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notes on ...

Notes on "Hey Jude"


Notes on ... Series #14.1 (HJ.1)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: F Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Verse | Verse | Bridge | Verse |
                                            ----- 19X ----
                          | Bridge | Verse |Jamming Phrase (fade-out)
        CD: "Past Masters", Volume 2, Track 7 (Parlophone CDP 90044-2)
  Recorded: 29th, 30th July 1968, Abbey Road 2;
            31st July, 1st August 1968, Trident Studios
UK-release: 30th August 1968 (A Single / "Revolution")
US-release: 26th August 1968 (A Single / "Revolution")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note "Hey Jude" is such a monumental favorite, I'm almost dissuaded from touching it because of the pressure to say something profound. I'll go for it nonetheless, even if I do get everything wrong, because it's such a good illustration of two compositional lessons — how to fill a large canvas with simple means, and how to use diverse elements such as harmony, bassline, and orchestration to articulate form and contrast.
  Next note There's also the subtle matter of the way that time in this song is divided into classically proportional durations, but more on all of this to come.

The Long Form

  Next note Much has been made of the unusual length of this song (7:07), particularly for a single, but it's the means by which this length is sustained (not the length per se) that's of interest.
  Next note There are many other songs by contemporaneous artists which break the three-to-four minute length barrier, though the examples which come immediately to mind use a variety of techniques, none of which is used in "Hey Jude": an extended improvisational break in the middle ("Light My Fire"), the stringing together of several shorter songs, medley-style ("MacArthur Park"), or simply a long series of verse/refrain couples ("Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands").
  Next note The Beatles opt here instead for an unusual binary form that combines a fully developed, hymn-like song together with an extended, mantra-like jam on a simple chord progression. It will become clear from a detailed examination of "Hey Jude" just how neatly the two halves complement each other, and from what simple musical materials they are constructed.
  Next note The song-like half of the track is cast in the standard two-bridge model with one verse intervening, albeit without an intro. The lyrics of each section are different, even for the two bridges; most unusual! Even the final verse, which comes close to reiterating the words of the first section significantly substitutes "under your skin" for "into your heart." The melody of all sections here begins with a pickup before the down beat. In the case of the bridges that pickup anticipates the downbeat by close to a full measure.
  Next note The jam-like half of the song presents no less than nineteen repetitions of the same phrase, slowly fading out to eventual silence in the middle of the final repeat. The main "lyrics" are scat sung to the syllable "na-na" and start right on the downbeat of the phrase. Superimposed against that background we get half-sung/half-screamed interjectory phrases from Paul.

The Classical Style

  Next note A number of factors lend a four-square, almost classical flavor to the song half:
  • The harmony is purely diatonic F Major; the only chromatic exception being the relatively tame use of the F7 chord (V-of-IV) to shift into the bridge section.
  • In the verse, all the chords are presented in root position, and the harmonic rhythm is a stodgy single chord change per measure; the only exception being the repeat of the C chord (V) in measures 2 and 3, thereby creating a very slow, almost subliminal syncopation.
  • The melody pervasively makes use of appoggiaturas and "escape" notes.
  • The bridge features a Bach-like walking bassline which, by the way, is a key source of the perceived contrast between the bridge section and its surrounding verses; the bassline of the verse, after all, simply follows the roots of the chord changes.
  • The piano part's right hand features an oscillating chordal style.
  Next note We'll discover below that both verse and bridge sections offer subtle means with which to counter what would be an otherwise unrelieved squared-off feeling.

The Alternative Versions

  Next note The Anthology included one early take of the song from July 29, 1969, choosing to fade it out in mid-jam. A couple other outtakes from the following day's sessions, that were filmed for partial inclusion in a TV show, have been unofficially available as well.
  Next note The technical common denominator of all these alternates is the lack of orchestra in the jam session, and an extremely diminished (in some cases, non-existent) role for George. Interpretively, all of these alternates present the song with much less "solemnity," and with quite a bit more hard-rocking edge and horsing-around sense of humor than the official version.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The verse tune has nice multiple arches, and very casually-yet-artfully includes both unique high and low points. The bridge tune is more simply downward in gesture. The jam session tune is a nicely lopsided arch, skewed toward its upper end.
  Next note The song-like half uses the garden variety chords of I, ii, IV, and V. The jam-like half opts for the so-called double plagal cadence.


