There’s a little to admire about “Hey Jude” but almost nothing to love. For a start, it’s far too long: the most obvious of criticisms, yes, but the last two or so minutes of the coda are pure baggage, the sound of a band imposing themselves just because they can. The song comes from the start of the Apple period, in fact it helped launch the boutique label: that may explain why they wanted to get something Big onto the market, but the length of “Hey Jude” just wastes its expertly constructed build-up. It’s also from the era when Paul McCartney was trying hard to persuade the Beatles back on the road – for a non-touring outfit to invent the lighters-out stadium ballad is ironic, if not cruel. McCartney’s excruciatingly well-drilled “Joo-joo-judy-jude” yowls as the coda starts give some hint of how lucky the world was that the other three resisted his plans.
Lop the end in half and the rest isn’t so bad. “Hey Jude” crystallises a lot of familiar Beatley themes – you’re not alone, you don’t have to be ashamed of needing help, some of that help is best found in a huge great singalong. The track has undeniable weight but I always feel a little sorry for Jude, who starts off getting an avuncular chat and ends up squeezed in the world’s biggest bear hug. The song is at its prettiest and most effective when it’s at its most conversational – “Hey Jude, you’ll do” – but that delicate balance of intimacy and inclusiveness doesn’t last. If you’re looking for a Beatles singalong, “Yellow Submarine” is catchier, funnier, less bludgeoning and more adaptable.