The Heartbreaking Truth Behind the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ – & Why It Haunts One Specific Child to This Very Day
| LAST UPDATE 09/08/2022
The songwriting skills of John Lennon and Paul McCartney were unmatched. Together, along with George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they were praised as musical phenomena. But not without some BTS drama, of course.
Regarded as one of the most influential rock bands ever, The Beatles completely transformed the music industry as we know it today. The songs from the iconic foursome will forever be loved and sung worldwide.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr formed the legendary band in 1960 and released their first album, Please Please Me, three years later. They put out hit after hit, and in '68, they released one of their biggest songs to date: Hey Jude. But behind closed doors, things were not as melodious...
Dynamic Songwriting Duo
Lennon and McCartney became friendly during the late 1950s before The Beatles shot into stardom. And of the four, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were known for their brilliant songwriting skills. When one wrote a song, the other was there to put his input - and vice versa.
Although the two suffered from one of the most public and heartbreaking fallouts in all of music history following the band's breakup in 1970, McCartney and Lennon were actually great friends. The musicians were so close, some would say like family even.
Speaking of families, both McCartney and Lennon married during their time as Beatles rockstars - and both went through divorces at a certain point during their first marriages. Lennon met Cynthia while they were both students at the Liverpool College of Art in 1957, but they were dating other people at the time.
Somewhere along the way, the two began dating on and off - and Cynthia fell pregnant! The couple got married shortly after the pregnancy news, in August of that year at a London registrar's office. But their marriage was kept a secret in order to protect the group's image.
Calling It Quits
Cynthia gave birth to a baby boy, Julian Lennon, in April of 1963, during the beginning phases of The Beatles' stardom. Shortly after, the world found out about the news of their marriage. But Cynthia and John would soon face some challenges that would ultimately end in divorce.
During their six-year marriage, there was plenty of speculation that John had more than just a few affairs while married to Cynthia. It was one affair in particular that ended their marriage, and the two got divorced in 1968 when Julian was just a young boy.
Enter Yoko Ono
It's never easy for children when parents get divorced, no matter the age. However, it can't be any easier to have one of the most famous rockstars in the world as a dad, who eventually decided to separate from his mom due to adultery. Sadly, that's a whole different story.
Cynthia and John Lennon divorced in 1968, shortly after Lennon started dating the Japanese artist Yoko Ono, and Julian was left with his mother. Julian and his father didn't have much of a relationship, leaving the young boy to carry resentment towards his new family that would be brought to life later down the line.
The Beginning of an Era
Although the young rockstar had a few affairs during his marriage to Cynthia, there was one in particular that stuck hard, and that was with Yoko Ono. "I was very attracted to him. It was a really strange situation," Ono told reporters from The Scotsman in 2002.
The two were completely captivated by one another, and they married in the spring of 1969 - one week after Paul McCartney's marriage to Lina Eastman. The young artists used Lennon's powerful platform to promote world peace and were considered one of the most strange yet powerful couples of their era.
Unfortunately, to the naked eye, it seemed the two neglected Lennon's son, Julian. Things got even more complicated when Ono and Lennon gave birth to their son, Sean Lennon, in 1975, making Julian a big brother. However, things didn't always feel so family oriented…
Julian and Yoko had very little interaction with one another, despite him being John's firstborn. It was difficult for Julian as a kid to grow up with a superstar dad who was barely in the picture. But things got even more challenging for him when Sean was born.
Considering the divorce, John's marriage to Yoko, and the birth of their son, things grew difficult for Julian. But Paul made sure to be there for him throughout all these changes. Lennon quickly noticed the bond between his son and McCartney, telling David Sheff in an interview, "He'd been like an uncle to him."
Uncle Paul McCartney: that has a nice ring to it, some would say. Sure enough, Julian and Paul had a great relationship. "I think he likes Paul better than me. I have the funny feeling he wishes Paul was his dad," John even confessed to Spin Magazine.
The Summer of '68
This brings us to the story behind one of The Beatles' most famous songs to date: Hey Jude. Written shortly after Cynthia and John had split up, McCartney remained close to their son Julian and had decided to visit the two of them in Weybridge during the summer of 1968.
"I thought, as a friend of the family, I would motor out to Weybridge and tell them that everything was all right: to try and cheer them up, basically, and see how they were," McCartney told Anthology. "I had about an hour's drive. I would always turn the radio off and try and make up songs, just in case," he said.
And good thing he did have the radio off, because that hour car ride gave the musician one of the greatest songs of all time. "I started singing: 'Hey Jules – don't make it bad, take a sad song, and make it better…' It was optimistic, a hopeful message for Julian: 'Come on, man, your parents got divorced."
"'I know you're not happy, but you'll be OK,'" was the overall message he wanted to get across to Julian - and well, it just so happens that it became the message we all needed to hear. McCartney added, "I eventually changed 'Jules' to 'Jude.' One of the characters in Oklahoma is called Jud, and I like the name."
