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Hey Jude - The Beatles' Greatest Song?

Updated on October 12, 2009
The UK cover of the Hey Jude single
The UK cover of the Hey Jude single


It was 1968 and the previous year's 'summer of love' was giving way to a subtle backlash in the form of a rootsier, more urban sound and a more outspoken political attitude. Personally too many of rock's leading lights were starting down a path of excess that would see them die before the decade was out. John Lennon staved off total collapse after spending almost a year permanently on an acid high, but like his contemporaries, his experiences had led him to radically change his life.

Ahead of him would lie heroin use, the break-up of The Beatles, weird musical experiments and a move to the US, but the first sign of his life changes came when he left his wife Cynthia to move in with his new girlfriend, Yoko Ono - who he met at an art show in 1967. That also meant leaving his young son, Julian.

Paul McCartney felt an instinctive sympathy for the young boy whose father had disappeared from his life, and would spend much time during the late 60s dropping by to see both Cynthia and Julian to make sure that they were OK. As he drove on one such visit, a melody came into his head that seemed to fit the mood of what he thought of Julian's plight.

Heading for a piano, he wrote the first draft of the song - then called "Hey Jules" - as a gesture of solidarity. Later, he decided that "Jules" sounded a bit too 'country and western', was too obviously personal and was also slightly awkward to sing. Casting around for an alternative, the name Jude fit well and was adopted by its author

Music, Lyrics and Structure

Hey Jude was, for its time, highly unusual in a number of ways. Firstly, it had nothing of the wild studio experimentation that had marked much of the Beatles' ouevre over the preceding couple of years. The verses at the start comprising a live take of the song played simply by McCartney (piano, lead vocal), Lennon (rhythm guitar, backing vocal), Harrison (lead guitar, backing vocal) and Starr (drums). The song's distinctive rolling bassline was overdubbed afterwards by McCartney.

Musically, the song also deviated a little from McCartney's established style. More emotionally direct and repetitive than much of his output from 66-67, it has even been called 'Lennonian' in style - with it's use of minimal chord changes and a slightly bluesy feel. Perhaps it is no surprise that Lennon rated it the best song among his partner's output. The most obviously unusual aspect of the song is its length. Although the era of the sub 3-minute song had already passed by 1968, the 7 minute running (varying between album and single versions of the song) was clearly exceptional. The bulk of the song is also made up of a repeating coda - the famous singalong chorus at the end. This is given a massive sound by the use of a full 30 piece orchestra who did nothing more than repeat the same four chords over and over again.

Lyrically too, it is more allusive than many McCartney compositions of the period, addressing someone very directly without ever it being made explicit who that person actually is. Famously, McCartney was embarrassed about the line "the movement you need is on your shoulder" explaining to Lennon that he hadn't had time to write anything proper. Lennon, however, insisted that it was the best line in the song and persuaded McCartney that it would stay. Today, McCartney says that whenever he sings that line in concert he still remembers John.

The lyrical ambiguity has led to the song receiving a reputation for universality - its meaning being open to a number of interpretations that could fit anyone at various stages in their life.

The Famous 'Expletive'

The Beatles were normally meticulous in the studio - taking great care to make sure that their records sounded just perfect. Bizarrely for such a prominent and famous song in their output, there is a clearly audible expletive during the verse.

If you listen carefully around the 3 minute mark you will hear John Lennon say something that is a little mumbled, followed by the phrase "F***ing hell!". According to legend this outburst was prompting by him sitting on the piano, but close listening suggests that the first mumbled sentence is probably "got the wrong chord", meaning that he'd played the wrong thing on his guitar.

Normally, such mistakes are simply recorded over during production of the record but for some reason this made it onto the finished record. According to the sound engineers who worked on the track this was a deliberate move, instigated by Lennon, who thought that sneaking a swear word out on their biggest selling single would be a great inside joke.

Hey Jude Lyrics

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.

Hey Jude, don't be afraid.
You were made to go out and get her.
The minute you let her under your skin,
Then you begin to make it better.

And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain,
Don't carry the world upon your shoulders.
For well you know that it's a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder.

Hey Jude, don't let me down.
You have found her, now go and get her.
Remember to let her into your heart,
Then you can start to make it better.

So let it out and let it in, hey Jude, begin,
You're waiting for someone to perform with.
And don't you know that its just you, hey Jude, you'll do,
The movement you need is on your shoulder.

Hey Jude, don't make it bad.
Take a sad song and make it better.
Remember to let her under your skin,
Then you'll begin to make it
Better better better better better better, oh.

Na na na na na ,na na na, hey Jude..


The influence of Hey Jude was immediately massive - and has continued to reverberate down the years. Firstly, as a single of over 7 minutes in length it destroyed the previously cherished myth that songs over 3 minutes were uncommercial.

Secondly, it introduced the idea of the communal singalong aspect that has been reproduced on rock records ever since. Notable examples include the song Atlantis by Donovan, All Around the World by Oasis, Give Peace a Chance by John Lennon, Dry the Rain by the Beta Band and any number of similarly-styled 'epics' that followed in its wake.


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    • profile image

      Wilton 7 years ago

      Frankly, there will never be a song as powerful as Hey Jude. When i hear it, my eyes get watery.

    • thor6 profile image

      thor6 8 years ago from

      Excellent hub I wish mine were as good as yours. Keep up the good work. Take a look a t mine and tell me what you think

      Take care and have a happy life.