Who is Hey Jude by The Beatles about?

29 July 2021, 19:00 | Updated: 28 July 2022, 11:27

One of the greatest singles of all time was released in 1968. But what was the original title and who was it about?

30 August 1968 was a very important day in The Beatles’ career. On this day, the Fab Four released their first single on their own label - Apple.

Established as a way for the band to gain control over their own work and business, Apple’s first ever single was the double-hit of Hey Jude and Revolution.

Hey Jude by The Beatles was released several days earlier in the US - on Monday 26 August 1968
Hey Jude by The Beatles was released several days earlier in the US - on Monday 26 August 1968. Picture: Blank Archives/Getty Images

John Lennon’s Revolution was an angry retort to the riots that had occurred in Paris during the Spring of 1968, but the flipside was something altogether more personal.

Written by Paul McCartney in the summer of ’68, it was a reaction to the news that John had split with his first wife Cynthia, leaving behind their five year old son Julian in favour of an avant garde life with Japanese artist Yoko Ono.

John Lennon and his son Julian in late 1967
John Lennon and his son Julian in late 1967. Picture: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Macca had known Cynthia since the band’s school days and one day he headed over to the Lennons’ home in Weybridge, Surrey to see his old friend and her son. The Lennon split was less than amicable and, with Paul having recently separated from his own longterm girlfriend Jane Asher, there seemed to be change in the world of the Beatles.

Driving back from seeing Cynthia and Julian, McCartney started to think of a tune, this being a particularly fertile time for the songwriter. On his mind was John’s young son: “I knew it was not going to be easy for him,” he explained in the book Many Years From Now. “I always feel sorry for kids in divorces…”

Paul McCartney and Julian Lennon, 1967
Paul McCartney and Julian Lennon, 1967. Picture: Central Press/Getty Images

The original idea was “Hey Jules, don’t make it bad” but Paul thought that Jules was a “country and western” type name, so he changed it to the more classical “Jude”.

Despite this being a turbulent time for John Lennon, he offered support for his songwriting partner when he first heard the lyric. McCartney was embarrassed by the line “The movement you need is on your shoulder” and vowed to change it, but John said: “You won’t you know,” claiming it was the best part of the whole song.

The track was recorded in July of 1968, with a documentary camera capturing some of the recording...

The finished version of Hey Jude featured a massive orchestral accompaniment and the finished track clocked in just over 7 minutes - one of the longest singles ever to make Number 1. It was only eclipsed as the longest running chart-topper in 1993, when Meat Loaf’s I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) came in at 7 minutes and 52 seconds.

Released on Friday, 30 August 1968, the release of this monumental tune was plugged with a special promo video that was included on David Frost’s brand new TV show on ITV. The single made the UK Number 1 spot for two weeks, before being toppled by Mary Hopkin’s Those Were The Days - another Apple release!

Paul McCartney and Mary Hopkin in 1968
Paul McCartney and Mary Hopkin in 1968. Picture: GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images

Paul McCartney still performs Hey Jude as part of his live set, a testament to its enduring popularity.


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