“Hey Jude” is a song by the English rock band the Beatles, written by Paul McCartney and credited to Lennon–McCartney. The ballad evolved from “Hey Jules”, a song McCartney wrote to comfort John Lennon’s son, Julian, during his parents’ divorce. “Hey Jude” begins with a verse-bridge structure incorporating McCartney’s vocal performance and piano accompaniment; further instrumentation is added as the song progresses. After the fourth verse, the song shifts to a fade-out coda that lasts for more than four minutes.
“Hey Jude” was released in August 1968 as the first single from the Beatles’ record label Apple Records. More than seven minutes in length, it was at the time the longest single ever to top the British charts. It also spent nine weeks at number one in the United States, the longest for any Beatles single. “Hey Jude” tied the “all-time” record, at the time, for the longest run at the top of the US charts. The single has sold approximately eight million copies and is frequently included on professional critics’ lists of the greatest songs of all time. In 2013, Billboard named it the 10th “biggest” song of all time.
n May 1968, John Lennon and his wife Cynthia Lennon separated after John’s affair with Yoko Ono. The following month, Paul McCartney drove out to visit Cynthia and John’s son, Julian, at Kenwood, the family’s home in Weybridge. Cynthia had been part of the Beatles’ social circle since before the band’s rise to fame in 1963; McCartney later said he found it “a bit much for them suddenly to be personae non gratae and out of my life.” Cynthia Lennon recalled of McCartney’s surprise visit: “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.”
I started with the idea “Hey Jules,” which was Julian, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Hey, try and deal with this terrible thing. I knew it was not going to be easy for him. I always feel sorry for kids in divorces…
– Paul McCartney, 1997
The song’s original title was “Hey Jules”, and it was intended to comfort Julian Lennon from the stress of his parents’ separation. McCartney later said, “I knew it was not going to be easy for him”, and that he changed the name to “Jude” “because I thought that sounded a bit better”.
According to music journalist Chris Hunt, in the weeks after writing the song, McCartney “test[ed] his latest composition on anyone too polite to refuse. And that meant everyone.” On 30 June, after recording the Black Dyke Mills Band’s rendition of his instrumental “Thingumybob”, in Yorkshire, McCartney stopped at a village in Bedfordshire and performed “Hey Jude” at a local pub. He also regaled members of the Bonzo Dog Band with the song while producing their single “I’m the Urban Spaceman”, in London, and interrupted a recording session by the Barron Knights to do the same. Ron Griffith of the group the Iveys – soon to be known as Badfinger and, like the Black Dyke Mills Band, an early signing to the Beatles’ new record label Apple Records – later recalled that on their first day in the studio, McCartney “gave us a full concert rendition of ‘Hey Jude'”.
When introducing the composition to Lennon, McCartney assured him that he would “fix” the line “the movement you need is on your shoulder”, reasoning that “it’s a stupid expression; it sounds like a parrot.” Lennon replied: “You won’t, you know. That’s the best line in the song.” McCartney retained the phrase; he later said of his subsequent live performances of the song: “that’s the line when I think of John, and sometimes I get a little emotional during that moment.”
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 … Subconsciously, he was saying, Go ahead, leave me. On a conscious level, he didn’t want me to go ahead.
– John Lennon, 1980
Although McCartney originally wrote “Hey Jude” for Julian, John Lennon thought it 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. Still others, including Lennon, have speculated that in the lyrics to “Hey Jude”, McCartney’s failing long-term relationship with Jane Asher provided an unconscious “message to himself”. McCartney and Asher had announced their engagement on 25 December 1967, yet he began an affair with Linda Eastman in June 1968; 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 writes: “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.”
“Hey Jude” was released on 26 August 1968 in the United States and 30 August in the United Kingdom, backed with “Revolution” on the B-side of a 7-inch single. It was one of four singles issued simultaneously to launch Apple Records – the others being Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days”, Jackie Lomax’s “Sour Milk Sea”, and the Black Dyke Mills Band’s “Thingumybob”. In advance of the release date, Apple declared 11–18 August to be “National Apple Week” in the UK, and sent gift-wrapped boxes of the records, marked “Our First Four”, to Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family, and to Harold Wilson, the prime minister at the time. The release was promoted by Derek Taylor, who, in Doggett’s description, “hyped the first Apple records with typical elan”. “Hey Jude” was the first of the four singles, since it was still designated as an EMI/Parlophone release in the UK and a Capitol release in the US, but with the Apple Records logo now added. In the US, “Hey Jude” was the first Beatles single to be issued in a company sleeve rather than a picture sleeve.
Upon the single’s release, Derek Johnson of the NME wrote: “The intriguing features of ‘Hey Jude’ are its extreme length and the 40-piece orchestral accompaniment – and personally I would have preferred it without either!” While he viewed the track overall as “a beautiful, compelling song”, and the first three minutes as “absolutely sensational”, Johnson rued the long coda’s “vocal improvisations on the basically repetitive four-bar chorus”. Time magazine described the coda as “a fadeout that engagingly spoofs the fadeout as a gimmick for ending pop records”. The same reviewer contrasted “Hey Jude” with its B-side, “Revolution”, saying that “The other side of the new disk urges activism of a different sort”, due to McCartney “liltingly exhort[ing] a friend to overcome his fears and commit himself in love”. Rolling Stone also attributed the song’s meaning as a message from McCartney to Lennon to end his negative relationships with women: “to break the old pattern; to really go through with love”. Other commentators interpreted “Hey Jude” as being directed at Bob Dylan, then semi-retired in Woodstock.
“Hey Jude” was nominated for the Grammy Awards of 1969 in the categories of Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, but failed to win any of them. In the 1968 NME Readers’ Poll, “Hey Jude” was named the best single of the year, and the song also won the 1968 Ivor Novello Award for “A-Side With the Highest Sales”. In 2001, “Hey Jude” was inducted into the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Grammy Hall of Fame.
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked “Hey Jude” at number eight on the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, making it the highest-placed Beatles song on the list. Among its many appearances in other best-song-of-all-time lists, VH1 placed it seventh in 2000 and Mojo ranked it at number 29 in the same year, having placed the song seventh in a 1997 list of “The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time”. In 1976, the NME ranked it 38th on the magazine’s “Top 100 Singles of All Time”, and the track appeared at number 77 on the same publication’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2014. In January 2001, “Hey Jude” came in third on Channel 4’s list of the “100 Greatest Singles”. The Amusement & Music Operators Association ranks “Hey Jude” as the 11th-best jukebox single of all time. In 2008, the song appeared in eighth place on Billboard‘s “All Time Hot 100 Songs”.
In July 2006, Mojo placed “Hey Jude” at number 12 on its list of “The 101 Greatest Beatles Songs” (between “Eleanor Rigby” and “Come Together”). On a similar list compiled four years later, Rolling Stone ranked the song at number seven. In 2015, the ITV program The Nation’s Favourite Beatles Number One ranked “Hey Jude” in the first place.