Study Guide

Hey Jude Technique

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  • Music

    Musically, "Hey Jude" isn't complicated. There's no introduction; for the first eight bars, we hear only piano and voice. New instruments are added slowly, even methodically: the rhythm guitar and tambourine in the ninth bar, background vocals in the 13th, the drums in the 16th. 

    The harmonies become a more significant presence as the song progresses, but they still remain just harmonies. They add nuance but not a great deal of dimension to the song. 

    It was clearly McCartney's intention to sustain focus on the piano and the vocals from the song's beginning. Lead guitarist George Harrison wanted to add a guitar riff at the end of each line, but McCartney said no. He allowed Harrison only the simplest of bridges; the melodic burden was left entirely to his own vocals.

    At roughly the midpoint, the song segues from its original verse-verse-refrain structure to four minutes of a "na na na na" bit. The lengthy non-fading fadeout was largely unprecedented and somewhat risky for a song intended to be a single. Producer George Martin warned that no radio station would play a single that was seven minutes long. "They will if it's us," Lennon replied. (Source

    And he was right. The song spent nine weeks at the top of the American charts. Moreover, in many ways this second half was a song within itself. Volume and instruments are added—not reduced—eventually a 36-piece orchestra and an unknown number of additional voices flesh out the sound of perhaps the most epic outro in rock history.

  • Speaker

    Everybody pretty much agrees that McCartney is the speaker in "Hey Jude," and that there's an autobiographical quality to the song. The only disagreement is over to whom McCartney is speaking.

    McCartney explained that the song originated on a visit he paid to John Lennon's wife and child shortly after Lennon left them. Hoping to cheer up Lennon's five-year old son Julian, McCartney wrote him a little song:

    Hey Jules, don't make it bad,
    Take a sad song and make it better

    Julian Lennon, however, didn't remember the incident. In fact, he didn't discover that the song was written for him until he reached adulthood. 

    His father, on the other hand, always assumed that the song was written about him. He was starting a new relationship with Yoko—and thus the advice McCartney offered—"Hey Jude (John), don't be afraid, / You were made to go out and get her"—seemed appropriate.

    Yet on another occasion, Lennon suggested that McCartney was essentially singing to himself, trying to find a way out of the turmoil in his own relationships, both that with his long-time girlfriend and those with his musical partners who were starting to drift in different directions.

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