Song facts: Hey Jude

Paul McCartney wrote Hey Jude while driving over to see Cynthia and Julian Lennon, after hearing of John and Cynthia's impending divorce. While he was thinking of words to console young Julian, he formed the basis for the song. The original lyrics were Hey Jules, but McCartney didn't like how that sounded so he changed them to Hey Jude.

Cynthia had been part of the Beatles social circle since before the band's meteoric rise to fame and McCartney had a hard time envisioning her not being there anymore.

"I thought, as a friend of the family, I would motor out to Weybridge and tell them that everything was all right: to try and cheer them up, basically, and see how they were. I had about an hour's drive. I would always turn the radio off and try and make up songs, just in case... I started singing: 'Hey Jules - don't make it bad, take a sad song, and make it better...' It was optimistic, a hopeful message for Julian: Come on, man, your parents got divorced. I know you're not happy, but you'll be OK." - Paul McCartney

After first playing the song for John Lennon on July 26th, 1968, McCartney assured him he'd get rid of the line the movement you need is on your shoulder... thinking it sounded silly, like a parrot on your shoulder. Lennon insisted he keep the lyrics in, that he knew what they meant.

"I finished it all up in Cavendish and 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!' That's collaboration. When someone's that firm about a line that you're going to junk, and he said, 'No, keep it in.' So of course you love that line twice as much because it's a little stray, it's a little mutt that you were about to put down and it was reprieved and so it's more beautiful than ever. I love those words now...
Time lends a little credence to things. You can't knock it, it just did so well. But when I'm singing it, that is when I think of John, when I hear myself singing that line; it's an emotional point in the song." - Paul McCartney
That's Paul's best song. It started off as a song about my son Julian because Paul was going to see him. Then he turned it into "Hey Jude." I always thought it was about me and Yoko. - John Lennon
Paul McCartney, 1968. 

Paul McCartney, 1968. 

Recording

Hey Jude was first recorded on July 29th and 30th of 1968, during sessions for The White Album. Yoko Ono was more and more inseparable from Lennon at this stage, which created tension during a lot of the sessions. Over these first two days the Beatles recorded 25 takes of the song, with George Martin producing.

These first sessions at EMI Studios were largely seen as rehearsals as the Beatles wanted to record the master take at Trident Studios to utilise their eight-track recording machine. A take from July 29th was issued on the Beatles' Anthology 3 album in 1996.

The Beatles recorded the master take on July 31st at Trident Studios London. Four takes were recorded on this day and the first take was chosen for later overdubbing; which took place in August. 

Personnel

  • Paul McCartney – lead vocal, piano, bass, handclaps
  • John Lennon – backing vocal, acoustic guitar, handclaps
  • George Harrison – backing vocal, lead guitar, handclaps
  • Ringo Starr – backing vocal, drums, tambourine, handclaps
The Beatles filming the promo for Hey Jude, September 4th, 1968.

The Beatles filming the promo for Hey Jude, September 4th, 1968.

Promo video

On September 4th 1968, the Beatles recorded promotional videos for Revolution and Hey Jude at Twickenham Film Studios, London. For Hey Jude The Beatles were accompanied by a 36-piece orchestra and 300 fans.

"We made a film in front of an audience. They had brought people in for Hey Jude. It wasn't done just for David Frost, but it was shown on his show and he was actually there when we filmed it." - George Harrison

The Beatles enlisted Michael Lindsay-Hogg to direct the films, having worked with them previously on the Paperback Writer and Rain promo videos in 1966.

Hey Jude/Revolution single sleeve, 1968.

Hey Jude/Revolution single sleeve, 1968.

Release

Hey Jude was released in the US on August 26th 1968, with John Lennon's Revolution included as the B-side. It was the first Beatles' single to be issued on the band's newly formed Apple label; it was released in the UK four days later on August 30th.

Chart success

Hey Jude enjoyed great success in the US, reaching the number one spot on September 28th, 1968 and staying there for nine straight weeks. It also found its way to the top of the UK Singles Chart on September 11th 1968, remaining there for two weeks; before being knocked off the top spot by Those Were the Days, a Mary Hopkin song which Paul McCartney produced.