Asking Beatlemaniacs like myself to choose our favorite Beatles album is akin to asking an astronaut to choose his favorite star. In eight revolutionary years of songwriting and recording, John, Paul, George, and Ringo created a body of work that is unparalleled in its excellence. Still, there is one Beatles album that I’ve consistently enjoyed a bit more than the others. It’s not an obvious choice, and even calling this collection an “album” will outrage many Beatles purists and self-appointed arbiters of what is “correct.” So if you’re hung up on “authenticity,” “continuity” or “the band’s intentions” you might want to find a safe space to hug your English mono vinyl pressing of Revolver. Otherwise, sit back and let the evening go…
In December of 1980, I was a Beatles-obsessed 8-year-old living in Brooklyn, reeling from John Lennon’s murder just an hour’s subway ride from our home. On Christmas morning the Hey Jude album appeared under the tree. Released in 1970 and clocking in at 32 minutes, Hey Jude is a patchwork compilation of 10 songs spanning 5 years (1964-1969). I’d seen this oddity of an LP before, with its green Apple label and the iconic cover photo of the band, all bearded except Paul, standing in the stately doorway of John’s Tittenhurst estate. But listening to my very own copy of Hey Jude was a soothing balm, and it brought joy and light to an otherwise dark holiday season. 38 years later it’s still a delight, and I’m actually playing it right now as I write this article.
Hey Jude was assembled by Allen Klein, the notorious American businessman who took control of The Beatles’ business affairs in 1969. Klein had re-negotiated their US record deal with Capitol for a huge royalty rate, but at the meeting to sign the contracts John Lennon announced his intentions to leave the group. (Oopsies!) With Abbey Road months old and hours of Let It Be tapes gathering dust, a “new Beatles album” was needed quickly to appease both Capitol and the public. Klein’s creative director Allan Steckler gathered eight of the band’s singles and some B-sides that had not yet appeared on an album (including the epic “Hey Jude”), plus stereo mixes of two songs (“Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Should Have Known Better”) that had only been released in the US in mono. (Since singles were issued in mono back then, all of these songs would be heard in stereo for the first time.)
Klein also bypassed the familiar EMI/Capitol infrastructure by mastering the album at Bell Sound in New York. The “new” album hit the shops in February 1970 originally titled The Beatles Again but was soon re-named to capitalize on the inclusion of the McCartney-penned hit single that opens side two.
Cobbled together in America by Americans, and inspired by contractual obligations and market demands, nothing about the Hey Jude album was “authentic.” And “the band’s intentions?” HA! Yet, the famous Beatles magic ties it all together for a joyful and exciting listening experience. Slap-dash time-traveling notwithstanding, it’s all killer and no filler, grade-A Beatles from start to finish. The songs are sequenced chronologically, so you can feel the band’s artistic evolution from ’64 to ’69 in real time. Any album that opens with “Can’t Buy Me Love” is already winning, but the quantum leap forward to the irresistible hooks and monstrous McCartney bass lines of “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” is palpable.
See Related Article: “5 Beatle Bass Lines NOT Played by Paul McCartney”
Side 1 finishes with the double-shot of “Lady Madonna” and “Revolution,” and by side 2 we’re enjoying some of their finest work from ’69 (“Don’t Let Me Down,” “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” and Harrison’s badass rocker “Old Brown Shoe”). Hey Jude also completely bypasses the psychedelic era, showcasing what a tight, solid rock and roll band The Beatles were. You want “continuity?” The basic foursome of John, Paul, George, and Ringo could have performed all of these songs live with minimal augmentation. This is the “back to basics” album that Let It Be should have been.
By 1987 when the release of The Beatles’ catalog on CD correlated to the English albums, Hey Jude was like a relic from a different age. So I was thrilled in 2015 when Capitol included it in its “US Albums” CD box set. The first time I held my miniaturized Hey Jude disc I felt like I was reuniting with an old friend: the stately “doorway” photo, the delicious green Apple on the disc, and of course that glorious time-traveling stereo song sequence. Perhaps the innocence of youth makes it easier to love The Beatles because you happily accept everything of theirs without question; when I was 8 years old I couldn’t spell “continuity,” much less understand why it was so damned important for my beloved Beatles albums. I wrote this article fully prepared for the flaming nonsense that the Beatles purists would throw my way. But in December of 1980 the Hey Jude album took my sad song and made it better, and in 2018 its Beatles Magic is still potent. Patchwork or not, there are worse ways to spend 32 minutes than hearing ten of The Beatles’ best songs.
Photo Credit: The Beatles in front of an airplane circa 1964 from the Evening Standard courtesy of Getty Images.
Spot on. The album shouldn’t work but it does. If some peoples favorite albums are The Beatles Second Album, than no one should complain. Old Brown Shoe is on the album, that alone would have had me buy it.
“Patchwork or not, there are worse ways to spend 32 minutes than hearing ten of The Beatles’ best songs.”
That’s it, right there.
Totally agree on the greatness of that selection of songs. One minor point: “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Should Have Known Bettet” had been released in stereo on the US ‘A Hard.Day’s Night’ soundtrack on United Artists. The terms of the contract only allowed Capitol to release the soundtrack songs on 45. Pardon my oldsplaining, I’m 56. I was eight when my big brother bought ‘Hey Jude’ as a new release. It was the first Beatles album in our home. It’s still a favorite.
The United artists album had the two songs included but they and the other Beatles songs were not in their true stereo mixes. Only the instrumental tracks wee in stereo .
