“Hey Jude” – the top song of 1958
There are many traditions that are observed in the United States. Taco Tuesday. Hump Day. Beatles Sunday.
A number of radio stations like to play Beatles music on Sunday morning, along with a nice mix of Wings music, Plastic Ono Band music, and anything else that can be related to the four most famous members of the Beatles. (Or perhaps beyond that – maybe some radio station brings out some old Pete Best Four hits or whatever.)
So anyways, last Sunday one of these programs spent some time playing “Hey Jude.” You know, that revolutionary hippie song from the late 1960s that broke all conventions. It was about seven minutes long, and AM radio stations played it anyway, because it was the Beatles. And it had some Sergeant Pepper-like horns, and AM radio stations played it anyway, because it was the Beatles.
However, the Beatles, despite the fact that some considered them an entirely new force in music, were in many ways steeped in tradition. This was certainly in evidence later in that year of 1968, when Paul McCartney was the major force behind a song called “Honey Pie.”
But there are two elements to the song “Hey Jude” that remind the listener that the Beatles drew heavily from past artists.
As I previously mentioned, the released song was about seven minutes long. And while the first part consisted of mod lyrics such as “The movement you need is on your shoulder,” the last part – the one with the Sergeant Pepper horns and all that, consisted of the following verses:
Na na na na na na na,
Na na na na,
Were these the lyrics of the new post-Monterey and soon-Woodstock (and Altamont) generation? Did these reflect the new youth world order? Not hardly. In a December 2011 editorial, the Guardian mentioned these lyrics of “Hey Jude” and compared them to other lyrics.
[W]hen the Beatles ended Hey Jude with that repeated “na-na-na na-na-na-na” they gave their audience a wordless chorus that unifies wherever it is sung; and who can’t hear how sexy the Crystals find that man Bill when they chant “Da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron”?
Yes, the lyrics of the Beatles could be compared to earlier artists such as the Crystals.
Significantly, the Guardian mentions one artist that predates the Crystals.
Little Richard’s shriek of “Awopbopaloobop alopbamboom!” is the purest expression of the teenage lust for life committed to vinyl….
This is significant when you realize that the lead singer of “Hey Jude” was Paul McCartney. Before McCartney became the poster boy for LSD and marijuana – even before McCartney became known as “the cute one” – McCartney was well known for something else – something that assured McCartney’s place in the Quarrymen, later to become the Beatles. Quarrymen bassist Len Garry:
“I remember Paul doing a Little Richard impersonation, and I said to John ‘that’s good – let’s get him in.'”
As Marc Myers of Jazzwax notes, McCartney later receive some advanced lessons from the master.
JW: You taught Paul McCartney your signature falsetto “Wooo” in Hamburg, Germany, in 1962, before the Beatles were the Beatles.
LR: Oh yes. Paul’s my buddy. He’s a real gentleman. He’s beautiful. The Beatles were barely known then. They opened for me at the Star-Club [laughs]. I had gotten the inspiration for that ‘Wooo’ from gospel singer Marion Williams.
Now remember what McCartney was doing at the end of “Hey Jude” – he was basically digging out his Little Richard impression and doing it for several minutes straight.
While the rest of the Beatles were singing lyrics that could have been taken from Richard or from any old fifties doo-wop band.
And even the horns, taken from Sergeant Pepper (and other Beatles songs such as “Got To Get You Into My Life”) were a nod to old British marching bands.
So this “brand new song” of 1968 could, in some ways, have been at home in the radio playlist of 1958.
Although the radio programmers of the day probably would have cut the first part of the song, and might have taken the strings out of the mix.