The Beatles Songs: "Hey Jude"

The history of this classic Beatles song

The original US 45 of "Hey Jude"
Courtesy of

One of the few Beatles compositions to be written directly about, and for, a personal associate, "Hey Jude" was composed by Paul McCartney to John's son, Julian, on the occasion of John's impending divorce from his first wife (and Julian's mother), Cynthia. Paul and Julian had always been close—indeed, closer than Julian and his father had been—and he knew that John's new relationship with Yoko Ono, along with John's desire to distance himself from his old life, had to be hitting the younger Lennon (then age 6) pretty hard. Paul composed the melody and basic lyrics for the song en route to Cynthia's home in Weybridge, where he often visited, during June of 1968. When he returned home that day, he recorded a demo version on his piano. It was originally titled "Hey Jules," but Paul thought "Jude" would be easier to sing.

The Best Ever Written

When he presented the song to the band, John immediately pronounced it the best thing he'd ever written and fought to get it on the a-side of the group's next single, allowing his own "Revolution " to move to the b-side. Paul originally intended many of the lyrics, especially the line "the movement you need is on your shoulder," as mere placeholders, but John insisted they were perfect just as they were, and there they stayed.

The band recorded a rehearsal of the song at Abbey Road on July 29 and 30, 1968, as part of a planned single session right in the middle of sessions for their next LP, eventually known as "The White Album," but were soon convinced to re-record the whole thing at Trident Studios across town; Trident, which the band learned had fully functional eight-track recording. (Abbey Road studios had just gotten an eight-track system, but it was not completely operative.) The basic track was recorded on July 31, the orchestra overdubs, clapping, and "na-na-na"s of the lengthy coda recorded on August 1. (Part of the rehearsal was filmed for a BBC documentary simply entitled Music!; the footage features George playing bass, though he does not play on the final recording.) Four takes were recorded, but the first was deemed best and used for the overdubbing.

The Arrangement of the Song

During recording, Paul and George became involved in a famous argument over the arrangement of the song: George wanted to echo each of Paul's lines in the verse with an accompanying guitar flourish, as John had done in the rehearsal. Paul didn't see the song this way, and told George so, leaving the guitarist with a chip on his shoulder that would last through the rest of his days as a Beatle. In the end, George's contribution to "Hey Jude" is heard mainly in phrases on the bridge.

Ringo took a bathroom break during the recorded take of this song but managed to finish up and quietly work his way back to the drum kit just in time to begin his part.

The orchestra assembled for "Hey Jude" included two musicians who are known by name: Bobby Kok, a cellist, who went on to become a good friend of George's, appearing on his Cloud Nine album, and Bill Jackman, who had played baritone sax on "Lady Madonna," now sitting in on flute. The other members are largely lost to obscurity. When, in an effort to recapture the spirit of "A Day In The Life," Paul asked the orchestra musicians to sing and clap along with the song (for double the money, mind you), one blustered, "I'm not going to clap my hands and sing Paul McCartney's bloody song!" and stormed out. The rest complied.

Written by: Paul McCartney (100%) (credited as Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: July 31, 1968; August 1, 1968 (Trident Studios, London, England)
Mixed: August 2 and 6, 1968
Length: 7:11
Takes: 1


John Lennon: harmony vocals, rhythm guitar (1963 Gibson "Super Jumbo" J-200)
Paul McCartney: lead vocals, bass guitar (1961 Fender Bass VI), piano (C. Bechstein)
George Harrison: harmony vocals, lead guitar (1961 Sonic Blue Fender Stratocaster)
Ringo Starr: drums (1963 Ludwig Black Oyster Pearl), tambourine
Bobby Kok: cello
Bill Jackman: flute
Unknown orchestra musicians: violins (ten), trumpets (four), trombones (four), violas (three), cellos (three), double basses (two), flutes (two), clarinets (two), horns (two), bass clarinets (two), bassoon, contrabassoon, percussion

First released: August 26, 1968 (US: Apple 2276), August 30, 1968 (UK: Apple R5722)

Available on: (CDs in bold)

Hey Jude, (US: Apple SW 385, UK: Parlophone PCS 7184)
The Beatles 1967-1970 (UK: Apple PCSP 718, US: Apple SKBO 3404, Apple CDP 0777 7 97039 2 0)
Past Masters Volume Two, (Parlophone CDP 7 90044 2)
The Beatles 1 (Apple CDP 7243 5 299702 2)

Highest chart position: US: 1 (nine weeks beginning September 14, 1968); UK: 1 (two weeks beginning September 11, 1968)


