In August of 1968, the biggest band in the world released their biggest song ever. That was 50 years ago.
“Hey Jude” skyrocketed to the top of the singles charts in the United States and Great Britain in 1968. After an August 26 U.S. release, it immediately arrived in the Top Ten and sat atop Billboard’s Hot 100 for nine consecutive weeks, making it the most successful single recorded by the most prosperous band in history. The single sold more than 5 million copies worldwide in six months and 7.5 million over four years. It performed more spectacularly on the charts than any other single between 1959 and 1977. It was also the first release on the Beatles’ own record label—Apple.
This year, after McCartney’s surprise appearance in the Liverpool pub with Corden, “Hey Jude” joined two new McCartney tunes as well as five other Beatles numbers on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs list. During the week of June 28, 5,000 people downloaded the song.
Read about the inspiration for the song, how John Lennon misinterpreted it, the recording session that Paul McCartney called “magic,” how it resonated with audiences in a chaotic year, and the lasting legacy of “Hey Jude” at Smithsonian.
(Image credit: National Museum of American History)