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The Beatles, Hey Jude. How does a song become a classic?

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[Monday's Notes No. 125] Hey Jude is one of the Beatles' most famous songs, one of those ones that you just have to hear once and you never forget it. I wondered why, what in this song is so special. I tried to analyse it to understand its secrets.

One of the common characteristics of highly successful songs is simplicity, in this respect Hey Jude is no exception. The harmony is based on three major chords ( I, IV, V degree of the F major scale), while the melody is graceful and easy to remember. Here is the score of the verse.

Hey Jude - spartito parte A

The piece begins on the tonic chord F, then moves to the dominant C7 and back to F (perfect cadence). This is followed by a caden IV I (B♭, F) and then again the perfect cadence C7 F. In part B the piece modulates briefly to the IV degree B♭ and then returns again to the I degree with a II V I cadence, Gm7 C7 F.

Hey Jude - spartito parte B

While the body of the song is therefore rather predictable, the coda is very interesting. In the finale, the song in fact stops on just three chords, F E♭ B♭. This series of chords is typical of many pop and rock pieces, Hey Jude was however the first song to use it in such a extended way.

Hey Jude - spartito coda cadenza doppia plagale

The movement Bb F is still a plagal cadence, yet it is preceded by E♭ B♭, where E♭, a chord unrelated to the tonality of the piece F major, is in turn IV of B♭. It is like there is a plagal cadence of the plagal cadence.

E♭ (IV of B♭) → B♭ (IV of F) → F

As a reminder of this progression, it may be useful to call it 'double plagal', which seems to me a definition that sums up well this double descending fourth movement.

By the time Hey Jude was released, the Beatles had stopped playing concerts and were focusing exclusively on studio performances. However, the song has become a classic of Paul McCartney's concerts, in which the coda is very long and the audience invariably participates and sings 'na na na na…'.

While the first part of the piece is well done, it is this grandiose coda that makes the piece what it is, a masterpiece of pop music.

The lyrics of the song also certainly contributed to the success of Hey Jude. It is in fact an incitement to overcome difficulties and not to let sad moments get you down. A universal message, which through the notes of Hey Jude has been able to reach and inspire more than one generation.

Until next Monday!

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