The Beatles

Hey Jude

Song Review by

With their 1968 number one single "Hey Jude," the Beatles managed to cover several bases at once. 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, and certainly never more than five; "Hey Jude" went on for just over seven minutes. Sung and written by Paul McCartney (although John Lennon was instrumental in getting him to keep the line about the movement on his shoulder), "Hey Jude" is not exactly a standard love song, but a song of consolation, sympathy, and encouragement. After all, the singer is not singing about himself or singing to a lover, but to a friend, imploring him or her to let go of the sadness of the past and open up to the possibilities of a new relationship. Lennon even speculated that McCartney was addressing the song to him, saying it was okay for him to begin his relationship with Yoko Ono. It was written around the time McCartney's engagement to Jane Asher broke off (and shortly before his relationship with Linda Eastman became serious), however, so it could also be seen as a subtle message to himself. Whatever, "Hey Jude"'s strength lies in its sublime melody, sad at points but never depressing, with an elegiac mood heightened by McCartney's stately piano playing and the Beatles' angelic background harmonies. What could have been just another great Beatles ballad became something quite extraordinary at the end of the last verse when the vocals unpredictably repeat the last word over and over again in ascending notes, ending in a full-out jubilant scream. That's the signal for the most elongated Beatles fadeout ever, lasting about four minutes, consisting solely of repeated harmonized "nah nah nah" refrains. What could have very easily been boring is instead hypnotic, because McCartney varies the vocal with some of the greatest nonsense scatting ever heard in rock, ranging from mantra-like chants to soulful lines to James Brown power screams. In addition, there's a gradual addition of numerous orchestral instruments, creating a symphonic grandeur that builds in majesty. "Hey Jude" can easily be covered by reducing much or most of the fadeout, and has been frequently interpreted by rock, pop, and even jazz performers, including Elvis Presley and (in a live rendition) the Grateful Dead. The most commercially successful one, however, was by Wilson Pickett, whose soul cover, with guitar by Duane Allman, made the Top 30 in early 1969, just a few months after the Beatles' own version had topped the charts.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Beatles [White Album] 1968 Apple Records / Capitol / EMI Records 0:00
Hey Jude 1968 Capitol
Hey Jude 1970 Capitol / Universal 7:12
1967-1970 1973 Apple Records 7:11
No Image 1982 Odeon 5:08
No Image 1984 MGM
Past Masters, Vol. 2 1988 Capitol / EMI Records 7:08
Past Masters 1988 Apple Records / Capitol 7:09
Not Guilty 1989 Barclay 0:00
White Album [Bootleg] [Planet] 1990 Planet 2:33
CD Singles Collection 1993 Capitol 3:56
No Image 1994 VigoTone
The Ultimate Box Set 1995 Capitol 7:08
Anthology 3 1996 Apple / Capitol 4:21
1 2000
Capitol 7:09
Capitol Records 1942-2002 [Deluxe Box Set] 2002
Various Artists
Capitol 7:20
LOVE 2006 Capitol / EMI Records / Apple 3:58
The Beatles: Stereo Box Set 2009 Capitol 7:09
The Beatles USB 2009 Capitol / EMI 7:09
1962-1970 2010 EMI / Parlophone 7:11
The U.S. Albums 2014 Capitol / Universal 7:12