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The Beatles - Hey Jude CD (album) cover


The Beatles



4.27 | 35 ratings

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4 stars The a-side, written and sung by Paul McCartney, is among the three or four most recognizable songs the Beatles ever recorded. The b-side, written and sung by John Lennon, was less of a hit, but represents a key moment in the group's transformation from a tight band of four entertainers to a loose confederation of individual rock superstars.

"Hey Jude"

McCartney's 'Hey Jude' can be viewed as a reflection, and a major upgrade, of Lennon's 'All You Need is Love.' The narrow debt should be acknowledged, most notably the omniscient commentator reciting global truths about love, the accessible-yet-complex composition, and the sing-along chorus fade. And it seems fair to say that McCartney's songwriting in general owes much to Lennon. But by the summer of 1968, the pupil was surpassing the teacher on a regular basis. I could excuse Lennon for being chagrined at McCartney having a massive hit with this polished, commercialized, boy-meets-girl twist on Lennon's work, especially since his own 'Revolution,' which he felt was equal to 'Hey Jude,' was relegated to the flip side. Nonetheless, Lennon praised the song for the rest of his life.

The differences between 'Hey Jude' and 'All You Need is Love' are as important as the similarities. The message of the former is more focused (i.e., directed at just one person throughout), the vocal melody more sophisticated and more classical, the delivery more plaintive. With these qualities, the hopefulness of 'Hey Jude' rings truer than that of 'All You Need is Love,' whose semantic wordplay (e.g., 'nothing you can sing that can't be sung'), insistence that 'it's easy,' and jokey (though amusing) coda present a confusing message.


Of course, it can be argued that Lennon intended to confuse the listener, the metanarrative being that 'All You Need is Love' is actually a satire of flower-power oversimplification. While that's not borne out, as far as I know, in Lennon's subsequent statements, we know that Lennon was capable of embodying skepticism in his music, with 'Revolution' being a case in point. Composed by Lennon about a year after 'All You Need is Love,' 'Revolution' must've struck some listeners as a bit of a reversal of position. 'All You Need is Love' was written and performed expressly for a television program promoting world peace, and the song is accordingly inclusive and straightforward. The listener is led gradually into the song, on which the group is accompanied by a small orchestra. It's a gentle tune we can all sing along to.

Conversely 'Revolution' opens with a burst of maximally distorted electric guitar and a scream, and the first verse begins almost immediately. And even if its counterculture-questioning lyrics were perfectly transparent, the message of 'Revolution' appears to be at odds with the Beatles' public stances. Famously, though, Lennon's lyric isn't transparent, especially when delivered with a sneer. For example, I always took lines like 'if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow' as sarcasm spoken in a voice in opposition to the speaker of lines like 'but when you talk about destruction / don't you know that you can count me out?' And the refrain, 'you know, it's gonna be alright,' doesn't clear anything up. How is it going to be alright? But lyrically, 'Revolution' isn't as confusing or inconsistent as it is ambiguous and thorny- - which is a good thing.

The song itself is catchy, accessible, and appropriately rough, and it would be a gem in the discography of nearly any other musical act; as a Beatles song, it's appropriately placed as a b-side.


In the U.S., 'Hey Jude'/'Revolution' was a certifiable smash and the Beatles' biggest hit, the a-side spending nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the b-side hitting #12 on that same chart. The single was certified quadruple-platinum in 1999. It was also a chart-topper in the UK and at least sixteen other countries. And in Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US, it was the #1 song of the year. Massive hits aren't always massively successful works of art, but in this case the commercial attainments were well deserved, especially in the case of 'Hey Jude.'

I'm reluctant to assign more than three stars to a single when, for example, both sides are available on a retrospective compilation (like 1967-1970 or Past Masters, vol. 2). But given the quality of the songs and the fact that 'Hey Jude'/'Revolution' was a non-album single, this one's an exception.

patrickq | 4/5 |


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