This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #14: Hey Jude by The Beatles.
Change is one of the most inevitable aspects of Life. It can be the catalyst to new opportunities but, it can, also, break your heart when things that have brought so much happiness and pleasure run their course. Despite the massive success enjoyed by the members of The Beatles, change became a factor in their personal and professional lives, just as it has for so many of us ordinary folk, too. Up until 1966, The Beatles could do very little wrong. The four MopTops were on top of the world, musically, and were very happy, personally. After their final US Tour (the one where John Lennon stated that The Beatles were “bigger than Jesus”), change came to the band, whether they were ready for it or not.
For starters, they decided to stop touring and devote their creative energy to being a studio band and to exploring some of the new advances in technology that were becoming available. Secondly, they began to explore the world of Eastern Mysticism; travelling to India to study Transcendental Meditation and other aspects of that philosophy. Finally, as humans, their family relationships began to change as well.
For John Lennon, his marriage to his first wife, Cynthia, was coming to an end because of his involvement with a new woman named Yoko Ono. John had one child with Cynthia; a boy named Julian. Up until 1966 and the end of the US tour, Cynthia and Julian were members of The Beatles family and, as such, they were always dropping in and out of recording studios during the early days of the band’s great successes. Paul McCartney had dated a girl named Jane Astor throughout all of those early days, as well. But, like his songwriting partner, Lennon, Paul McCartney now had eyes for someone else; a woman named Linda Eastman, heiress to the Eastman-Kodak fortune. So, something that had helped to ground the young boys in The Beatles……a stable family life…..had now evolved into something new and different. The impact on this change cannot be understated; not because either woman was negative or devious but, simply, because a change in direction had come into the lives of those men responsible for creating most of the music that changed how we listen to and appreciate music.
Initially, the changes that The Beatles were going through invigorated them. “Revolver”, “The White Album” and “Sgt. Pepper” were all still to come, along with “Let It Be” and Abbey Road” toward the end. As well, The Beatles, now that they were London-bound and no longer touring, turned more of their attention to the business of being The Beatles. This was the time that they formed Apple Music. But, as much as things were humming creatively and business-wise, there is often a wistfulness and a reflectfulness that comes with change. So, as the band took their first new steps with Ono and Eastman as part of the scene, the absence of those left behind was felt. In particular, Paul McCartney felt badly for Cynthia Lennon and her son, Julian. While he wasn’t angry at John Lennon for entering into his relationship with Yoko Ono, he had actually liked Cynthia and had taken a shine to Julian. In fact, Julian often says that, growing up, he played more with “Uncle Paul” than he ever did with his own Dad. So, with these emotions running through his mind, Paul decided to take advantage of a break in their rehearsal schedules and travel to touch base with Cynthia and Julian to let them know that he still cared and would be there for them if they needed him to be. As Paul drove along, he thought about what he wanted to say to a young Julian, who was still just a child at the time. The words that came to mind, as they often did for McCartney, did so in the form of a song.
Originally, the opening line read, “Hey, Jules!” but, after concluding his visit, McCartney returned home and began earnestly writing out the lyrics in his head and decided that “Jude” flowed better than “Jules”. The opening verse is all about Paul’s attempt to give counsel to a young child about how he should react whenever his father brought Yoko Ono around, as he surely would. In many divorce situations where there are children involved, the kids often become collateral damage as the adults fight among themselves and often use the child as a weapon to hurt each other or else, they forget about the child in all of their anger and their pain. McCartney tried his best to soften the blow for Julian Lennon and to take away some of the awkwardness that would naturally be there for him from that point onward.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to McCartney’s “letter to Jules” becoming a song. First of all, because Julian was just a boy and because McCartney changed the name “Jules” to “Jude”, Julian Lennon grew up not knowing that the song was written for him. He didn’t realize this until he was in his twenties and was having a chance conversation with “Uncle Paul” one day and it came up. At the time that Paul first brought the song to the band to see what they thought, John Lennon honestly thought the song was about him. The middle verses that encouraged Julian to “go and get her” were taken by John Lennon as meaning he was receiving Paul’s blessing for his new relationship and, as such, he was delighted with the new song. However, because Paul McCartney was so enthralled with his song, he became oblivious to the feelings and opinions of others; especially, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. In fact, McCartney’s criticisms of Ringo’s drumming caused Ringo to actually leave the band for over two weeks in protest. McCartney’s unwillingness to accept any suggestions for the guitar parts of the song from Harrison, saw George spend a majority of the recording session isolated in the recording booth, of his own volition.
***When I watched the “Get back” Beatles documentary on Disney + a while back, McCartney’s disregard for Harrison was plainly evident. It didn’t seem so much that McCartney doubted Harrison’s ability to play the guitar well. It was more a case of Paul not allowing George Harrison to have any creative input into any of his songs and simply expecting him to blindly follow instructions. John Lennon, on the other hand, was happy to allow Harrison some input. Whether Paul McCartney realized it or not, a schism was forming within the band between him and the other three members. It was the start of a split that would end up having massive ramifications for them all because it was how Allen Klein ended up weaselling his way into their business dealings, as well as, how the craft of writing their music changed as well.
“Hey Jude” ended up being the very first song released under the Apple Music label. It was famous for the lengthy fade-out that says “Na-na-na-nana-na-na…..nana-na-na….Hey Jude!” for several minutes. The song topped out at 7:01 because McCartney wanted to beat the record for longest single which, at the time, went to “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, a song that was exactly seven minutes long. “Hey Jude” was filmed for inclusion on the David Frost TV show on the BBC which was the first time that The Beatles had played before, and with, a live audience since their US Tour had ended. The publicity gained from appearing on the David Frost show vaulted “Hey Jude” into the top spot on the charts, where it stayed for several weeks.
Just as much change was ongoing behind the scenes with the band, there was much change ongoing throughout the world when “Hey Jude” was released, too. The Vietnam War was raging, as were counter protests against it. John Lennon’s song, “Revolution” had been released just prior to “Hey Jude” and was not well-received. *(You can read a post about that song, here). So, when “Hey Jude” followed “Revolution”, it was viewed as holding the view that Love and Acceptance were an answer to the upheaval that so plagued the world and as such, “Hey Jude” was more well-received which, in turn, fuelled McCartney’s opinion that his way of producing songs was the proper way to go which, in turn, further alienated the other members of the band, who were growing tired of McCartney’s bossy ways.
However, the most important element of the story behind “Hey Jude” was that it was a song crafted out of love and concern for two people Paul McCartney cared for and worried were being left behind as The Beatles moved forward. Both Cynthia Lennon and Julian Lennon maintain that the song meant a lot to them and that each time they heard it played, they felt it in their hearts. So, as much as change seems to be an inevitable part of all of our lives, it doesn’t have to happen at the expense of human decency and compassion for those being affected the most by that change. So, as much as this song was a tough one for the band to get through, it remains a song built on a foundation of concern and empathy, which is one of the reasons for its enduring popularity.
So, without further delay, here is one of the greatest songs of all-time…..a non-album single at the time of its release……”Hey Jude” by The Beatles. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Hey Jude” by The Beatles, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Beatles, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.