The First Listen
McCartney had penned some of the most influential song lyrics and rhythmic tunes of all time in a singular car ride - all for Lennon's son, Julian. No wonder he was crowned Uncle Paul. After Macca had completed the track, he decided to sit down with John and show him what he had written.
"I finished it all up in Cavendish, and I was in the music room upstairs when John and Yoko came to visit, and they were right behind me over my right shoulder, standing up, listening to it as I played it to them," Sir Paul McCartney recalled the moment he nervously showed them his project for the first time.
"I Love Those Words Now"
"When I got to the line, 'The movement you need is on your shoulder,' I looked over my shoulder, and I said, 'I'll change that, it's a bit crummy. I was just blocking it out,' and John said, 'You won't, you know. That's the best line in it!' That's collaboration." Yes, it is!
"When someone's that firm about a line that you're going to junk, and he said, 'No, keep it in.' So, of course, you love that line twice as much because it's a little stray, it's a little mutt that you were about to put down, and it was reprieved, and so it's more beautiful than ever. I love those words now," he confessed.
Who Was the Song Really For?
According to Paul, the iconic song was created in honor of Julian Lennon. But according to John? He felt the song had been written for a different family member: Himself. The musician recognized the song was about his child, but in an interview with David Sheff, Lennon revealed, "I always heard it as a song to me."
"Yoko's just come into the picture. He's saying… 'Hey, John…' you can hear it as a song to me. The words 'go out and get her' - subconsciously, he was saying, 'go ahead, leave me.' On a conscious level, he didn't want me to go ahead." But "the devil in him didn't like it at all because he didn't want to lose his partner."
Back to the Beginning
Despite Lennon's feelings regarding who the song was meant for, die-hard Beatles fans believe the song was actually intended for Jules - or "Jude." To them, the song was meant to help him through some of the toughest moments of his life. And hopefully, that's exactly what it did.
Years later, Julian told Mojo his thoughts on who the song was intended for. "He [McCartney] told me that he'd been thinking about my circumstances all those years ago, about what I was going through, which prompted the song." And while it brings back hard memories for him, Lennon is forever "grateful to Paul for writing it."
A Lasting Impression
Safe to say, Hey Jude elicits an array of emotions and means something different to everyone who listens. Upon its release over 50 years ago, crowds immediately knew its value, and it sold more than 5 million copies worldwide within the first six months.
The catchy yet meaningful tune was the longest song to enter the charts on the Top 10. The Beatles even hit #1 on the U.S. charts, where it stayed for 9 weeks, making it the longest-lasting Beatles song to stay on the charts. Hey Jude was also the first song to be released on Apple, the Beatles' own recording label.
Like Father, Like Son
But given all the success and influence Hey Jude brought, fans worldwide have always been curious about the making of the music - more specifically, the face behind it all: Julian. Who really is Julian Lennon? And where he is now, all these years later?
Julian Lennon is the love child of the late rockstar and his first wife Cynthia, who happens to look very, very similar to his father! Despite their broken relationship after John married Yoko Ono, the two always shared one thing in common: Their love for music.
A Natural Entertainer
The Lennon gene clearly runs strongly throughout the family: just like his father, Julian is a talented musician who has produced several successful albums, such as Valotte in 1984. He was even nominated for a Grammy as Best New Artist in 1985.
Most famously known for his hit lead single, Too Late for Goodbyes, Lennon is also a photographer, author, and producer. The artist produced the environmental documentary film Whale Dreams in 2006, a film that received eight international awards for its excellence.
As we know, Julian had an excellent relationship with "Uncle Paul." So much so, that John questioned his relationship with his own son. As it turns out, Julian would later reveal to Mojo in 2002, "Paul and I used to hang out a bit more than dad, and I did. We had a great friendship going."
"There seem to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and dad," Julian continued to explain to Mojo many years after his father's death. Despite their close relationship as he was growing up, it appears they eventually drifted - which begs the question: why?
The Wedding "Snub"
As time piled on, so did their tension. Uncle Paul and Julian didn't remain as close, so much so that Lennon was not invited to the rockstars wedding to Nancy Shevell in 2011. According to Lennon himself, he felt "snubbed" of the invite and wondered why he didn't make the final cut.
However, according to The Daily Mail, everything was just a "misunderstanding," as far as wedding invitations go. Apparently, the couple thought Julian was out of town when the wedding took place, and since then, their relationship seemed to be on the up and up.
Addressing the Rumors
Although their relationship seems to have been repaired after the whole wedding scandal, Julian likely leaned on Uncle Paul because of his crumbling relationship with his father. The two suffered from a somewhat broken relationship, eventually resulting in Hey Jude.
