If you’ve ever been to a Paul McCartney concert, you’ll know that “Hey Jude” is the highlight of the evening. I swear that once the crowd gets into the singalong at the end the song has healing properties. It really is a spiritual experience. I’m not kidding.
Fifty years ago today–July 31, 1968–The Beatles moved from Studio 2 on Abbey Road to Trident Studios on St. Anne’s Court in Soho to complete the group’s new non-album single. In commemoration of that, here are some “Hey Jude” recording facts.
The Beatles rehearsed and recorded the song at Abbey Road on July 29 and 30, amassing some 25 takes. A take from the 29th can be found on the Anthology 3 release. The second round was filmed for a short documentary entitled Music! George Harrison was not there because it’s said that McCartney ruled the sessions with a singular vision and decided that George wasn’t necessary, so he sat up in the control room with George Martin and engineer Ken Scott. Meanwhile, Paul and Ringo were annoyed by the constant presence of Yoko Ono, who insisted on being right next to John the whole time.
The Main Session
Abbey Road was still locked in the era of four-track recording, while Trident has brand new eight-track machines. Mal Evans, the indispensable Beatles assistant, decorated the studio with some nice leafy marijuana plants.
Four takes were recorded. McCartney accidentally the first take started without Ringo because he’d gone to the bathroom. Fortunately, he crept back in just in time for him to pick up his part at exactly 50 seconds in. It turned out that this take was the one we’ve all come to know.
The Bechstein piano McCartney plays on the track–a full-sized concert grand that’s well over a hundred and fifty years–is world famous among musicians. Elton John’s “Your Song” and “Killer Queen” by Queen use the same piano.
John Lennon drops an F-bomb at two minutes and fifty-eight seconds into the song. Paul hit a wrong note on the Bechstein, prompting Lennon’s outburst. Another version of the story says that an extra-loud burst of audio was accidentally sent to Lennon’s headphones, prompting him to go “WOW” and then “FUCKING HELL” as he pulled them off his head. It’s buried in the mix, but it’s there.
The song wasn’t supposed to be as long as it turned out to be, but everyone had just a great time ad-libbing the coda that they just couldn’t stop.
Everyone returned to Trident on August 1 for overdub (backing vocals, more guitars and bass, tambourine and a 36-piece orchestra). Fun fact: McCartney’s bass is omitted from the long coda in favour of bottom-heavy brass instruments.
When members of the orchestra were asked to add handclaps, one of them stormed out saying “I’m not going to clap my hands and sing Paul McCartney’s bloody song!”
Trident earned £25 per hour for their troubles.
The Final Version
EMI was horrified at the length of the song. At 7:11, they were apoplectic about the prospects of the song between too long for radio. “DJs will never play it!” they cried. “They will if it’s us,” said Lennon. Couldn’t really argue with that, could they? Meanwhile, it took a little technological magic to make sure “Hey Jude” could fit on one side of a 7-inch single without degrading the sound. EMI engineers figured it out.
The session was almost lost because the initial playbacks had no treble because of technical issues. Fortunately, the studio engineers were able to salvage things.
“Hey Jude” was the first release on The Beatles Apple Records. It sold 10 million copies as a single, making it the band’s most successful single release. The b-side is the fast version of “Revolution.”