Music/Popular Culture

Hey Jude: Paul acts the peacemaker…

In a song canon filled with incredible moments “Hey Jude,” a song of conciliation and consolation by Paul the peacemaker, is one of the Beatles’ finest.

“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

Still from video of Beatles performing “Hey Jude” on the David Frost show (image courtesy Gibson)

In a Paul McCartney birthday essay written some years ago, I noted that Bob Spitz’s biography of the Beatles revealed characteristics that many people don’t understand about why McCartney is McCartney. Spitz noted McCartney’s role within his family as peacemaker and mediator and that Paul was and is an intensely loyal family member and friend.

That loyalty evinces itself in one of the Beatles’ most important songs, the powerful ballad, “Hey Jude.”

Despite the generally received belief that McCartney wrote the song as a sort of consolation to the young Julian Lennon, John’s son from his first marriage to Cynthia Powell, John Lennon had a different view:

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’s reading is certainly an interesting one and something of a psychoanalysis of Paul by someone who could have rightly claimed to be his closest friend. Still, there are also valid accounts by those with equal claim to knowledge of the matter – Paul himself and Julian Lennon, the most often ascribed dedicatee, who offered this in an interview in 2002:

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.

Whichever account is more accurate – and there is likely truth factual and emotional in both accounts – “Hey Jude” was a huge success, reaching #1 in at least 23 countries and achieving year-end #1 status in Canada, Australia, the UK and the US.

McCartney wrote the song alone; but he has often acknowledged John’s input and gives Lennon credit for getting him to keep what has become a signature line in the lyrics:

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.

The lyrics are simple but affecting:

“Hey Jude”

Hey, Jude, don’t make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better

Hey, Jude, don’t be afraid
You were made to go out and get her
The minute you let her under your skin
Then you begin to make it better

And anytime you feel the pain,
Hey, Jude, refrain
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it’s a fool
Who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder

Nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah nah

Hey, Jude, don’t let me down
You have found her, now go and get her
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better

So let it out and let it in,
Hey, Jude, begin
You’re waiting for someone to perform with
And don’t you know that it’s just you,
Hey, Jude, you’ll do
The movement you need is on your shoulder

Nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah nah yeah

Hey, Jude, don’t make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her under your skin
Then you’ll begin to make it better, better, better, better, better… oh!

Nah, nah nah, nah nah, nah, nah, nah nah,
Hey, Jude (Repeated 16 times with McCartney tossing in shouts of various kinds periodically)

Finally, there’s this – here are the Beatles performing “Hey Jude” live on the David Frost Show (the clip was later aired on The Smothers Brothers Show in the US):

In a song canon filled with incredible moments “Hey Jude,” a song of conciliation and consolation by Paul the peacemaker, is one of the Beatles’ finest.

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