John was fully aware of his relationship with his son and how it differed from Julian's bond with Paul. In an interview with Spin Magazine, when Julian was just a child, Lennon told reporters that being his son "must be h*ll," which seemingly confirmed all the rumors.
Naturally, Julian developed some hard feelings towards his father, calling him a "hypocrite" over his famous world peace beliefs, to only then treat him and his mother the way he did. The younger Lennon admitted, "I've never really wanted to know the truth about how dad was with me."
"There was some very negative stuff talked about me, like when he said I'd come out of a whiskey bottle on a Saturday night. Stuff like that," Julian confessed. "You think, where's the love in that?" However rocky their relationship was, there was enough love there that eventually, they reconnected.
His Happiest Memories
Despite how complex their relationship was, there came a time in the '70s when the two reconnected. "Dad and I got on a great deal better then. We had a lot of fun, laughed a lot, and had a great time in general when he was with [partner] May Pang," he said in an interview in 2009.
"My memories of that time with Dad and May are very clear - they were the happiest time I can remember with him," he continued to explain. According to Julian, he did have plenty of great memories with his father. However, his reconnection with his father was cut quite short…
A Tragic Death
In December of 1980, the great John Lennon was shot and killed outside his New York home, causing mass hysteria and sadness all over the world. People from every corner of the globe gathered together to celebrate the life of the great musician and mourn him in any way they felt fit.
Lennon's killer was detained and is still imprisoned to this day. But the whole world fell into deep mourning and continues to grieve over the loss of the beloved Beatles bandmate - including his son, Julian. Julian was only a teenager when his father died, leaving him with only 17 years of memories…
Cut Out of the Family Will
With the entire world mourning over the musician, it was almost too difficult for the young teenager to focus on mourning himself. However, when it was time to read the will left by the successful artist, things got very complicated for the entire family.
As it turned out, Lennon built an estimated $800 million fortune throughout his successful career. Still, his son, Julian, was left entirely out of his late father's will - incurring many questions, arguments, and lawsuits. However, he was reportedly left a trust of £100,000 to split between him and his half-brother, Sean.
Yoko vs. Julian
Yoko Ono was left as the executor and trustee of the will, which allegedly stated that at 25, Lennon would inherit £50,000. However, Julian was unhappy with those terms, which landed in a lawsuit. Sure enough, he was awarded £20 million, 16 years following his father's death.
Although Julian and Yoko didn't have much of a relationship growing up, Lennon's second wife would eventually show up for her stepson over the years. During one of Julian's photography exhibitions, Yoko stated, "Julian is the biggest thing in our family," as she supported his artwork.
Despite the undeniable tension between Yoko and Julian, Sean and Julian have always kept a solid relationship. The two were over 10 years apart in age, but they shared a great bond, which eventually led to their mutual love for music - just like their father.
"Julian is the reason I started playing music," Sean confessed. "Because when I was a kid, when his first record, Vallotte, hit the charts, it was the biggest thing." Sean confirmed despite all the rumors, "we've always been very close. He was a real hero to me." That's what we like to hear!
Reliving Childhood Trauma
It's safe to say Julian faced his fair share of complex relationships growing up, which traveled with him into his adulthood. Julian and his half-brother still remain close. But in terms of his other relationships? The artist has revealed that it's been difficult for him.
"He was young and didn't know what the h*ll he was doing," Lennon recalled regarding his late father. "That's the reason I haven't had children yet. I didn't want to do the same thing. No, I'm not ready. I want to know who I am first," he confessed to Smooth Radio.
Today, Julian is now in his 50s and is continuously putting out music and working on his art for the world to hear. He recently decided to legally change his name from John Charles Julian Lennon to Julian Charles John Lennon, as he revealed in an appearance on the Word in Your Ear podcast.
"I finally actually decided to legally change my name. The c*** that I had to deal with when traveling and security companies and this and that and the other," he said. "It became really uncomfortable over the years because I've always been known as Julian and so it [being called John] never felt like it was me."
The Beatles: Get Back
The recent documentary series, The Beatles: Get Back, was released last year and covered The Beatles' 1970 album, Let It Be. The short series features the band's journey through loads of unseen footage as they cover weeks of studio time and the creative processes it took to complete the beloved album.
Following the success of the 2021 Get Back documentary, Julian Lennon shared his opinion of the mini-series. He gave his approval in regards to the outcome. "It reminded me how much love I actually had for him," Julian Lennon confessed to Rock Celebrities.
A Lasting Legacy
From Hey Jude to every hit in between, people of all ages, genders, religions, and cultures have come to appreciate the brilliant music from the British band. The Beatles gave people from all walks of life something to smile about during a rather tricky time period, where their voices were heard through the music.
Although the band had its ups and downs, they all came together to make uplifting music that people were desperately craving. Hey Jude was just one of the many, many songs that people from all walks of life could relate to. And its legacy will, no doubt, live on forever.