  Next note When we turn to the arrangement, we find not so much a source of contrast, as we do one of formal articulation.
  Next note In the song-like half, in particular, we have an excellent, fairly late example of the progressive layering technique that appears as a Beatles trademark almost from the beginning. A simple, section-by-section narrative reveals both how the texture is increasingly thickened over the first three sections, and how the final two verses continue to present deft touches of variation on what has come before:
  • Verse 1 — Piano solo with Macca vocal, single tracked.
  • Verse 2 — Add acoustic rhythm guitar, and tambourine on the offbeat.
    Also add backing vocals singing "Ahhhh" in the second half of the verse.
  • Bridge 1 — Add drums and tapping cymbals. Also add bass, in conspicuous walking style, no less.
  • Verse 3 — Second half has backing vocals in parallel thirds with lead.
    Note the stray backing vocal with the terrific anticipation of the phrase "so let it out and let it in" from the next bridge.
  • Bridge 2 — As in Bridge 1. Neither adding to or varying the arrangement of the second bridge sets a good example of "avoidance of foolish consistency". I think it also underscores the relationship of the two bridges to each other, as well as their contrasting role with respect to the verses.
  • Verse 4 — Note Macca's melodic ornamentation of the initial "Hey Jude" phrase, and how the parallel thirds of the backing vocal follows all the way through this verse. There's also the final vocal flourish ("better, better, ...") which leads to the jam section; it actually sounds triple tracked — two Maccas singing the flourish itself, and a third singing "make it, Jude."

    Macca's performance of that flourish, by the way, is quite a tour de force. It's an appoggiatura'd arpeggio covering just over two octaves from E below middle C all the way up to high F, eleven notes above middle C — real soprano territory — and he does it without having to fully overblow his voice into falsetto. Though he was sufficiently insecure about his performance to have double tracked it here, you can get a more pristine, single tracked audition of this feat on the Take 9 rehearsal version, found on a variety of popular under the counter rarities.

    The urban legend about an "undeleted expletive" on the finished recording at time stamp 2:59 has been documented by no less than Lewisohn, though I've seen the veracity of it debated. Whatever is really been said there, it's a strange bit of accidentally-on-purpose sloppiness left in the transcript of a recording in which everything else seems so carefully controlled.
  Next note The arrangement and the recording of the jam section also contain some interesting strategic details. Most notably, in addition to all the instruments used in the first half (with the exception of the bass guitar, according to Lewisohn), the repeated ground bassline of the jam is underscored by sustained doubling of a small orchestra of 36 players; the session documentation lists a full variety of strings, woodwinds, and brass, but what you hear mostly on the finished recording are bowed strings and trumpets. In general, this technique lends an overall feel of weightiness and measured motion to the music, curiously in contrast to the otherwise bustling, rocking foreground texture of the piano, drums, and screaming Macca.
  Next note Contrary to popular belief, the ad-lib choral singing of "na-na-na" was done by the same session musicians who played the orchestral overdub. Unlike "All You Need Is Love" (with which it is perhaps sometimes confused), the chorus here is not made up of the Beatles "closest hundred friends."
  Next note The doubling of the bassline is progressively layered over the course of several repetitions of the mantra-like phrase:
  • Repeat 1 — Bass fiddles in unison with the ground bass.
  • Repeat 4 — Add mid-range strings (cellos/violas?) and trumpets two octaves above the ground bass.
  • Repeat 8 — Add violins at four octaves above ground bass, though they sound like they sustain a simple F-natural rather than following the melody of the bassline.
  Next note The curious thing about the recording of this jam is the extremely long fade-out that begins as early as the tenth repetition of the mantra-like phrase, at a point where there are still a full two minutes of music left to come.
  Next note This gambit, combined with the sensation created by the sustained-note doubling of the bassline, creates an astonishingly transcendental effect. I stumble for metaphors to describe it, but the sorts of things which come to mind are "the music of the spheres", "the long caravan which passes slowly by", or perhaps, a painting in which the perspective is so deep that the vanishing point of singularity seems to approach the infinite. (Get this guy out of here, would ya', please!)

