“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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40 Comments

  • I know who the Beatles are, and I have heard some of their music but I know very little details about them. I never knew that “Hey Jude” was actually dedicated to John’s son, Julian. It’s heartwarming that Paul McCartney recognized the emotional turmoil that John and Cynthia’s divorce would’ve caused Julian, and took it upon himself to immortalize his comforting message to him. This is a very interesting article over a fun topic.

  • I had heard of the song being about the divorce but what I had never heard before was that Julian saw Paul as more of his dad than John. It was interesting to see how this all played out and how many people, including the artists themselves, thought that the song would not have been so successful. It was also strange to see how John thought the song was about him and not his son.

  • I do not know a whole about the Beatles but they are icons and rock and roll legends globally. This article was interesting it showed this history behind a song and it was really cool to see they made music with substance and did not just make music for fun. I feel like in today’s society people just put out music with no message so its really cool to see that this song was different than todays trend.

  • “Hey, Jude” is one of the most popular and well-known song from The Beatles. However, having listened to the song many times before I did not know the background story as to how the song was written and who it was dedicated to. I think that this song was such a sweet gesture from Paul to Johns son Julian. I think that by writing this song Paul was able to alleviate Julian’s pain regarding the breakage of his family and encouraged him to look on the brighter side of things.

  • The Beatles are one of, if not the most famous musical group ever, and just about anyone alive today knows at least one of their songs, even if only tangentially. By extension, “Hey Jude” is one of their more famous songs, and while some may know that the song was written for John Lennon’s son Julian, the full story, that Paul McCartney wrote it with the intention of helping Julian through the pain of his parents divorcing is likely less known, and this article tells the story in a succinct but effective way, and also does a good job of including other elements, such as background information for context, and information on the developments of those involved, as well as history on the Beatles and their impact, and the impact of the song.

  • It has always baffled me that John Lennon gets portrayed in such a positive, peaceful light, when in reality, he was quite the opposite of this image. An abusive man, a horrible father, Lennon did not deserve the praise that his public image awarded him. It is heartwarming that Paul noticed the neglect that Julian suffered, yet it is appalling to know that Julian had to suffer in the first place.

  • I never knew that “Hey Jude” was actually dedicated to John’s son, Julian. By solely reading this article it seemed that John seemed a bit selfish and more interested in his own life (and in Yoko Ono) than on his son Julian’s well-being, even thinking the song was about Yoko Ono initially. It was an extremely sweet gesture of Paul to write the song for Julian and I always knew there was a reason why Paul is my favorite Beatle.

  • Hey Jude was a very popular song that I even love, I’ve loved the Beatles since I was young. Although I am a fan of Hey Jude I never knew how the song was created, it started with Paul and Cynthia getting a divorce. Although Paul and Julian had a better connection with their own dad and he started worrying how it would make them feel. On the way home Paul would turn off the radio and make up lyrics in his head like hey Jules I’m sorry which relates to hey Jude. But basically the song is for Julian to let him know to not be sad over the divorce. Great read and great article, I really enjoyed reading it.

  • The article was an interesting one to read due to how popular Hey Jude is, even till this very day. The article is about how the song Hey Jude was created. It all started with Paul visiting John, his son and his wife Cynthia. They had announce that they are getting a divorce. Their son, named Julian, was the first person to appear in Paul’s mind.Paul and Julian has a better connection than with his own dad. He started worrying how he is gonna feel. What Paul would do is turn off the radio on the way home and would make up lyrics like “Hey Jules – don’t make it bad, take a sad song, and make it better”, hense to the song Hey Jude. So basically the song is for Julian, to let him know to not feel sad about the divorce. Overall, the article itself was amazing and the information on the song Hey Jude on how to came to life was amazing and made the song even more special.

  • The Beatles, to me, is such “feel-good” music, so it’s intriguing to read about the actual meaning behind one of their songs. I would’ve never known that it was for Lennon’s son. It’s heartwarming that Paul McCartney recognized the emotional turmoil that John and Cynthia’s divorce would’ve caused Julian, and took it upon himself to immortalize his comforting message to him.

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