Its 50 years since Paul McCartney came up with Hey Jude while driving from London to Surrey and made a song thats sung everywhere from football terraces to Oxford colleges. Heres the story of how it came to be
You could argue forever about which of the Beatles songs is the greatest. According to the Daily Telegraph, its something nostalgic: In My Life. According to the NME, its something psychedelic: Strawberry Fields Forever, which wasnt even the best song on the single it appeared on, alongside Penny Lane. According to Rolling Stone and USA Today, its something epic: A Day in the Life, which often does well in polls, perhaps because its written by both Lennon and McCartney.
The debate is diverting but doomed. The Beatles range was so broad that it would be easier to name Matisses best painting or Meryl Streeps best performance which wouldnt be easy at all. This isnt just apples and oranges, its the whole fruit stall, so if we must use superlatives, wed better narrow them down. The most covered Beatles song is Yesterday, the biggest seller is She Loves You and the biggest crowdpleaser is Hey Jude.
Hey Jude, which turns 50 on 30 August, is the Beatles song most likely to be bellowed by a choir of thousands. At Manchester City, fans sang it after the team won their first Premier League title in 2012. At Arsenal, Gooners used it to serenade Olivier Giroud, the teams sleek French striker, who said of the track before he left for Chelsea : It gives me goosebumps. It also rings out at Newcastle and Cardiff, thus spanning the four points of the Premier League compass. Any decent song needs to be singable, but Hey Jude goes further: its yellable and flexible. Into the gap after Nahh, na, na, nahh-na-na, nahhh, you can slot almost any pair of syllables Giroud, City, Geordie.
The song has also become a cricket chant. England supporters sing it for Joe Root, the teams boyish captain. And it has been sung for the rain at Edgbaston last year, when a shower sent England and Australia off the field. The only good thing that came out of [the match], said Shane Warne, commentating on Sky, was the crowds wonderful rendition of Hey Jude.
Those nahh-nahs know no class boundaries. At Westminster School, at which fees cost more than 23,000 a year, the boys and girls went into Latin prayers one day in 2012 and pulled a stunt planned on Facebook, singing Hey Jude as the organist launched into Deus Misereatur. Contacted by the London Evening Standard, the headteacher kept his cool. Their Hey Jude stopped after the first verse because I dont think they knew any more of the words, Stephen Spurr said. I felt tempted to sing them. At Oxford in 2016, the matriculation ceremony that welcomes every undergraduate was enlivened by a group of students deciding that what the Sheldonian Theatre needed, on a Saturday morning, was a drunken rendition of Hey Jude. So they walked into the building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, wearing gowns and mortarboards and belted out the Beatles classic.
Hey Jude is a crowd-pleaser in another sense. On Christmas Eve 2015, the Beatles music appeared, belatedly, on streaming sites: like the Queen going to a party, McCartney and Ringo Starr prefer to arrive after everyone else. For the Beatles obsessive, Christmas had come a day early all the songs on tap, plus a popularity contest. A little chart was published, with Hey Jude joining Come Together and Let It Be on the podium. Though the Beatles early hits sold more copies, its the later ones that linger. And our tastes are fairly settled now. This month, Hey Jude was the No 1 Beatles song on Apple Music; on Spotify, it was No 4, again just behind Let It Be and Come Together, with the George Harrison-penned Here Comes the Sun pipping them all (despite not being a single go, George!). So, of all the countless classics the Beatles recorded, Hey Jude is one of the three or four that younger music lovers most want to hear. What is its secret?
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