The Top 20 Beatles Songs, #4: “Hey Jude”

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“Hey Jude”

Album: (Single) (1968)

Composer: Lennon/McCartney

“Hey Jude” is the only song on our countdown that was never released on a non-compilation studio album. Apparently, it was good enough on its own. Topping all the charts and “best of” lists, it is easily one of the most-loved songs of the 20th century. With a deliberately positive message and a rollicking, diverse arrangement, its seven minutes pass quickly and never get old. Every component of this song —  from Paul’s serenading to Ringo’s steady but flourishing beat to the half jammed/half orchestrated crescendo- makes you want to sing along all the way through the end of its irresistibly repetitive four-minute coda.

Conceived by Paul as a pick-me-up for John’s son, Julian, during the beginning of John’s relationship with Yoko, the song’s beginnings say a lot about both Paul’s occasionally overbearing presence and John’s growing distance from the band. In 2002, Julian told Mojo that he and Paul “used to hang out a bit – more than dad and I did.” Seeing as how Paul personally visited Julian during this tough time and wrote the song on his way, it is clear that he felt strongly about the boy, and his lyrical work has a particularly genuine quality. As the song has aged, its effect has only grown stronger. As Paul said of some of its lines, “time lends a credence to things.”

Musically, “Hey Jude” has a particularly disparate beginning and end. Starting off as a harmless piano ballad, it soon becomes a rock tune, and finishes with a glorious clamor of “nah nah nahs,” horns, and strings. This final bit pushed the song well beyond the time constraints of a typical Beatles song, let alone commercial radio. Its amazing energy, rousing vibe, and universal appeal make “Hey Jude” one for the ages.

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