Hey Jude by
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No matter how many times I hear Hey Jude, I am always moved to tears. What is it about this song Paul McCartney wrote to cheer up John’s son, Julian Lennon, in 1968 when John was divorcing his mother to marry Yoko Ono that moves me in this way? During a visit to see Jules and Cynthia, Paul thought of the song as a way of encouraging Jules and empathizing with his pain. I think the song’s backstory touches me as much as the song itself. I always liked Paul the best.

Paul with Jules on his shoulder

No matter how many times I hear Hey Jude, I am always moved to tears.

Five years ago, I wrote about getting an MRI while listening to Beatles music. “I hoped the random assortment of tunes would not include Hey Jude, but that popped up next. The song always makes me cry but I was sure that was forbidden for a woman getting an MRI. I hoped the procedure would end before the song’s final chorus, but no such luck. In my mind, my arms swayed in the air while I sang the endless chorus of Na na na nananana, nannana, hey Jude. In reality, my left arm wouldn’t be able to do that even after it was released from MRI prison. Meanwhile, I was still pinned down in this infernal machine.”

In his book The Lyrics* (which is a must for any Beatles fan), Paul recounts playing the song for John and Yoko, who didn’t realize Jude was actually Julian. When Paul sang, “the movement you need is on your shoulder,” he apologized to John saying he would change that line later. John’s reaction was that he would leave it because it is the best line in the song. As Paul often recounts in The Lyrics, it was not unusual for lyrics to evolve and somewhat change his original intent. Thus, Jules became Jude and the song’s connection to John’s divorce became opaquer. John even believed the line, “You have found her, now go and get her,” was giving him permission to be with Yoko.

The song’s refrain became a cult-like experiences for live audiences as they chanted Na na na nananana, nannana, hey Jude over and over. Hands swayed, lighters and later smart phones brightened the sky, and the audience became an integral part of the performance. As Paul describes it, “When people ask me why I still tour, I tell them it’s because of communal moments like this. There can be crowds of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands all singing, and it’s joyous.” For a sentimental woman who values the power of community, I’m always up for taking a sad song and making it better. Rather than carrying the weight of the world on my shoulder, I can carry the movement I need. There’s a big difference there.

In The Lyrics, Paul goes on to say, “I’ve let the song go. It’s yours now. Now you make of it what you will. It’s as if you get to carry the song on your own shoulder.” Thanks, Paul. I will always carry this song on my shoulder and in my heart.

*Photos and background story are from my copy of The Lyrics (hope that’s kosher)

If you also love this song, here’s a seven-minute YouTube version from Paul’s concert in Hyde Park, 2013.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Thank you for all this background, Laurie. When it went live, I watched the long Peter Jackson documentary about the making of the Beatles last studio recording album. It was fascinating to watch the creative process, but I had no idea about the genesis of this song. I can understand why this song moves you so much. I think I must now go seek out “The Lyrics”. It sounds wonderful.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    “Hey Jude” was always a bit of a mystery to me, not knowing the back story, though always a favourite. Now I like it even more. (I hope your left arm is moving better now!)

  3. Marian says:

    Great pick for a memorable song, Laurie, and you’ve included a lot I hadn’t known. Paul comes across as such a giving person that these details don’t surprise me. And your recounting of being stuck in that MRI machine while “Hey Jude” was playing is priceless.

  4. Wow Laurie, you sure know your Beatle stuff!
    Your story and the tears it still brings you have revived a sad memory of my own.
    Several years ago I lost a dear friend to cancer – in fact I wrote about her for Retro in my story MY DUCKY FRIEND.

    Her name was Judy, she loved rock, and her family played Hey Jude at her memorial service.

    A happier memory is that my son went to high school with Sean Lennon!

  5. Oh, Laurie…what a song! As it happens, one of my favorite lyrics of all time is “For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder.” I had it on my refrigerator for years (never having been one to play it cool!).

    Thank you SO much for the back story…I wasn’t aware of any of it.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    Great information about the song, Laurie; I knew almost nothing about it. And I can certainly understand why it would be your “moving” song and realize that it has an almost cult-like following — especially the “nanana” part. Your last paragraph is just perfect.

    And now I will be having about a nine-minute long earworm of “nananas.”

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    Funny thing; I dislike long extros on songs (my wife sometimes gets annoyed whne I cut a song off 30 seconds before the end), and this one is more extro than anything else! I like it up until then.

  8. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Laurie. I love the Beatles, and especially Paul, as you know from when we wrote about them on an earlier prompt. This is not one of my favorite songs of theirs, especially with how long the na-na-nas go on, but I can understand why it moves you. I definitely have to get Paul’s book, you have inspired me!

  9. Susan Bennet says:

    When I saw that you would be talking about Hey Jude, Laurie, I worried whether I should tell the truth — that I used to hate Hey Jude–the melody, that is. Now that you have brilliantly set out the background and meaning of the lyrics I’ll certainly have to revisit this iconic song.

    You also gave me an out — I was a George girl (Here Comes the Sun). But let’s not break up the band over that, OK? Thank you for your moving story, as always.

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