“Everybody’s born knowing all the Beatles lyrics instinctively. They’re passed into the fetus subconsciously along with all the amniotic stuff. They should be called ‘The Fetals’”. That quote comes from John Hannah’s character in Sliding Doors. You can say what you like about the 1990s rom-com, but you have to admit it captures the beauty of The Beatles better than any other. Their songs are woven into the fabric of everyday life in a way that few other musical artists have managed to achieve.
The Beatles were, in this way, something of a singularity. What are the chances of four excellent songwriters (yes, I include Ringo in that) being present in the same band? Moreover, what are the chances that those songwriters actually enjoyed each other’s songwriting and were willing to help each other during the process of composition? It’s enough to make you believe in fate.
We tend to spend a lot of time focusing on the negative aspects of The Beatles: their jealousy of one another, their arrogant dismissal of one another’s songs, and their eventual demise. But it’s important to remember that The Beatles always had a huge amount of respect for one another as musicians despite all of the resentment. How could they not? They’d spent their formative years crafting some of the era’s most popular and innovative music. And although there were some songs he openly criticised, John Lennon always maintained that Paul was one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and that ‘Hey Jude’ was his best.
In an interview in 1971, John Lennon described ‘Hey Jude’ as McCartney’s “best song”. According to Lennon, the track had started off “as a song about my son Julian because Paul was going to see him. Then he turned it into ‘Hey Jude.’ I always thought it was about me and Yoko.”
He would go on to declare that he thought the song contained a hidden message and that it was something of a confessional. “I always heard it as a song to me,” he told Playboy in 1980. “‘Hey, John.’ Subconsciously, he was saying, ‘Go ahead, leave me.’ On a conscious level, he didn’t want me to go ahead. The angel in him was saying, ‘Bless you.’ The devil in him didn’t like it at all, because he didn’t want to lose his partner.”
But Paul would go on to confirm that the song was in fact written to comfort a five-year-old son Julian after Lennon’s divorce from his then-wife Cynthia. 20 years later. In 1987, Julian bumped into Paul in New York, where they were both staying in the same hotel. Paul sat down with him and revealed the inspiration behind the song. Julian was vocal about his difficult relationship with his father and openly admitted to being closer with Paul growing up.
Julian once recalled their meeting in New York and described how “Paul told me he’d been thinking about my circumstances, about what I was going through and what I’d have to go through. Paul and I used to hang out quite a bit – more than Dad and I did… There seem to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing at that age than me and Dad. I’ve never really wanted to know the truth of how Dad was and how he was with me. There was some very negative stuff — like when he said that I’d come out of a whisky bottle on a Saturday night. That’s tough to deal with. You think, where’s the love in that? It surprises me whenever I hear the song. It’s strange to think someone has written a song about you. It still touches me.”