Ah, never actually owned a United Artists pressing of the album, so I was going on incomplete/inaccurate information from reference sources. You really can’t be certain unless you’ve listened to it with your own ears.
Listen to the United Artists release of the soundtrack
The only stereo songs on it are George Martin’s instrumentals.
man you do pop up everywhere.
I love the cover, but have otherwise relegated the album to childhood memory. Also, they could have added I’m Down & The Inner Light to bring us up to 37 minutes.
I have also always loved this as an album unto itself. It really DOES work. Two observations: The stereo channels on “Paperback Writer” are reversed from the original LP to the CD release. (The Capitol CD re-masters were “re-assembled” from the British 192k re-masters, not the original Capitol masters.) Also, the final piano chord on “Lady Madonna”, which was chopped off at the end on the original LP and single fades away on the re-master. Do I listen to Beatles records too much?
No brother, not at all
Perry Anderson, some of the stereo Hard Day’s Night UA songs were actually mono mixes. You really had to dig at one time to find every song on the American soundtrack in true stereo, with true discreet left and right audio. You have to listen, not take UA’s word that stereo means two – channels.
The “stereo” mix of the American Hard Days Night is awful.
Agree! This was one of my most played and most loved albums of my youth. I was about 12 y/o when it was released.
The concept was revisited many years later – and better – with Past Masters 1 and 2.
I have three pressing of “ Hey Jude “ U.K.- Italy – France . I wouldn’t own a Capitol pressing . I don’t see how anyone could dismiss this album, there is no filler. The intent was UK oriented, the Beatles would not put their singles on albums in the UK for the most part, these are the gems that were UK singles . Who do I collect other countries,and not the USA pressings ( Capitol ) ,it’s because the above mentioned countries are better pressings ,better sounding Records. The first UK pressing has the title errors “ Paper Back Writer “ “ RevolutionS “ these go for quite some money if in NM condition. As everyone knows Klein only had his best interests at heart,and Capitol was the perfect fit for him. This album is one that EMI should have had the brains to release as dedicated mixes of all the songs, how they dropped the ball when it was in their court is anybody’s guess. The integrity of the Beatles matches their musicality . Fourteen songs on an album, and never use a single on an album, as they felt it woukd be ripping people off. Look at Capitol, a little different story, one the Beatles didn’t have control over , as the USA was the worlds largest market. George Harrison did step in ,and reprimanded Capitol on the butcher job they did on the White Album.
Hey Jude is a phenomenal album. I encourage everyone to buy the UK export ( CPCS catalog ) or even the two box Parlophone . You won’t regret it.
Agreed wholeheartedly. I always loved that LP, and listen to it whenever I can.
John, we are acquaintances through Godfrey Townsend and I’ve been to many of your live shows. I respect your bass playing and singing immensely, and let me just say, when you mentioned McCartney’s monstrous bass-lines on the album it brought such a smile to my face. I know through speaking to you how much you love Paul’s bass-playing and that’s refeshing. His innovation and influence with bass are perhaps his greatest legacy. So many heard him and said ‘Oh yeah, that’s what can be done!’ The Master.
I agree that Hey Jude was a great collection of songs released on vinyl. I was 4 and the album was only a year or so old. Hearing the difference to the harminica intro of I should Have Known Better msde that version feel like an anomaly. With my 4 year old naievity I thought these were newly recorded in 1969/1970. Years later I discovered a glowing omission to this record, and after reading your essay, it is easy to understand why. The Inner Light was the flipside to the Lady Madonna single. Another Eastern influenced song by George, would perhaps have turned a lot of people off to the collection. Buried away, the sing would not surface again until Capitol released Ratities in 1978. It is included on the Past Masters collection, and when I playlist the Hey Jude LP, it is exactly where it ougjt to have been making the Hey Jude LP, a catch up LP of singles unreleased on LP at that time.
Was “I’m Down” ever on a “first time around” album?
Wasn’t released on an American lp until 1973’s “1962-1966.
Are you thinking of Rock and Roll Music? It’s not on 1962-66.
Ny two favorites are Revolver and Rubber Soul, Hey jude is a mix of leftover tracks , B sides etc. The music is good as always .As an American album it’s nott really a step in a forward direcrion. It qualifies as an album in that it has tje required nimber if song, is a long player and has the right dimensional size . All the Beatles perform on it amd its good to listen too and is really better than Let it Be , save for a few tracks on LIB which are exceptional.
I think I can still feel the plastic as I ripped it off the vinyl cover of the album. It’s always been one of my favorites. It works, it warms my heart and mind.
My personal favorites are the BBC comps. Like “Beatles Again/Hey Jude” they are not part of the official canon.
“The Beatles Again” was a fun album. I bought my first copy in February, 1970 and have since picked up another copy and the CD release.
I bought it as The Beatles Again in 1970..a great compliment to Something New ????
I forgot about this one! Great photos….and the music!
Love this record. Some of my happiest hours have been spent with these songs. All killer, for sure. You don’t get any purer than my Beatlemania, so take it from me, and Turn It Up !!!!
This record is glorious. Im envious you chose to write about it.
I agree, this is an oft overlooked release. Unless you’re content to listen to the Blue and Red collections, this one fills an important gap in US releases, and it’s what I grew up on.
I’m about a decade older than the author, “Hey Jude” was released when I was 8, and I’d been a Beatles fan since my earliest musical memory.
John, I came across a video of you singing Old Brown Shoe and playing bass. It was outstanding! In my opinion, better than the originals!!