“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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14 Comments

  • I remember reading that Hey Jude was written after John had announced his divorce to his wife. I remember alot of the rumors like how Paul was with John’s wife or like John and Yoko. I like how the song is to help ease the divorce on John’s son because it can be tough on a child. The song made it seem that any bad thing can be turned into a good thing. This hit is their best known and to it to have a even more amazing backstory makes it more meaningful.

  • Hey Jude is my favorite song by the Beatles. I never knew the story as I am not the biggest fan. I really liked this article and its story of the song and how it happened. I really like that it was formed from the good nature that Paul had in trying to help Julian feel better about his parents divorce. It is all to real the tragedy.

  • It is very widely known exactly what transpired between the Beatles and the actions of the individuals in breaking up the famous band. However, Zapata did a swell job in transcribing the events that occurred during the making of the hit song, “Hey Jude.” Zapata did well in humanizing the international stars, however, if anything, I would have made the writing more engaging for the audience in order not to lose their interest.

  • The Beatles have been a group that I have been able to relate to musically. Their music has been so impactful since their becoming. It is incredible to find that a song that is still popular today, was written for John’s son yet has been an anthem for many around the world. This article touches upon the importance of the stories that are behind songs such as “Hey Jude”. Paul has always been such an inspiring figure, his passion for music drove many to fall in love with every member of the group. The song is incredible, the message is incredible, the story behind their music is inspiring. Great article.

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