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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hey Jude b/w Revolution

In my presentation The Studio Years: 1967-1970, I speak at length about both sides of this superb single.  In order to tell the story properly, I begin with the B-side.

Revolution - The Beatles began recording this Lennon composition on May 30th, 1968.  It was not intended for the sprawling double album which would consume the next five months of studio time - rather, John wanted it to be released as the A-side of their new single.  Paul and George, however, were still mindful of the policy established by the group's late manager, Brian Epstein, to not make any political statement, even one that cautions restraint on the part of the radical left, as the lyrics of this song do.  They also argued that the song was too slow and, therefore, not single material.  This caused John to shelve this first recording (soon to be known as Revolution 1), and consider a remake of a faster, grittier version of the song.

Work on the remake was begun on July 9th.  The tempo is not really much faster, but the distorted guitars and the growling vocal by John make it one of the hardest-rocking numbers ever recorded by the Beatles.  John also added a second vocal part and manually faded it in and out of the mix for effect.  Leaving nothing to chance, he brought in keyboard session man extraordinaire Nicky Hopkins to play electric piano on the track.  Even though George complained that the guitars were too distorted on the new version, there was no denying that this recording was worthy of an A-side, until Paul walked in with a new composition...

Hey Jude - This magnificent anthem began as a song of encouragement by Paul for young Julian Lennon, who was caught in the middle of the divorce of his parents, John and Cynthia.  Like most great songs, it moved beyond the specific to the universal.  An immediate indication of this came when Paul first sang the song for John, and Lennon thought that the song was written for him - that the line "go out and get her" was a reference to Yoko.  What was clear to John was that Hey Jude would have to be the A-side of the single.

The Beatles spent two days at Abbey Road laying down 23 takes and some overdubs before moving to Trident Studios on July 31st to begin a remake using eight-track technology for the very first time.  The recording starts off simply with just Paul singing and playing piano.  For the second verse, a tambourine and John's acoustic guitar join in, and John and George supply backing vocals.  Ringo's drums enter just before the bridge, as George's electric guitar and Paul's overdubbed bass complete the ensemble.  For half of the third verse and all of the fourth, John sings a supple harmony around Paul's lead, creating what Tim Riley ranks as their best duet since If I Fell.  Including the two bridges and running slightly over three minutes, this song is already one of the longest that Paul has written, but the incredible extended coda is longer than the main body of the song.

On August 1st, a thirty-six piece orchestra was brought in to play the four note coda countless times, and then asked to add handclaps and join in singing the "na na na" chorus.  According to Mark Lewisohn in The Beatles: Recording Sessions, only one refused.  On top of this four minute fadeout, Paul gives an inspired ad lib performance, letting his absolute joy in the freedom of the music carry him, as it had in the days back in Liverpool and Hamburg.

Promotional films were made for both songs at Twickenham Film Studios on September 4th, directed by Michael Lindsey-Hogg.  For Revolution, John had Paul and George doing the "shoo-be-doo-wah"s, an element from the slow version.  For Hey Jude, an orchestra and fifty or so fans joined in the coda, the fans crowding around the band.  The group enjoyed this experience so much that the seeds of their next project were planted on this day.  

The single was released in late August on the new Apple label, and was a worldwide number one.  Hey Jude proved to be their biggest hit in the US, spending nine weeks in the top spot.  Revolution also charted well, peaking at number twelve on the Billboard Top 40.  In February 1970, both songs appeared on the Hey Jude compilation album in the US.   

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