When was it recorded? Jul. 29 – Aug. 1, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Aug. 26, 1968 as a single
Who wrote it? McCartney
Have I heard this song before? Yep yep
What my research dug up:
(I started with 21 pages of raw data to filter for this one. I only regret I couldn’t write about everything I found interesting here.)
Paul wrote “Hey Jude” for John’s son, Julian, in the wake of John and his first wife Cynthia’s divorce.
“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.’ I eventually changed ‘Jules’ to ‘Jude’. One of the characters in [Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical] ‘Oklahoma’ is called Jud, and I like the name.” — Paul McCartney (Anthology)
After the visit in June 1968, Paul recorded a demo of the song when he returned home. I’m not convinced any of the so-called demo recordings I listened to are authentic, so I’ll refrain from posting them. According to the Beatles Bible, Paul played his demo for John for the first time on Jul. 26.
“He said it was written about Julian, my child. …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 (David Sheff, All We Are Saying)
Quoth Alan Pollack, “Hey Jude” features “an unusual binary form that combines a fully developed, hymn-like song together with an extended, mantra-like jam on a simple chord progression.”
The Beatles recorded 25 demo takes of “Hey Jude” on Jul. 29 and 30, intending to record the real deal at Trident Studios due to their eight-track recording machine. The second take from these initial sessions appears on “Anthology 3.”
There are a number of other early takes floating around on YouTube. Quoth Pollack, “The technical common denominator of all these alternates is the lack of orchestra in the jam session, and an extremely diminished (in some cases, non-existent) role for George. Interpretively, all of these alternates present the song with much less ‘solemnity,’ and with quite a bit more hard-rocking edge and horsing-around sense of humor than the official version.” If this version’s introduction is anything to go by, that last statement is certainly true.
On Jul. 30, the Beatles’ recording session was filmed for the National Music Council of Great Britain’s documentary, “Music!”
The rhythm track was completed Jul. 31 and on Aug. 1 “Hey Jude” was completed with overdubs from a 36-piece orchestra (scored by who else but George Martin). The band then asked the orchestra musicians to clap and sing along to the closing coda…
“Most of the musicians were happy to oblige, especially as it meant a doubled fee, but there was one dissenter who reportedly walked out, saying ‘I’m not going to clap my hands and sing Paul McCartney’s bloody song!’” – Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions
“Hey Jude” was released as a single on Aug. 30 with “Revolution” as a B-side. It was the first single released by the Beatles’ record label, Apple Records.
My main takeaway from my research is that I can now hear the “Fucking hell!” hidden at 2:57.
The single version of “Hey Jude” runs 7:11 and was the longest #1 UK hit from 1968 to 1993.
“We recorded ‘Hey Jude’ in Trident Studios. It was a long song. In fact, after I timed it I actually said, ‘You can’t make a single that long.’ I was shouted down by the boys – not for the first time in my life – and John asked: ‘Why not?’ I couldn’t think of a good answer, really – except the pathetic one that disc jockeys wouldn’t play it. He said, ‘They will if it’s us.’ And, of course, he was absolutely right.” — George Martin (Anthology)
In the US, “Hey Jude” was the Beatles’ 16th #1 hit, which tied them with Elvis Presley for most #1 singles at the time. The song was also #1 for nine weeks, making it the Beatles’ longest charting American single.
Quoth Wikipedia, “‘Hey Jude’ became the biggest-selling debut release for a record label ever, selling an estimated eight million copies worldwide and topping the charts in eleven countries. ‘Hey Jude’ was the top Billboard Hot 100 single for 1968, according to year-end charts.” “Hey Jude” was certified Gold by the RIAA on Sept. 13, 1968. The RIAA revisited the single in 1999 and found it 30 years later it was now certified quadruple Platinum.”
Critics adored “Hey Jude,” with several questioning why it wasn’t included on “The Beatles” (which had been recorded around the same time). To quote Richie Unterberger, “It was one of their most memorable, classic, romantic songs, and it was simultaneously quite commercial and structurally daring, even barrier-breaking. The barrier being broken was that which limited pop singles to about two or three minutes in length… ‘Hey Jude’ is not exactly a standard love song, but a song of consolation, sympathy, and encouragement.”
“Hey Jude” was nominated for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal at the 1969 Grammy Awards but did not win anything. 32 years later, however, the single was inducted into the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Grammy Hall of Fame (Wikipedia).
But wait, there’s more! Michael Lindsay-Hogg shot a promotional film for “Hey Jude” on Sept. 4. According to the Beatles Bible, “At least three performances of ‘Hey Jude’ were filmed; the most commonly seen is an edit of two of these. Only the vocals were live: during the first part of the song Paul McCartney sang along with the studio vocals, and ad-libbed during the end.” Wikipedia adds, “The event is also memorable because it marked Starr’s return to the group after a two-week hiatus, during which he had announced that he had left the band.” The clip first aired four days later on the TV program “Frost on Sunday.” (The sound might be on mute when the video starts, but the audio does work.)
If you’re feeling adventurous, here’s a comparison of two versions of the video. (There’s one comparing four versions of the video, but it’s late and my brain couldn’t handle it.)
I would say “Hey Jude” is the epitome of a feel-good song, but no matter how joyous it truly is, I always feel an undercurrent of sadness when I listen to it. The message is overwhelmingly positive (although born of a place of sorrow), so it might be me projecting. Some Beatles songs just make me sad for reasons I can’t put my finger on.