“Hey Jude, Don’t Make It Bad”: The Story of the Beatles Hit

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The Beatles band members includes, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and John Lennon.

“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.” —Paul McCartney1

The Beatles sitting down, while getting their hair styled | Courtesy of Creative Commons

In June of 1968, Paul McCartney went to visit John Lennon, his wife Cynthia, and their five year old son Julian. While hanging out and visiting, John and Cynthia announced to Paul that they were getting a divorce. Paul, who Julian considered more his father than John due to their closer connection, thought about how it would affect Julian. It was rumored that the reason why John and Cynthia were getting a divorce was because of John’s infidelity with an artist named Yoko Ono. In a letter written by John to Cynthia, he addressed the fact that John knew that their marriage was long over before the events that happened with Yoko Ono.2

Letter written by John to Cynthia, about their divorce | Courtesy of RR Auction via Billboard

Paul McCartney said, “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.”3

“Hey Jude” was recorded at Abbey Road on July 29-30, in 1968. John and Paul finished the final touches for the song in Paul’s house. They recorded it with Ringo and George that following Monday at Abbey Road. While they were figuring out how to play the song, they brought out an orchestra, and one of the other orchestra men, didn’t thinking that the song would be a huge hit at the time, walked out saying that he wasn’t “going to clap [his] hands and sing Paul McCartney’s bloody song.”4

The famous Beatles walk down Abbey Road | Courtesy of Creative Commons

The Beatles only took one take to record their hit song. While recording the song, Ringo Starr had to go to the bathroom, got up and left, and didn’t let anyone know. He came back, and nobody realized what had happened, for the first couple of seconds in the song. Paul liked how there was no drums and ended up sticking with it.

The final song is 7 minutes and 11 seconds long, and nobody intended on it being that long. “Hey Jude” was released as a single, that later was put into a collection of singles release by The Beatles. The song was released in the Unites States on August 26, 1968 and in the UK on August 30, 1968. “Hey Jude” had a permanent residence at #1 on the Billboards Top 30 for 8 weeks. All in all, it spent 18 weeks in the Top 30. Within the initial release of the song, there were five million sales in the first six months, and 7.5 million in 4 years. 5

When John first heard the song, he though it was about him and Yoko, and telling him “to go out and get her.” “Well, when Paul first sang ‘Hey Jude’ to me… or played me the little tape he’d made of it… I took it very personally. ‘Ah, it’s me,’ I said, ‘It’s me.’ He says, ‘No, it’s me.’ I said, ‘Check. We’re going through the same bit.’ So we all are. Whoever is going through a bit with us is going through it, that’s the groove.”6

In 1987, after the song was released, Paul reached out to Julian and said that the song was about him, and that Julian always felt a better connection to Paul, than his dad, John. The recording notes were auctioned off by Julian in 1996, and then Cynthia Lennon tried to auction off the original handwritten lyrics, but Paul took it to court preventing it from even happening.7 

The Beatles on the cover of Life Magazine on September 13, 1968 | Courtesy of Creative Commons

People and critics believe that throughout all the rough, creative, and changing time in America, “Hey Jude” gave people a sense of “letting go of your childhood innocence,” by giving them a message of reassurance, and trying to help them make the step to move forward with their lives. “The process of singing the song testifies that uplifted spirits are earned, not just willed; no peace is possible without struggle.”8

To this day, the Beatles are one of the most well-known bands in the world. They were part of “The British Invasion” and created an international legacy that will never die. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, and John Lennon and Paul McCartney were also inducted as solo artist.

