It was the summer of 1968. John Lennon's six-year marriage to his first wife, Cynthia Powell, had ended abruptly, due to his open affair with his newly discovered soulmate, Japanese conceptual artist Yoko Ono. Cynthia, after spending almost ten full years as John's wife and girlfriend, was immediately an outcast in the Beatles' inner circle.
One sunny afternoon, it was Paul McCartney who drove out to Cynthia's home to visit her and her son, Julian. Paul arrived and gave Cynthia a single red rose. “Hey Cyn, how's about you and me getting married, then?" he joked.
“I was truly surprised when, one afternoon, Paul arrived on his own. I was touched by his obvious concern for our welfare,” Cyn recalled.
Paul: “We'd been good friends for millions of years and I thought it was a bit much for them to be persona non grata and out of my life.”
It was one of Paul McCartney's finest moments. But something else was significant about that memorable afternoon.
On the way to visit Cyn and Julian, Paul thought up a catchy song in the car.
“Hey Jules...." he sang to himself- the song was a song invented to console little Julian, who was caught up in the sad mix of his parents' separation. The rest of the lyrics flowed into Paul's head as he drove on in his journey.
Paul originally called the tune “Hey Jules.” He soon decided to change the lyric to “Hey Jude.”
Cynthia Lennon was never to forget Paul's kind gesture, and “Hey Jude" was to become indelible in her mind: “It always brings tears to my eyes, that song,” she recalled.
He added some new lines and cast the song into a bit of an autobiography. John had found his soulmate in Yoko Ono, but Paul had a new love in his life too, a New Yorker named Linda Eastman. He added some lyrics about himself casting his own lot and getting a new life with Linda.
In spite of denials from some quarters, it is obvious that the appearance of both Yoko Ono and Linda Eastman helped sow the seeds of the Beatles' eventual split less than two years later.
Paul returned from Cynthia's home and started playing his new song to others. Finally, he played it to his songwriting partner, John Lennon. Lennon immediately thought it was about himself.
No, Paul explained, it was actually about him (and Linda).
“Check" John replied, “We're both going through the same bit.”
Interestingly, there was one line in the song Paul did not like: “The movement you need is on your shoulder.” He told John this and said he would get rid of that crummy line.
“You won't!" John protested emphatically, “It's the best line in the song!" Lennon had spoken- thus, the line stayed in.
“Hey Jude" was soon recorded in the Trident Studios, which had the new marvel- an actual 8-track recorder. Oddly, Ringo Starr almost missed getting to drum on the song. Ringo was actually in the men's room, on the john, when Paul started singing the song. (Paul hadn't noticed he was missing.)
Ringo quietly snuck back into the studios, climbed on his drum kit, and played his opening drum line perfectly. “His timing was impeccable,” recalled George Harrison.
“Hey Jude" was released on August 26, 1968 in the U.S.; August 30th in England. It was to climb to the top of the charts, hitting #1 and remaining there for 9 weeks. It was also to become the Beatles' biggest selling record of their career, selling over 8 million copies worldwide.
Also, “Hey Jude" clocked in at a then-incredible 7 minutes and 11 seconds. At the time, it was the longest record ever to hit #1. (This record was later broken by Don McLean's “American Pie").
But the ultimate badge of honor for “Hey Jude" and composer Paul McCartney came from the source he most looked up to. His Beatle writing partner, John Lennon, always a bit parsimonious when it came to validating Paul in any way, was to insist to his final days that “Hey Jude" was “Paul's best song.”
This undoubtedly meant more to McCartney than a dozen gold records.