Thursday, November 14, 2013

Song #421 of 9999 - Hey Jude by The Beatles

Hey, it's Guest Blogger night! I get a break and you get to read writing that someone actually spent time on. Tonight, I present BF Baker—songwriter, recording artist, publisher, experimental music hack, data juggler, slice of life videographer & wacky inventor from Salt Lake City, Utah. I met Bryan during my early SongFight days when he was kind enough to feature an interview with me in the very first issue of a new webzine he had created. (I even landed the cover!) Check out his site at for a plethora of interesting stuff but especially check out his signature site where you can sample his interviews and writing. Thanks Bryan!

Song #421 of 9999

Title: Hey Jude
Artist: The Beatles
Year: 1968
Album: N/A - single release

Music played a huge part in my house and the neighborhood where I grew up -- a small town called Roy, outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. The radio was usually always on in our house in the upstairs I shared with my four brothers. The Beatles' "Hey Jude" was my favorite song. It was released in 1968. I was six-years-old. It was a summer of crisis in the U.S., and even at that young age, I could feel the tension.

"Hey Jude" was recorded in July, released a month later on August 26 and spent 9 weeks at #1 on the U.S. charts—the longest of any Beatle single. It was the first record released on the Beatles' new Apple Records music label—a "double A" side backed by the hard-edged "Revolution" on the reverse side. The group flexed its popular power by insisting on making it a 7+ minute single. Executives said DJ's would take liberties with the track or no one would play it. John Lennon insisted they would, "...if it was us." I remember DJ's often cutting it short, but not always. AM radio was still popular at the time, but FM was growing. KCPX with Skinny Johnny Mitchell was the cool station. We listened to a lot of radio on an old portable. We took the cover off to expose its glowing tubes.

The song was part of the neighborhood as the summer winded down in 1968. Myself and three other friends formed a Beatle pretend band and mimicked Beatle songs in a friend's basement. I was Paul. He was always my favorite Beatle. You had to have a favorite Beatle. It sort of defined who you were. Just like with KISS, years later. Then I was Ace. It probably happened later with Public Enemy. You were Chuck D or Flavor Fav or... Spice Girls, etc.

But this was 1968. It was a long summer filled with war, protest and social conflict in the U.S. Demonstrations at national political conventions, war death tolls on the evening news back when they showed the soldiers' caskets lined up, along with daily footage from the ground and newspapers tallied the tolls day by day. Our side and their side. It was the peak of the Vietnam War. The war was being fought at home as well, out in the open. War at home is different now. In 1968, it was all around us. Even in my Utah Mormon small town. I have a strong memory of riding my bike home and passing by the high school just around the corner from my house where this hippie guy was sitting on the grass and flashing me his "one way" hand signal. He was looking right into my eyes and it jarred me. The youth culture was in a constant struggle with established norms. My parents didn't like it. Nobody's parent's liked it. There were definite boundaries. Clearly us against them. As a kid, you don't really have a side, but you feel the tension. If you have older brothers or sisters you might see them battle with your parents at home. It's always been a part of growing up, but this was different. Society was in a larger cultural battle. Things were changing.

It's telling that "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" were created and released at the same time, during that period of struggle. Like 1967's single with Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever" and McCartney's "Penny Lane," here were the world's greatest songwriters with their takes on a theme. But this was a year later and times had changed. This time the theme was about conflict and whether you can challenge it. Both Lennon and McCartney, I think, decide you must do it within yourself and come out the other end better and all right.

Lennon chose the political battles raging around the world as his stage challenging the rhetoric and turning it on its head, saying, instead of changing institutions you need to change yourself first -- you need to "change your head." It's a precursor to his and Yoko's "War is Over" if you want it. Do that and "it's gonna be all right." That was "Revolution"'s mantra.

I think McCartney was writing about a similar resolution in "Hey Jude," only from a personal perspective of fallout from changing relationships. Paul McCartney says "Hey Jude" was written to John Lennon's son Julian to make him feel better as he was going through his parent's break-up. Like with many songs, I'm sure it had an inspirational spark and started with a real event, but became about something much more. Lennon said he always thought the song was directed toward him or possibly toward Paul himself as their own relationships were taking different courses. Others have suggested the song is about heroin, citing the line, "Remember to let it under your skin, then you'll begin to make it better." This has been denied by both McCartney and Lennon who have both been up front about lyrical drug references in other songs. Maybe it's about all these things, but I don't think it's ultimately important what the inspiration or what the possibly multiple hidden meanings might reveal.

What's important is what the song makes you feel. I think what lead to "Hey Jude"'s popularity in the summer of 1968 was what people generally felt when hearing the song everywhere on the radio through the din of social upheaval. The song is ultimately about hope and transcendence. It was something we needed, something we held onto. The best music goes beyond specifics and speaks to things we can't quite put to words. I think "Hey Jude" was saying, things are tough and maybe things have changed and will never be the same again; maybe we've lost something that will never be replaced, the innocence of youth is gone, but these are the times and you can move on. You can resolve to make things better, despite everything. Whether its love lost or you're a child caught up in divorce, or whether it's world turmoil, you can, "Take a sad song and make it better."

Structurally the song is split into two parts. It starts as a basic 3-chord verse with Paul alone on vocal and piano in the key of F. F-C-F-Bb-F-C-F with 7ths and sus notes on C augmenting a pop gospel feel. Two measures of verse followed by two bridge measures where McCartney drives his points home with advice as the F changes to F7. F7-Bb-Gm7-C7-F. "And don't you know that it's just you? Hey, Jude, you'll do. The movement you need is on your shoulder." When McCartney played this for Lennon the first time he said he was going to change that last line. John told him, "You won't you know. That's the best line it!"

In the book Many Years From Now by Barry Miles, Paul is quoted as saying, "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..."

Then the verse-bridge repeats, followed by a final verse with McCartney calling "Hey, Ju-u-u-ude" (I love waiting for that), tying in a line from the first verse and then guiding the song into its second half, a mantra-like chorus of nah nah nah na-na-na nahs beginning with one of the greatest rock'n'roll screams in music history.

It's at this point the chords flip, and the grand male chorus joins in singing a seemingly ever-upward progression: F-Eb-Bb. (vocals provided by the session musicians orchestra -- except for one player who refused). And then over the course of the next four minutes, Paul McCartney begs, cajoles, implores, pleads Jude in scat to make it better and we all believe it.

Forty-five years later it's still my favorite song.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog. And I think they're both "we can make it better" songs, only soured by / already wistfully accepting the passing of the summer of Love and that the very message they preach no longer has the power to actually make things better. Personally, I'll take 'Revolution' every time (for the fuzz guitar catchiness) but thanks for making me think about what is now a "wedding song" in its original context.