  1. Andrew Leonard, “Hey Jude,” The Beatles Bible.  7 June 2018. Accessed September 09, 2018. www.beatlesbible.com/songs/hey-jude/ .
  2. John Lennon to Cynthia Twist, November 15, 1976, in Steve Marinucci, “John Lennon Disputes Yoko Ono Ending His marriage In Unearthed Letter to First Wife,” Billboard, August 8, 2017.  https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/7896840/john-lennon-yoko-ono-cynthia-lennon-divorce-letter.
  3. Andrew Leonard, “Hey Jude,” The Beatles Bible, 7 June 2018. Accessed September 09, 2018. www.beatlesbible.com/songs/hey-jude/.
  4.  Guesdon, Jean-Michel. All The Songs, The Story Behind All The Beatles Release. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2013.
  5. Dmitry Murashev, “Beatles History,” DM’S Beatles Site,  2012. Accessed 13 November 2018.
  6. John Lennon, interview by Jonathan Colt, in Rolling Stone Magazine, November 23, 1968, reproduced in Dmitry Murashev, Beatles History – 1968 Year. Accessed November 10, 2018. http://www.dmbeatles.com/interviews.php?interview=67.
  7. Andrew Leonard, “Hey Jude,” The Beatles Bible, 7 June 2018. Accessed September 09, 2018. www.beatlesbible.com/songs/hey-jude/.
  8. Encyclopedia Of Great Popular Song Recordings, 2013, s.v. “Hey Jude (1968)—The Beatles.”

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89 Responses

  1. My first memory of The Beatles was when it was my grandmother’s birthday and they made a video with the song Yesterday and ever since then, I have been in awe of The Beatles. I knew a little bit about the backstory of Hey Jude but this article really informed me on the details. I had no idea that John Lennon thought this song was about him when in reality it was about his son and I find that very ironic yet interesting to see how John did not make the connection to Julian. I did not know that Julian saw Paul more as a father figure than John… Extremely interesting article!

  2. I’ve always liked the meaning behind the song of “Hey Jude,” and it’s nice to know all the more in-depth information about the events that lead to the song being written. I’m not a fan of the Beatles and I don’t think I will be anytime soon, but this song exudes comfort and this article helps people understand that it’s exactly where the song was coming from.

  3. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard ‘Hey Jude’ and cried or just felt emotional and yet I never knew the story behind its creation. Its funny how sometimes we think of artists separately form humanity when in reality they go through the same drama we do, if not more. I think its so creative and such a wonderful way to express your feelings through a song, and it was a really nice gesture of Paul to write this song for Julian. Not only does it fit him but thousands of other kids around the world that go though different feelings when they’re parents get a divorce.

  4. I never knew the background behind the creation of Hey Jude until I read this article. John Lennon’s divorce with his first wife Cynthia was seemingly hard on his son, Julian, and the way Paul basically wrote Hey Jude as a way to cheer him up is super cool. It’s also interesting to know that the hit song was recorded in one take, something that is really hard to do within the music industry.

  5. I thought that “Hey Jude” was one of The Beatles’ more sweet songs, it was so soft and simple and much calmer than their others. I had never heard or even wondered at the story behind the song, but now I understand the song in a different way. To know that Paul wrote the song to calm Julian while Julian’s parents were going through what would be a messy separation is incredibly touching. It is also incredibly sad to know that Paul was more of a father to Julian than his own father. This article was incredibly informative and I genuinely enjoyed reading it.

  6. Every song has a meaning but I had never known that this song had this type of meaning! I jam to it all the time but had never thought about looking at the story behind the song. The song being 7 minutes and 11 seconds long without it being intentionally that long is just showing how into the song they were.

  7. I’ve never been a fan of The Beatles but I do respect all their hard work. “Hey Jude” is an iconic song and it was interesting to see how the song came about. I think it’s crazy how Paul McCartney had a better relationship with John’s son Julian. I am really curious now on how all that came about. I never realized how long that song was also I can agree with “Hey Jude” bringing comfort and a since of peace of knowing everything was going to be alright. Even though I might not be a fan I do listen to “Hey Jude” all the time even more when I am stressed.

  8. I find it so strange that Paul had a stronger relationship with John’s son than he did. I’m not a huge fan of The Beatles but their one song that I have always loved is Hey Jude. I love the meaning behind the song, I don’t think any of them would have ever expected it to be such a huge hit. I find the letter attached so funny because they’re referring to the LSD trips so casually, and now these letters are historical artifacts.

  9. “Hey Jude” has always been one of my favorite songs by the Beatles. To me, it’s such a soothing classic and always brings back good memories. I enjoyed reading this article because it taught me about how this hit came to be. I honestly had no clue that there was a meaningful origin story to this song. I think that the meaning behind it is beautiful and I would’ve never thought it was Paul’s thoughts towards Julian.

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