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The verse is a standard eight measures long, and is built out of four phrases that are through-composed; i.e. they add up to one long mega-phrase that contains no internal repeat structure. The verses sections that are followed by a bridge have one measure rhetorically added:
      |F           |C           |-           |F           |
   F:  I            V                         I

      |Bb          |F           |C           |F     -7    |
       IV           I            V            I    (V-of-IV)

   [Figure 14.1]
  Next note The harmonic shape is closed, though the final chord is subtly turned into a V-of-IV which leads us directly into the bridge.


  Next note The bridge is an unusual eleven and a half measures long, in spite of what appears on the surface to be its AA parallel phrasing:
Bassline: |Bb   A    |G    F    |E    C    |F         |          |
  Chords: |Bb        |g         |C         |F         |-7        |
           IV         ii         V          I         (V-of-IV)

          |Bb        |g         |C         |F         |-7   |
           IV         ii         V          I

          |C7        |-         |

   [Figure 14.2]
  Next note The first phrase is rhetorically extended to five measures so that its connection to the second phrase mimics the lead-in from the verse to the start of the bridge.
  Next note The second phrase starts off in parallel to the first one, but it shortens the measure with the F7 chord in it by half, and tacks on a short, two-measure "na-na" phrase that leads back around to the following verse, and provides a foreshadowing, associative link with the jam section.
  Next note The harmonic shape of this section is open at both ends. Some pedants would insist of spelling the Eb on top of the F7 chord in the shortened measure 10 as D# because of its melodic resolution upward to E-natural in the C chord.

The Jamming Phrase

  Next note The second half of the song is built on no less than eighteen and a half repetitions of the following four-measure phrase whose harmonic shape is closed:
   |F           |E-flat      |B-flat      |F           |
    I            flat-VII     IV           I

   [Figure 14.3]
  Next note Not only does the repetitive nature of this section create an obvious contrast with the symmetrical form of the first half, but there are two other, more subtle sources of contrast:
  • The use of the flat-VII chord here gives the jam session a decidedly modal, Mixolydian flavor which contrasts with the almost simplistically "straight", diatonic Major mode of the first half.
  • The "na-na-na" vocal melody of this jam, with its emphasis on the F-natural at its apogee, creates a freely dissonant ninth against the E-flat chord; it's a small effect, yet so pungent that I dare say it's one of the signature characteristics of this track. If you look back at the first half of the song, you'll note that in contrast, all of the plentiful melodic dissonance to be found there is carefully, consistently resolved.

Some Final Thoughts


The Time

  Next note If you chart out the durations of the major sections of "Hey Jude", you find that, as a rule, they divide up the time into not-quite symmetrical, golden-mean proportions, with the jam turning out to be the longer of the two major sections:
Minutes: 0       1       2       3       4       5       6       7
         |--------- song --------|--------- jam section ---------|
                                                 |-- fade out ---|

   [Figure 14.4]
  Next note I would dare to suggest that on top of everything else we've discussed, this proportional division of time is yet another source of the satisfaction, relaxation, and feeling of having encountered something somehow "classic" or "epic" one experiences in this song.

So, What's It All About?

  Next note I've never been quite sure, myself. The fact that the song was written by Paul to Julian Lennon during the breakup of John and Julian's mom, Cynthia, adds a new dimension to your appreciation of it but, as I've observed with respect to the fact of John's having written "Julia" in honor of his own mother, the affect that each song has upon you would be hardly diminished if for some reason you were to remain oblivious to the biographical background of either. So my question stands.
  Next note The jam section taken alone would seem to point in the thematic direction of "spiritual enlightenment", obviously something of a preoccupation of some of the Beatles during the era in which this song was composed.
  Next note But the older I get, the more convinced I am that the main message here is to be found in the first half — the "imperative" to now pursue one's destined love the minute either you have found her, or she has found you. Yes, I do believe that once you internalize that much, the transcendent, blissful joy of the second half falls right into place.
  Alan (082700#14.1)
Revision History
010590 14.0 Original release; H.B., Ms. Campey
082700 14.1 Revise, expand and adapt to series template
Copyright © 2000 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.