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By Rush Evans

As God is my witness, I thought “Don’t Let Me Down” was on the Let It Be album. I mean, it was recorded during the Let It Be sessions, many times over, actually. It was also performed in the Apple rooftop concert, and accordingly in the Let It Be film. It was even included in the new version of the Let It Be album, 2003’s Let It Be…Naked, which is what the album would’ve sounded like if Phil Spector had never gotten involved (indeed, it was he who had cut it from the original Let It Be album).

BEATLES-Hey-Jude

“Don’t Let Me Down” was actually on a Beatles album before Let It Be was released, as it was on Hey Jude, the bastard stepchild of Beatles albums. Does it count? Is it a “proper” Beatles album, or is it a random compilation like Rock and Roll Music or Love Songs? Is it an Americanized collection of songs cobbled together that hadn’t appeared on a proper British release, like Yesterday and Today or Something New?

Or does this even matter? Well, history says that those Americanized deals do count, as they were the only way for Americans to accesss those songs on albums anyway. The US Capitol albums were even released as a collection on CD for those of us accustomed to those versions.

But Hey Jude came out well after the fully realized albums like Revolver had been successfully synched-up on both sides of the pond, though it was a solely American release. Considering the speed with which Beatles EPs and singles had come out by 1969, a cleanup like this was actually a good idea.

I have two friends who bought it new at its time of release, February 26, 1970, just as they did every other Beatles album at its time of release. When I asked both of them about it, they sure remembered going to get it, but they both still view as just a compilation, an album that doesn’t “count.”

But its songs sure do. Beyond the aforementioned “Don’t Let Me Down,” important tracks like the electrified “Revolution,” pop masterpiece “Lady Madonna,” and that great jangly pair from the middle years, “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” all appear here for the first time on an album, released some two months before the final proper album, Let It Be, came out. Wikipedia does not even list it among the 13 albums of the core catalog or on the grander list of the 23 “studio albums.” Yesterday and Today and Something New made the cut. Why not Hey Jude?

It’s 36 minutes of essential Beatles songs, not the least of which is the seven-minute epic masterpiece that is the song “Hey Jude.” Is there a more important Beatles song? Is there a better Beatles song? Is there a better song anywhere by anybody? It’s still astounding that it won no Grammys in 1969.

“Hey Jude” the song deserved an album appearance (and the album’s version also marks the song’s first appearance in stereo). And that’s why it became the album’s title. Knowing it was on the record was reason enough to buy it. That wasn’t the original album title, though. The first pressings had The Beatles Again on the label. There were no words on the front of the record cover, so making a name switch was no problem for proceeding with distribution of those earliest copies. Like most The Beatles Again copies, mine has Hey Jude on the sleeve’s spine.

The front and back album cover photos came from August 22, 1969, the last time The Beatles were all photographed together, though no one knew this at the time. It wasn’t planned as the last photo session but fate had rendered it so, as known by all by the time this album was released. They would no longer exist as a group by early 1970, and they would never be all at the same place at the same time together again.

The place was the house and grounds of Tittenhurst Park, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s home in Sunninghill near Ascot. The photographers were Ethan Russell and Monte Fresco, with additional pictures taken that day by The Beatles’ assistant Mal Evans and by Paul’s new wife, Linda Eastman McCartney, who also had the foresight to shoot some sixteen-millimeter film.

The front photo taken at the house’s front door and the back photo out on the grass are only two of the many important images taken that day. My favorite has all four Beatles out standing in the field. If that had been the cover photo, would the album have taken on a “White Album”-styled unofficial name, “The Beatles: Outstanding in Their Field?” There’s a meme floating around these days with a similar sentiment, with a serious earlier band photo and the words, “Sorry for raising the bar too high.”

That bar was high through all ten tracks, which also included the brilliantly topical song performed only by Paul and John, “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” and its single release’s B-side, George’s rare gem, “Old Brown Shoe.” George had been spending a lot of time with Bob Dylan and The Band around that time, and their influence can be heard.

The record’s first two tracks are the mysterious inclusions that sound the least consistent with the rest. “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Should Have Known Better” were both six years old by that time, and they represent a wholly different sound and era of Beatles. They were included for a reason that makes perfect sense from a business perspective for Capitol Records: They had both been released on Capitol as singles only back in 1964. From a fan perspective, however, they were represented here unnecessarily, as both had been on the A Hard Day’s Night album, which had been released on United Artists Records. They were redundant but they revealed a very quick evolution, as they gave way to those several songs from the middle years which then led to the sounds of the final days together.

Had those early tracks been excluded, there were other rarities that would’ve been worthy candidates in their place. George’s cerebral “The Inner Light” had been the ‘Lady Madonna” B-side back in 1968 and had no album home. The same goes for “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” which would turn up as the “Let It Be” B-side just a month later than the Hey Jude album in March of 1970. Both of these songs would turn up on a true compilation called Rarities nearly a decade later.

I loved the Rarities album when it came out during my high school years, as there were some cool things I’d never heard. It still felt like a new Beatles album, though its title acknowledged its compiled nature.

And I always saw Hey Jude as a proper Beatles album, despite its historical obsoletion, as all but those two early tracks would later appear in the Past Masters collections. It’s possible that (and I feel blasphemous just suggesting this) all Beatles albums will be rendered obsolete as creative statements, as physical media is unutilized by current and future audiences with all music stored and consumed virtually.

But Hey Jude is still where I go to hear each of these songs, straight off of glorious vinyl while staring at those two photos from that beautiful day at Tittenhurst, though I still mentally shift into Let It Be album mode when “Don’t Let Me Down” pops up, having to remind myself anew of its inclusion here.

Whether you perceive this as a cobbled together comp or an authentic artistic statement from the world’s most important band, one fact is indisputable. Hey Jude came out as a Capitol/Apple official release neatly in between the actual final musical statement that was Abbey Road and the actual final album of new material that was Let It Be. And each of the 10 tracks is essential.

It was clearly released with the consent of all four players, which is all that really matters. They were the bloody British Beatles. They could do what they want.