‘Hey Jude’ was the first release on The Beatles’ own Apple Records label. It was a ballad written by Paul McCartney, to comfort John Lennon’s son Julian during the divorce of his parents.

‘Hey Jude’ is a damn good set of lyrics and I made no contribution to that.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

It was written in June 1968, as McCartney drove his Aston Martin to Weybridge to visit Cynthia Lennon and her son. On the journey he began thinking about their changing lives, and of the past times he had spent writing with Lennon at the Weybridge house.

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 Oklahoma! is called Jud, and I like the name.

Paul McCartney

McCartney recorded a piano demo of ‘Hey Jude’ upon his return to his home in Cavendish Avenue, London. On 26 July 1968 played the song to Lennon for the first time.

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
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The lyrics struck an immediate chord with the record-buying public, who related to the hopeful sentiments. Its universality was demonstrated when John Lennon later revealed that he felt the song had been directed at him.

He said it was written about Julian, my child. He knew I was splitting with Cyn and leaving Julian. He was driving over to say hi to Julian. He’d been like an uncle to him. You know, Paul was always good with kids. And so he came up with ‘Hey Jude’.

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. On a conscious level, he didn’t want me to go ahead. The angel in him was saying, ‘Bless you.’ The devil in him didn’t like it at all because he didn’t want to lose his partner.

John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Paul McCartney's handwritten lyrics for Hey Jude

It wasn’t until 1987 that McCartney came to discuss ‘Hey Jude’ with Julian Lennon, after a chance encounter in a New York hotel.

He told me that he’d been thinking about my circumstances all those years ago, about what I was going through. Paul and I used to hang out a bit – more than dad and I did. We had a great friendship going and there seem to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and dad.
Julian Lennon
Mojo, February 2002

The recording notes for ‘Hey Jude’ were bought at auction by Julian Lennon in 1996 for £25,000. In 2002 a sale of the original handwritten lyrics was announced by Christie’s in London, with an estimated price of £80,000. Paul McCartney took out a court order to prevent the auction, saying the paper had disappeared from his London home.

Although by 1968 The Beatles had stopped performing live, the anthemic ending of ‘Hey Jude’ was perfect for crowd participation. It was fitting, then, when later years McCartney made it a key part of his live shows.

I went into the Apple shop just before ‘Hey Jude’ was being released. The windows were whited out, and I thought: ‘Great opportunity. Baker Street, millions of buses going around…’ So, before anyone knew what it meant, I scraped ‘Hey Jude’ out of the whitewash.

A guy who had a delicatessen in Marylebone rang me up, and he was furious: ‘I’m going to send one of my sons round to beat you up.’ I said, ‘Hang on, hang on – what’s this about?’ and he said: ‘You’ve written “Jude” in the shop window.’ I had no idea it meant ‘Jew’, but if you look at footage of Nazi Germany, ‘Juden Raus’ was written in whitewashed windows with a Star of David. I swear it never occurred to me.

Paul McCartney

Take one of ‘Hey Jude’ was released in 2018 on the super deluxe 50th anniversary reissue of the White Album, and take two was on 1996’s Anthology 3. The Love album, meanwhile, contained a subtly remixed version of the final version.

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