
This was named as the song most often referred to in literature in a list compiled by culture interpretation website Small Demons
. Amongst the 55 books the site says it's mentioned in are Stephen King's Wolves of the Calla
("Why do people over here sing Hey Jude? I don't know") and Toni Morrison's Paradise
("Soane had been horrified – and he drove off accompanying Hey Jude on his radio").
Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel
" was runner-up on the list and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven
" came in third place
McCartney played this at the 2005 Live8 concert in London. He started with "The Long and Winding Road
" and flowed it into the end of this, which ended the Live8 concert. (thanks, Ethan - Ridgely, MD)
Paul McCartney played this at the 2005 Super Bowl halftime show. He performed the year after Janet Jackson's breast was exposed on stage, causing an uproar. McCartney was deemed a safe and reliable choice for a nudity-free performance.
Sesame Street did a parody of this (and tribute to healthy eating) called "Hey Food."