The greatest pop song – ever?

The greatest pop song – ever?

by Stuart Crawford
article from Friday 7, September, 2018

MY 12-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER came in to the kitchen the other night and said “Do you mind if I play something on the iPod?”  She then proceeded to play “Hey Jude”, a song written and recorded by the Beatles almost exactly 30 years before she was born.

I told her that it was without doubt the best pop song ever written, to which she replied something along the lines of “Whatever, Dad”, which seems to be the standard pre-teen response to adults these days, no matter what the topic.  

But it was, and is.  I was a 14-year-old schoolboy at Hutchesons’ Boys Grammar School in Glasgow when it was released, back in 1968.  It was the only topic of conversation amongst my classmates the morning after the Beatles had performed it live on David Frost showthe previous night on the.   If you look it up on YouTube you’ll see that they invited the studio audience to join them on stage as they played.  

Nobody could quite believe that the Fabs had appeared in the flesh, and it was brilliant.  It shows the Beatles at the very apogee of their power and influence, at a time when no other band in the world could even approach them.  They were in the middle of the run of 4 consecutive and outstanding albums, RevolverSgt Pepper’s, the White Album and Abbey Road, a series that has never been challenged since in terms of creativeness, innovation, and originality, not in the modern age anyhow.

Listen to it again and you’ll notice how throwaway the recording is.  The Beatles had nothing to prove and you can tell by the way it’s performed.  The mood is more pub sing-along than studio, and nothing is perfect – the odd wavering note here, the odd mistimed beat there. And yet it is perfect.  None of the overproduced, sanitised, feeling-free tosh that so many of today’s youth seems content with.

I remember listening to it on the “transistor” in my Dad’s car when he picked me up from school one day.  It came on just as we turned left at the Crossmyloof Ice Rink, and it was still going strong as we swung round the Croftfoot roundabout on our way home to Carmunnock.  “It’s quite a long song,” he said at the time, and I nodded.  It still is quite a long song.

Apart from the Beatles, of course, 1968 seemed a pretty cool year to a 14-year-old.  It was, I suppose, the high summer of the 1960s, the decade when Britain faded from grey into colour.  One year after Sgt Pepper and one year before Woodstock.  The year of student riots in Paris and across university campuses in the USA.  The musical “Hair” was performed by naked actors on the London stage.  The rock group Cream played their farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

On the darker side, it was also the year of the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the My Lai massacre, bombings in Frankfurt by the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the Warsaw pact crushing of the “Prague Spring”.   And our very own Jim Clark was killed at Hockenheim aged just 32.  Not much to celebrate here.  But, to me, these seemed to be just punctuation marks in an otherwise carefree life in suburban Scotland.

Others will no doubt have other songs or pieces of music from different years and eras which do the same for them, and have their own ideas on “the best pop song ever written.”  I’d be happy to hear them.  But for me it will always be the year of “Hey Jude”, a time when everything seemed possible and the whole of life offering endless possibilities stretched ahead.  

And, you know, sometimes when I hear the song again I find myself feeling the same way.   I hope my kids do too.

© Stuart Crawford 2018

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