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

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“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.”

89 Responses

  1. I have always loved the Beatles’ music, especially the song “Hey Jude” since it helps me through the first few months struggling when I left my home and went to college; however, I never knew that there was a story behind the song. The song’s origin fascinated me how it was Paul’s thoughts for John’s son, Julian. I used to think that John was the one who sang every song, but thanks to the article, I know that I was wrong.

  2. The Beatles is a name that everyone knows, or should know. They have so many hit songs, and almost, if not all of their songs have a genuine meaning behind them. I admire every member of The Beatles as they all contributed to my all time favorite song-Imagine. I love the idea that Paul McCartney wrote “Hey Jude” for John’s son. I think that it’s actually quite common for celebrities to partake in adultery and infidelity.

  3. It is always fun hearing the origin of any song, specifically if that song is by one of the greatest bands ever in The Beatles. Alexandria Zapata did a great job describing how the song came to be and put over Paul McCarthy in such a positive light that it has led to me to look up to him for such a caring act after the effects that John Lennon and Cynthia’s divorce has on their son, Julian. This act of compassion transformed into one of the most well-spirited songs ever made.

  4. It’s cool hearing the back story of the song, and how it originally was just Paul singing to himself, singing his thoughts to Julian. And I do think that the song could apply to anybody, especially someone who is leaving their childhood, like a college student. It can be stressful but it’ll be okay. So I like how a simple message to one person worked out to be a world wide message.

  5. I love these kinds of articles. They explain the backstory of how something so famous came to be, in this case the song “HeyJude” I personally love the beatles, which is why I selected to read this article. There songs give me such a joy and positive feeling. I think my favorite song would be either Let it Be or I Wanna Hold Your Hand. THey were such a famous group that made history big time there music will be cherished and remembered for many more years to come.

  6. I had no idea the inspiration behind Hey Jude. I also did not know that was the song that made the group blow up the way that it did. I have listened to The Beatles a lot growing up because of my dad. I’m so proud of all they have accomplished and they are still iconic even though the band is no longer in tact. Everyone will sing along when hearing the iconic “hey Jude”

  7. Everything about The Beatles is interesting. From their uprising history to their ultimate downfall. The songs pose as the most interesting aspect The Beatles offer. They represent the era very well and the messages behind their songs are beautiful. I find “Hey Jude” to be a beautiful and soothing song. Now that I know the meaning behind the song it’s a little more heartfelt.

  8. Like everyone else in the world, I love the Beatles. Hey Jude was an amazing song that brought hope to me when I was just a little girl. The Beatles have made an impact around the world and they were one of the first boy bands in the world. The Beatles walked so that all the other boy bands could run.

  9. I don’t think I have ever listened to a Beatles song from front to back. That is how little I know about them, but this article gave me an insight into one of their songs that had layers of meaning to it. The song “Hey Jude” was inspired by the events that were happening in their lives at that moment. I know thats cool and all but 7 minutes! Jesus i would fall asleep by the end of it.

  10. Like many others, I’ve heard this song many times, but I don’t know much about the Beatles personal lives and this article gave me better insight on that. It was interesting to read about the meaning that Paul had intended this song to have, along with John’s divorce and also the fact that Ringo had left the room in the middle of recording

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