Paul McCartney Reveals Real Reason He Wrote 'Hey Jude'

By Logan DeLoye

March 25, 2024

Photo: Getty Images

Paul McCartney recently revealed what led him to create "Hey Jude" in the latest episode of Paul McCartney: A Life in Lyrics on iHeartRadio narrated by author Paul Muldoon.

"The healing power of music is undeniable," McCartney prefaces, recalling the time he used an Elvis Presley record to cure his headache. It was then that the "Let It Be" standout discovered the true internal influence that exists within the perfect pairing of lyrics and melody.

This week's story opens in the Spring of 1968.

John and Cynthia Lennon were going through a divorce after it was discovered that John was having a secret affair with artist Yoko Ono. John left Cynthia and his 5-year-old son Julian to pursue a relationship with Ono. McCartney, a friend to Cynthia and an uncle-figure to Julian, got the idea for a song during a car ride to go visit Julian amid the divorce.

"I was traveling one day to see Julian Lennon and his mother Cynthia and I used to call him Jules. So the song started off as I was in the car driving out, which was a 45 minute drive out of central London. People had sort of suggested ,'oh, I fancied Cynthia' but people can suggest anything. I didn't. I was just going out, just as a friend. Just to sort of see them."

McCartney proceeded, detailing how the song came to life in this very moment.

"So in my mind I'm thinking 'Hey Jules' you know, 'don't make it bad.' You know, I know this is tough for you but 'take a sad song and make it better.' Your dad's just left you so I was like, trying to be encouraging. It was an encouraging song. Remember to let love into your heart and it will make it better."

What started as an encouraging message to Julian, slowly evolved into a relatable narrative for the masses (in typical McCartney style).

"It starts off with someone being worried about something in life, a specific thing like a divorce, but then I start to just morph it because I sort of get fed up with the theme and I like to just move away from it because nobody knows what this is about. So then I start going 'you were made to go out and get her.' Now there is a woman arrived on the scene so now he's sad about a breakup. So 'remember to let her under your skin and then you begin to make it better.'"

McCartney was going through a breakup himself when he wrote the song for Julian. The line "And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude refrain" was actually a message to himself encouraging the release of emotion, rather than "playing it cool."

The icon explained that he likes to write songs that every man and every woman can relate to because:

"I know they are going to listen to them and I like the fact that they are throwing their own interpretations out. I'm always glad when the lyrics get a bit screwed up and when they mishear them because... it's yours now!"

He encourages fans to listen to his music and "make of it what they will."

In fact, when McCartney played the song for Lennon and Ono (originally written for Lennon's son to ease the impact of the affair), they thought that the song was written for them instead of Julian. This is when McCartney realized that "Hey Jude" struck a personal chord in anyone's life who has ever felt the turmoil of situation gone wrong.

Elvis Presley eventually covered the tune, existing as a full circle moment for a young Paul McCartney who used the legend's music to cure the headache that started it all. Years later, humans aged five to 95 rejoice in the beauty that is "experiencing life together" as they scream the "na na na na na na na's" of "Hey Jude" in unison during McCartney's concerts.

To dive deeper into "Hey Jude" studio takes, Ringo's perfectly timed drum solo after returning from the toilet, and the surprising success of the single despite its length, check out Paul McCartney: A Life in Lyrics on iHeartRadio now!

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