Inspiration and Writing
In 1968, John Lennon and his wife Cynthia Lennon separated due to John's affair with Yoko Ono. Soon afterwards, Paul McCartney drove out to visit Cynthia and Lennon's son, Julian. "We'd been very good friends for millions of years and I thought it was a bit much for them suddenly to be personae non gratae and out of my life," McCartney said. Cynthia Lennon recalled, "I was truly surprised when, one afternoon, Paul arrived on his own. I was touched by his obvious concern for our welfare.... On the journey down he composed 'Hey Jude' in the car. I will never forget Paul's gesture of care and concern in coming to see us."
The song's original title was "Hey Jules," and it was intended to comfort Julian Lennon from the stress of his parents' divorce. McCartney said, "I started with the idea 'Hey Jules,' which was Julian, don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Hey, try and deal with this terrible thing. I knew it was not going to be easy for him. I always feel sorry for kids in divorces ... I had the idea by the time I got there. I changed it to 'Jude' because I thought that sounded a bit better." Julian Lennon discovered the song had been written for him almost twenty years later. He remembered being closer to McCartney than to his father: "Paul and I used to hang about quite a bit—more than Dad and I did. We had a great friendship going and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad."
Although McCartney originally wrote the song for Julian Lennon, John Lennon thought it had actually been written for him:
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 ... Subconsciously, he was saying, Go ahead, leave me. On a conscious level, he didn't want me to go ahead.
Other people believed McCartney wrote the song about them, including Judith Simons, a journalist with the Daily Express. Still others, including John Lennon, have speculated that McCartney's failing long-term relationship with Jane Asher when he wrote "Hey Jude" was an unconscious "message to himself." In fact, when Lennon mentioned that he thought the song was about him, McCartney denied it, and told Lennon he had written the song about himself.
Writer Mark Hertsgaard noted "many of the song's lyrics do seem directed more at a grown man on the verge of a powerful new love, especially the lines 'you have found her now go and get her' and 'you're waiting for someone to perform with.'" Tim Riley wrote, "If the song is about self-worth and self-consolation in the face of hardship, the vocal performance itself conveys much of the journey. He begins by singing to comfort someone else, finds himself weighing his own feelings in the process, and finally, in the repeated refrains that nurture his own approbation, he comes to believe in himself."
McCartney changed the title to "Hey Jude" (a nickname for the male name Judas) because the name Jude was easier to sing. Much as he did with "Yesterday", McCartney played the song for other musicians and friends. Ron Griffith of Badfinger (known at this time as the Iveys, and the first band to join the Beatles-owned record label Apple Records), recalled that on their first day in the studio, "Paul walked over to the grand piano and said, 'Hey lads, have a listen', and he sat down and gave us a full concert rendition of 'Hey Jude'. We were gobsmacked."
When McCartney introduced Lennon to his new composition, he came to "the movement you need is on your shoulder" and told Lennon "I'll fix that bit." Lennon asked why, and McCartney answered "...it's a stupid expression; it sounds like a parent." Lennon parried with "You won't, you know. That's the best line in the song." McCartney thus left the line in, and later said "...when I play that song, that's the line when I think of John, and sometimes I get a little emotional during that moment."
Read more about this topic: Hey Jude
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