  • The subject of "Hey Jude" is open to much debate, despite Paul's insistence that it was about Julian's parents divorcing—Julian himself never learned the song was about him until two decades later. John saw it as a subconscious attempt by Paul to reconcile his own loss of John to Yoko. Some have also seen it as Paul's subconscious attempt to "make it better" by leaving his own girlfriend, Jane Asher, for Linda Eastman. Some claim that there are Jewish connections ("Jude" being German for "Jew"), while others have suggested drug connections due to the "under your skin" line. Several associates and hangers-on have claimed the song is about them, as well.
  • John can clearly be heard shouting something after the last "Let her under your skin," right on the beat, and then exclaiming "f***ing hell!" at 2:58. (It has been suggested that he says "Got the wrong chord!" after flubbing a guitar move.) Remarkably, the expletive has never been removed or censored on the radio.
  • Paul's vocal on the coda may be the Beatles' most famous bit of vocal gymnastics. Triple-tracked, it features two Pauls working their way up over two octaves from low E to high F and a third ad-libbing, breaking off to scat "Make it, Jude" before the explosive high note and the resulting second half. (That second half coda begins at 3:12, and is actually longer than the song it anchors!)Here's the full text of Paul's ad-libbed vocal lines over the entire coda, from 3:58 on:
    "Ju-Judy Judy Judy Judy Judy OW, WAHOW!"
    "Ow hoo, na na na"
    "JUDE Jude JUDE Jude Joooo..."
    "Na na na na na, yeah yeah yeah"
    "Yeah you know you can make it, yeah Jude, you not gotta break it"
    "Don't make it bad Jude"
    "Take a sad song and make it better"
    "Oh Jude, Jude, Hey Jude, WHAAAAOOOOW"
    "Ooo, Juuuude"
    "Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey-ee-yay-yay-yay"
    "Hey, hey, hey"
    "Now Jude Jude Jude Jude Jude Jude, yeah yeah yeah yeah"
    "Woh yeah yeah"
    "Ah nanananananana cause I wanna"
    "Nanananana ... nanalala ow ow ow"
    "Oh God"
    "The pain won't come back Jude"
    "Yeah, eh hehe heh"
    "Make it Jude"
    "Goodeveningladiesandgentlemen mymymymy my my mahhhh"
    "A-well a naaaa-nanan" (fade)
    There are 19 repetitions of the "Na... na-na na-na-na-na / na-na-na-na / Hey Jude" chorus in the coda.
  • The original mono release of this song ends after the "A-well a" ad-lib, running 7:11 total; most of the versions found on CD, taken from the stereo mix, fade about four seconds earlier.
  • This was the longest single ever released up to that time in America, the longest #1 single ever in Billboard, but not, as some claim, the longest Beatle song officially released -- that honor goes to "Revolution 9" at 8:13. ("I Want You (She's So Heavy)" runs 7:47, making "Hey Jude" the third longest Beatles song.)
  • This was also the first Beatles single—indeed, the first musical release of any kind—to be released on their own custom label, Apple. (Although, curiously, the single featured Capitol / Parlophone label numbers.)
  • "Hey Jude" spent an unprecedented nine weeks at Number One in the US, making it the biggest Beatles single ever in America. It has sold over eight million copies, three million in just the first two months.
  • The rehearsal featured an unplanned intro by John and Paul (John: "From the heart of the black country!" Paul: "When I was a robber in Boston place / You gathered round me with your fine embrace") can be heard on Anthology 3. "Boston Place" is a street in London where the group had just set up Apple Electronics (and also the street the lads were chased down in the opening scene of A Hard Day's Night, while the "Black Country," was a reference to England's industrial factory center near and in Birmingham.
  • Paul sat down at the piano during the rehearsal of one of Apple's new acts, The Iveys (later Badfinger), and played a full impromptu version of "Hey Jude" for them. "We were gobsmacked," recalled one member later.
  • The lyrics to "Hey Jude" were purchased anonymously for approximately $40,000 at a 1996 Sotheby's auction. It was later revealed that Julian Lennon himself had made the winning bid.

Covered by: Area Code 615, Chet Atkins, The Bar-Kays, Count Basie, Shirley Bassey, John Bayless, Mr. Acker Bilk, Bill Black, Ace Cannon, Ray Charles Singers, Petula Clark, Richard Clayderman, Judy Collins, Jessi Colter, Ray Conniff, Bing Crosby, The Crusaders, De Danann, Pete Drake, Don Ellis, Jose Feliciano, Maynard Ferguson, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Ella Fitzgerald, Paul Frees, Grateful Dead, Wayne Gratz, The Guess Who, Ofra Harnoy, Woody Herman, John Holt, Willis "Gator" Jackson, Tom Jones, Stan Kenton, King Curtis, Al Kooper, James Last, Yusef Lateef, The Lettermen, Enoch Light, Arthur Lyman, Peggy March, R. Stevie Moore, The Music Machine, Peter Nero, Wilson Pickett, Elvis Presley, Boots Randolph, Jorge Rico, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, Earl Scruggs, The Shadows, George Shearing, O.C. Smith, Sonny and Cher, Stars on 45, Ray Stevens, Take That, The Temptations, Tiny Tim, Toots and the Maytals, Stanley Turrentine, University of Iowa Marching Band, Sarah Vaughn, Tony Vega, The Ventures, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, Dionne Warwick, Robbie Williams, Roger Williams