Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Greatest Rock Song Ever Recorded - Hey Jude

You will never get a consensus anytime you start dealing with lists that have the phrase "of all time" attached to them. The best you can hope for is that most of the people can agree that the top three or four have a legitimate reason for being there. Debates will always ensue. Fortunately for me, nobody is in the room with me to debate with. So I am free to skip the other 99, 39, 19, or 9 other slots that would be included in an "all time" list and just tell you why I think "Hey Jude" is the greatest rock song ever recorded.
The encouraging lyrics
Over the years, there was a little confusion as to who the song was about. Turns out that the song was Paul McCartney's attempt to console a young Julian Lennon after the separation of his parents. John Lennon believed for a time that the song was about him. McCartney even let people think for some time that the lyrics were a message to himself. It really does not matter because the lyrics at their core express the importance of hope and optimism in a dire or stressful situation. McCartney's words could easily touch the heart of a person who is lonely, to someone struggling with an addiction, to a person grieving the loss of a loved one, or just simply someone having a bad day. The main message is to "take a sad song, and make it better."
The orchestra and sing-along
The second the entire band starts in with "Naaah nah nah na na na nah..." this song goes from simple piano ballad to ballad, hard rock song, symphony, and We-Are-the-World-sing-along rolled into one. The repetition of the line is catchier than any jingle the best advertisers in the world could ever come up with. And the orchestra takes the encouraging message and turns it into an excuse to let your heart open right up. Especially when the horn sections take over and send the mood soaring into the heavens. Don't believe me? Next time you listen to the song, just listen to the orchestra. It's astounding.
The Beatles let loose
In contrast to the easy-going first three minutes or so of the song, the Fab Four really let it fly for last four minutes. The Beatles start jamming on their instruments with a determination and fury that would impress the likes of AC/DC. John and George's guitar and bass dig out a trench amidst the vast array of instruments and refuse to be overpowered. Ringo keeps reminding you he is there with a steady beat punctuated with mini-solo flurries. Paul is not so much playing his piano as he is assaulting it. He also goes from smooth ballad singer to the Paul that would be the inspiration for such legendary screamers as Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. Collectively, it is as if the Beatles are letting you know that you are going to start feeling better about things if it is the very last thing they do!
The longest fade out ever delivers
When the song first came out, some music industry writers thought the long coda was McCartney's way of parodying the use of fade outs on many pop songs. They missed the brilliance of a four-minute ending to a good song. How many times have you heard a great song that has you engrossed only to fade out when it gets to its most emotionally satisfying point? "With or Without You" by U2 is a good example of this. Songs like that make you wish there was a version that kept going which is what is so great about "Hey Jude." In fact, by the time the song finally fades out, you still want it to keep going
The great unifier
I once was in the kitchen of a restaurant I worked for when "Hey Jude" came on over the radio. The moment the chorus started, everyone, cooks, servers, dishwashers, managers and all joined in and it turned into a magic moment that none of us who were there that day will ever forget. Guests in the restaurant could hear us all singing together in the back and the mood of a usually casual restaurant turned pretty jovial. As part of a commercial for a well-known wireless phone provider, hundreds of people in a public square in London were handed microphones and told to try to sing along with what ever song started playing on the large screen.
As "Hey Jude" started, a roar of recognition and approval was followed by hundreds of people who were not only of different ages, ethnic backgrounds, and cultures, but also whose musical tastes are just as diverse. It seems like everyone knows this song. And even the ones who don't, are very quickly accepted into the club. I would also be confident in saying that I am sure Paul McCartney himself would be booed offstage if he ever tried to end a concert without playing "Hey Jude."
Show me any other song that gives this much hope, scratches the feel-good song itch just right, and gets everyone, and I mean everyone to join in. When you find it, I may be unavailable for a debate. In fact, I already have my earphones in. "Naaah nah nah na na na nah...hey Jude!"
The author is a father of three and avid rock fan. Music is one of the spices of life!
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