#209 – Hey Jude by The Beatles
– It’s easy to look back at an event and think, “Yeah, that’s when that happened.” Time gives you a historical perspective or as the old saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” To go even further with this thought and put it into Classic Rocker terms, I’ll borrow a 1972 a song title and lyric from Johnny Nash:
I Can See Clearly Now.
There have been countless books written about the Beatles and like most dedicated fans, I’ve read many of them. With the passage of time, more often than not researchers and historians who are not first generation fans write the latest books. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s similar to new books about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. No one writing these books was alive when these presidents were changing the world, but that doesn’t mean the authors are not experts on their subjects. They just have to look at their subject’s life from a historical point of view.
In other words, researching and writing on what has already happened. They have the benefit of clear hindsight and already know how each story ends.
But people living through these important moments don’t know – at the time – how important they might be in the long run. For example, no one including Sam Phillips had any idea how earth shattering the results would be when Elvis Presley first walked into the Sun Recording Studio in Memphis.
The same can be said when the Beatles released Hey Jude. When we first heard it in August 1968 there was nothing on the radar – or even a hint – that we were entering the final phase of their earth-shattering career as a group. It was tuneful, uplifting and joyful. It was the first release on their newly formed Apple Records and would eventually become the Beatles’ all-time biggest selling single.
But looking back clearly with historic hindsight, it’s obvious something was different. First generation fans just didn’t know it at the time.
The Beatles had always been seen as a group. Again with hindsight we can see that wasn’t always exactly the case. For instance, when they performed live the 1963 album track All My Loving, Paul McCartney and George Harrison harmonized on the final verse. This is how it was presented to U.S. fans as the first song during their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964. But read the back cover notes on Meet The Beatles (UK title: With The Beatles) and you’ll see Paul double tracked both vocals in the recording studio. Even during their years as a touring band Paul recorded as a “solo artist” on Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby and For No One. Beatles historians know this is also true with various songs by John Lennon and George, with the remaining three primarily serving as a backup band.
But to us they were still a group and everything we looked forward to in 1968 would still be a group effort. Hey Jude didn’t change that perspective, but the demise was on the radar and the final phase was in progress.
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Following the Revolver album and final tour ending in August 1966, it was almost like they hung a Closed sign on the Beatles shop. After expecting at least two albums a year (more in the U.S. thanks to giving us less songs per LP) and a hit single every couple months, things went silent. The Monkees took over the Fab Four reign for younger teens and the rest of us had to wait until February 1967 for Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever. And it’s no strain of the imagination to say these songs signaled a new psychedelic phase that included Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour.
All the backward tape loops, studio effects and trippy lyrical images came to an almost immediate halt just over a year later in March 1968 with Lady Madonna. The song could be considered the group’s original Get Back – since it went back to a basic rock and roll feeling. I say almost because the flip side was the Eastern sitar raga rock track The Inner Light, which was George’s turn as a “solo artist.”
Then they seemed to close up shop again.
Except this time they should have hung up a sign saying “On Vacation” since they ditched their world-shattering ways and headed for India to meditate with their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
In my opinion (and I’ll never say humble opinion because The Classic Rocker doesn’t have one) something happened. It wasn’t earth shattering enough to make the world news. In fact, if you’ve read enough books on the topic it basically seems like India was a laid-back (boring?) time of reenergizing by the most famous frazzled foursome of their era. But they definitely changed. I believe India is where the cracks that eventually caused the final split started. Each member vacationed into his own mind and spirit and stopped being the shared four-headed monster as Mick Jagger described them during his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech.
They wrote enough songs to fill the upcoming double album The Beatles (renamed The White Album by first generation fans) but when they returned to the recording studio and the public eye they weren’t the Beatles of All My Loving, Sgt. Pepper or even Lady Madonna. The dynamics had changed. Hey Jude was by Paul McCartney and the Beatles while the flip side, Revolution, could be credited to John Lennon and the Beatles.
And it would continue this way until The End (final song on Abbey Road). And by the way – I told you I’m not humble in my opinions. We didn’t know it at the time, but hindsight makes it all very clear.
Hey Jude joined the Dream Song List on March 20th. From my opinionated dissertation above you already know I own more than a few copies including my original vinyl 45 rpm. And though it’s hard to believe because the song is still the flag-waving “hey remember us!” standard everyday reminder of the Beatles earth-shattering and world-dominating career and is a constant on every respectable classic rock radio playlist – I hadn’t heard it in awhile. So surprisingly, it goes into the subliminal chart listing.
Wait – a Beatles fan that hadn’t heard Hey Jude in awhile? Please don’t go for a non-humble bad opinion of me. But I’ll have to admit if there is one Beatles song that could ever possibly be overplayed, this is it. Of course now that I’ve written these ramblings while listening to Hey Jude it turns out I can’t hear it enough. It’s currently set for an unlimited run on my digital playlist.
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August 1968 was the first new music we had from the Beatles in at least five months. It was only one month less than the length of time we waited between Revolver and Penny Lane. In hindsight it seems like a blink of an eye. But when you lived through it their absence made us feel they were on a permanent vacation and the shop was closed for good. Fortunately we still had a couple years left but in hindsight the writing was on the wall.
My first memory of Hey Jude was on a Friday evening at the beginning of my sophomore year in high school. Summer vacation was history and I was psyched and nervous for my first show as a member of the school marching band. Since I was still almost a year away from being old enough to drive, I was hanging around in my uniform waiting for one of my buddies to pick me up when this instant classic came on the radio. If he was outside in his car waiting I didn’t notice. There was no way I was leaving until the final “Na-na-na’s” had faded out.
But (another) wait – The Classic Rocker wasn’t a jock in school? Don’t make quick opinionated judgments. I had more fun playing music, even though I could run faster and jump higher than maybe one or two guys I went to school with. I proved that on the basketball and track teams through junior high and into high school. But when it became all too apparent I had zero interest in touching a basketball when there was a guitar or trumpet nearby and found running around a track as boring as listening to a radio station that didn’t play the Beatles, the jock stuff went on vacation and eventually closed down.
The decision wasn’t difficult to make, especially when an idiotic (told you I was opinionated) gym teacher (slash) basketball coach told me my (perhaps an inch long?) hair made me look like a girl. It didn’t because in those days there were still school dress codes for boys that included hair off our ears and collars. But wanting me to emulate his outdated crew cut style was a challenge worthy enough to be called a boomer generation dividing line.
And besides, like many musicians before and after, I found it was a lot more fun riding in the bus to sporting events and sitting in the stands with a bunch of girls rather than with a bunch of sweaty jocks. It didn’t take hindsight to know that at the time – and I don’t see it any clearer now than I did in 1968. And to prove that in historical proportion, years later I married one of the marching band majorettes from my high school – so score another one for the music department.
We can also score a HUGE classic rock hit for The Beatles with Hey Jude. Since they had stopped touring two years earlier, here’s the closest any of us ever got to seeing the group perform the song live. Because the musicians union in England prevented musicians from lip-syncing their songs on television, the instrumental backing is pre-recorded, while the microphones are live. Listen carefully and you can hear Paul’s recorded voice under his live vocals. The clip includes a fab introduction by TV host David Frost and an even “fabier” musical intro by the lads themselves.
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