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“Hey Jude,” “Revolution,” and the Chicago 7

Beatles Hey Jude

The events depicted in Chicago 7, currently streaming on Netflix, coincided with the release of “Hey Jude” and “Revolution.” This excerpt from Candy Leonard’s Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World, looks at the violence in Chicago through the eyes of fans and shows how music and politics were intertwined in 1968.

“Hey Jude” and “Revolution” —the first Beatles single with a Granny Smith apple on the label instead of the familiar orange-and-yellow swirl—was released on August 26, 1968.These new Beatle songs seemed to be commenting on a violent year, up to and including the riots occurring on the streets of Chicago at the moment of their release:

I didn’t want to watch the Democratic convention because it seemed extremely boring, just a bunch of old fart windbags droning on. The next thing I knew, the riots in Chicago were on every channel! A lot of the kids getting their heads bashed in by the police looked like they weren’t much older than I was. It was pretty upsetting to watch. (Female, b. ’51)

I used to watch the conventions gavel-to-gavel and Chicago was no exception, so I saw all that was going on, both inside the hall and on Michigan Avenue and in Grant Park. It absolutely outraged me and, in fact, still does. By the end of things on the final night, I was almost physically ill. It was hard to believe this was happening in my country. (Male, b. ’49)

For young fans watching the bloody chaos of Chicago, “Hey Jude” was encouraging and optimistic. The intimacy of Paul’s voice was comforting— instilling confidence and offering advice, as if prepping the listener for an important mission. A male fan, age sixteen at the time, remembers, “It was an amazing song that made you feel good.” Another recalls: “Hey Jude” was the best song they ever did; it’s saying don’t be so down, keep your head up, it’s good to be alive.

Related: “Taking A Sad Song and Making It Better”

The song went to number one in late September—displacing Jeannie C. Riley’s rant on small-town hypocrisy, “Harper Valley PTA”—and held the position for nine weeks, becoming the Beatles’ bestselling single.

For another male fan, age fifteen at the time, the song is inextricably linked with the war: “A boy on our street was killed in Vietnam, and a group of us watched as military people pulled up in a car, got out, and knocked on the door to tell his mother. We had a radio with us, and ‘Hey Jude’ was playing. I remember that day every time I hear the song.”

“Revolution” was the first Beatles song that directly responded to world events. And, more importantly, it spoke directly to fans about what was happening in their lives. Lennon had been watching the bloody unfolding of 1968 from the banks of the Ganges, and now it was time to say something.

Fans listening to the lyrics heard the Beatles aligning themselves with the mission of “changing the world”—clearly on young peoples’ side. The message for these fans was that social change is complicated, serious business. Though no “real solutions” or answers were offered, this trusted and beloved commentator was telling them it’s going to be “all right.”

Radicalized older fans and other observers on the left found the song simplistic and naive, especially in light of growing opposition to the war falling on deaf ears, and the excessive use of force just used against protestors on the streets of Chicago.

The violence around the Democratic convention was a sharp contrast to the previous year’s Summer of Love. A female fan, age twelve at the time, recalls, “My parents were watching it, saying how awful it was. I went over to take a look. I thought something must have gone terribly wrong. It made me uneasy to see real violence like that.” Everyone wondered how it came to this.

According to Tom Hayden, there was a realization in late 1967 that “the establishment does not listen to public opinion” and that “available channels have been tried and discovered meaningless.” The body count was escalating along with the war. Oblivious to the seething anger felt by young men who couldn’t vote but were forced to be cannon fodder in an unjust and unwinnable war, the establishment dismissed protestors as naïve, spoiled, and rude.

The only viable peace candidate was assassinated. Volunteers who faithfully “worked within the system” for Kennedy and McCarthy were outraged that the party machine nominated the uninspiring Hubert Humphrey and rejected the peace plank—ignoring the fact that 80 percent of primary voters had voted for an antiwar candidate. Young people were wondering what happened to our democracy.

Protest organizers, a coalition that included the SDS, the national Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, and Yippies— Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin’s effort to politicize hippies through the use of street theater—were not planning violent protests but “were determined, at the least, not to be intimidated.” There was an enormous amount of anger amid the theater.

According to writer and eyewitness Todd Gitlin, “A critical mass of people in the New Left still cherished nonviolence and felt a terror of real bloodshed,” but pervasive violence in the culture, including the war, had left them “churning in a sea of rage,” such that “many of the middle-class young were stunned into a tolerance, a fascination, even a taste for it.” A small but apparently sufficient number of protestors could not be dissuaded from their readiness for violence.

For many Chicago demonstrators, 80 to 90 percent male, it was, as Tom Hayden later said, “A matter of finding out how far you were willing to go for your beliefs, and finding out how far the American government was willing to go in suspending the better part of its tradition to stop you.”

