Deadpan America comedian Steven Wright once remarked: “Nothing lasts forever – except the fade out to Hey Jude.”
In a way he wasn’t too far wrong. The song itself clocks in at more than seven minutes but, a bit like those mums who start packing to come home from a holiday within minutes of starting out on one, no sooner has Paul McCartney crooned: “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Remember to let her into your heart then you can start to make it better” than he’s off on the seemingly never ending long and winding chorus of: “(Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah), Naa na na na na na na, na na na na, hey Jude.”
It all helped make the song at that time the longest running hit single ever released – and made previous lengthies Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan, House of the Rising Sun by The Animals and Macarthur Park by Richard Harris seem like commercial breaks as well as paving the way for Don McLean’s full length American Pie and Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla.
Although credited to both John Lennon and Paul McCartney it was actually another slice of sentimentality by the master of maudlin Macca which started life as Hey Jules, a song supposedly written by Paul to comfort John’s five year old son Julian during his parents’ divorce. But he thought Jude sounded better than Jules.
It was released in August 1968 as the first single from The Beatles’ Apple record label. More than seven minutes long, it shot to the top of the UK charts and also spent nine weeks at number one in the United States, the longest for any Beatles single and at the time the longest time any song had stayed at the top. To date it has sold around eight million copies and is frequently included on music critics’ lists of the greatest songs of all time.
Strange then McCartney wasn’t sure he had a hit on his hands because, after all, that’s not why he wrote the song is it?
In May 1968 John and Cynthia Lennon separated after John’s affair with Yoko Ono. The following month McCartney drove out to visit Cynthia and John’s son, Julian, at the family’s home in Weybridge. After all, Cynthia had been part of The Beatles’ social circle since before the band’s rise to fame. McCartney later said he found it “a bit much for them suddenly to be personae non gratae and out of my life.” Cynthia wrote: “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.”
According to music journalist Chris Hunt, in the weeks after writing the song, McCartney tested it “on anyone too polite to refuse. And that meant everyone.” That included stopping at a village in Bedfordshire and performing it at a local pub, regaling members of the Bonzo Dog Band with the song while producing their single “I’m the Urban Spaceman” and interrupting a recording session by the Barron Knights to do the same.
Ron Griffith of The Iveys – later called Badfinger, an early signing to Apple – later recalled that on their first day in the studio, McCartney “gave us a full concert rendition of Hey Jude.”
When playing it to Lennon he offered to “fix” the line “the movement you need is on your shoulder,” because “it’s a stupid expression; it sounds like a parrot.” Surprisingly Lennon disagreed and said: “You won’t, you know. That’s the best line in the song.”
McCartney kept it in and later said: “that’s the line when I think of John, and sometimes I get a little emotional during that moment.”
Perhaps typically Lennon thought the whole thing had actually been written for him.
In a 1980 interview, Lennon stated that he “always heard it as a song to me” and contended that, on one level, McCartney was giving his blessing to Lennon and Ono’s relationship, while, on another, he was disappointed to be usurped as Lennon’s friend and songwriting partner.
Other people believed McCartney wrote the song about them, including Judith Simons, a journalist with the Daily Express.
Lennon also speculated that McCartney’s failing long-term relationship with Jane Asher provided an unconscious “message to himself.” The Beatle and the actress had announced their engagement on 25 December 1967, six months before he began an affair with Linda Eastman. That same month, Francie Schwartz, an American who was in London to discuss a film proposal with Apple, began living with McCartney at his St John’s Wood home.
When Lennon mentioned that he thought the song was about him and Ono, McCartney denied it and told Lennon he had written the song about himself!
Author Mark Hertsgaard has commented that “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.”
Music critic and author Tim Riley added: “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.
Crikey. All this from the man who brought us Mary Had a Little Lamb (1972) and We All Stand Together by the Frog Chorus (1984).
|WRITERS:||Paul McCartney & John Lennon|
|RELEASED||26th August 1968|