Law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators four to one, and included twelve thousand Chicago police with “shoot to kill” orders. One in six demonstrators was actually a government agent of some kind, often acting to incite what an in-depth study concluded was a “police riot.”

The violence peaked on the evening of August 28 in front of the Hilton Hotel, in full view of TV cameras, two days after the release of “Hey Jude” and “Revolution.” As one fan, age sixteen at the time recalled it, “The kids flipped out because Humphrey got the nomination and Daley sicced the cops on them. I didn’t like how anyone was acting, but I was, frankly, more worried about gas money for the weekend.”

-Candy Leonard

Photo Credit: John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the back of the limousine after arriving at Kennedy Airport. (Photo by Anthony Casale/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

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Candy Leonard is a sociologist with interests media, gender, politics, and health. Candy grew up immersed in '60s pop culture and has spent most of her life thinking and writing about its impact on her generation. She’s the author of "Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World," and has written for the Huffington Post and Next Avenue. Candy is a qualitative research consultant to progressive campaigns and claims to be the coolest grandmother in America. Twitter: @CandySez

5 comments on ““Hey Jude,” “Revolution,” and the Chicago 7

  1. Gary Theroux

    When The Beatles recorded “Revolution” in 1968, John Lennon, over producer George Martin’s objections, insisted on cranking up the volume beyond the point of audio distortion — making the lyrics a challenge to fully understand. To make up for this, on their “White Album,” The Beatles released a slowed down, less intense version of thre song (“Revoluiton #9) where you could easily make out the words. And did those words encourage revolution, in the style of the rabid mobs outside the Democratic National Concention in 1968 — or today’s seething BLM and Antifa mayhem and destruction? Interestingly, no. Here are the actual words of The Beatles’ “Revolution”: Aaahhh! / You say you want a revolution / Well, you know / We all want to change the world / You tell me that it’s evolution / Well, you know / We all want to change the world / But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out? / Don’t you know it’s gonna be / All right / All right / All right. You say you got a real solution / Well, you know / We’d all love to see the plan / You ask me for a contribution / Well, you know / We all doing what we can / But if you want money for people with minds that hate / All I can tell you is, brother, you have to wait / Don’t you know it’s gonna be / All right / All right / All right. You say you’ll change the constitution / Well, you know / We all want to change your head / You tell me it’s the institution / Well, you know / You’d better free your mind instead / But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow / Don’t you know it’s gonna be / All right /.All right / All right.

    • Note: I believe the slow version of Revolution was called “Revolution #1”, while “Revolution #9” was the hodgepodge of sounds put together, and wasn’t really a song as much as a sound montage.

  2. Seems like a lot of rewriting history to fit in with today’s problems. I was 12 at the time and for me and millions of others it was just the new Beatle single. As good as ever and John’s song was saying ” not to ” revolt. He wants to see the plan of replacement. Remember it was slightly over a year since they sung ” all you need is love “. More often than not , demonstrations in the US are from a bunch of spoiled kids with time on their hands. Bored out of their minds complaining about society instead of making things better. Imagine if all the rioters cleaned their cities in the honor of someone instead of destroying ?
    Even today people have to invent reasons to riot , using history from a 100 years ago to be angry. The fact is people have it easier than ever before. And with social media , instead of talking to a few friends , you can post it and have thousands of people reading your opinion.
    The bad thing with that is , instead of sounding stupid to a few , you sound stupid to thousands. Lol.
    What did the ’68 riots accomplished ? Not much.
    Spoiled kids followed by spoiled kids. My friends who have escaped communists regimes to live here in US , have had their loved ones shot by their old government in front of their eyes.
    I think it would be nice if anyone who hates living here would trade their spot with a person that is living under a true oppressive government.

  3. Michael A Massetti

    Great piece!!

    I believe She Loves You was their “best selling” single while Hey Jude was the one with the longest stretch as #1. Correct?

  4. Gary Theroux

    The sales of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” single were notably enhanced by the presence of another big hit, “Revolution,” on its B side. “She Loves You” did not have such an advantage (the non-hit “I’ll Get You” was on its flip). It’s tougher to accurately assess the sales of “She Loves You” (in the U.S., at least) because the independent Swan label it was issued on stateside kept its own sales records which most likely no longer exist. In America, “She Loves You” spent TWO weeks at #1 cover a FIFTEEN week chart run. In contrast, “I Want To Hold You Hand” was #1 for seven weeks over its own 15 week chart run. “Get Back” was #1 for five weeks over a 12 week chart run. Other Beatle singles, like “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Yesterday” and “Hello Goodbye” also had lengthy runs at #1. “Hey Jude” was #1 for NINE weeks over a NINETEEN week chart run. For those reasons and more, it appears quite certain that “Hey Jude” outsold “She Loves You” by quite a margin.

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