Believe it or not, I did not listen to very much classic rock radio growing up. My folks pretty much kept the dial on R&B radio (with occasional excursions into reggae and adult contemporary/easy listening) and, left to my own devices, I did the same with a heavy concentration of whatever was on the Top Forty stations. Although I grew up knowing who Jimi Hendrix was, I can’t say I was familiar with much of his work until I was in my later teens. I think I might have actually stolen a copy of a Hendrix comp from one of the people I was living with at the time, and holy shit did I absorb it. Interestingly, though, most of his work grew off of me as quickly as it grew on me. While I will always be in awe of the innovations he brought to guitar playing, there are maybe 6 Hendrix songs that pop into my regular rotation. “Hey Joe” is maybe foremost among them, and I even hesitated giving that song a five-star rating. For a while, I thought it was a blues standard (the lyrics would indicate as such), but turns out the song was actually written in the ’60s–allegedly. According to Wikipedia, “Hey Joe” was registered for copyright in 1962 by a fella named Billy Roberts, and Roberts gave the rights up. There’s also the fact that the basic lyrical conceit of “Hey Joe” (dude finds his lady cheating and shoots her but doesn’t shoot the person she’s cheating with, which kinda makes no sense) was already pretty shopworn by the time the ’60s rolled around. So even if it’s an original composition from the early ’60s, it’s not really. You know? Either way, Hendrix’s version is pretty blistering and that man could make a guitar do some crazy shit, like back up those sinister lyrics.
“Hey Jude” has the opposite emotional effect from “Hey Joe”. “Jude” is actually a baby Julian Lennon. “Uncle” Paul McCartney wrote this classic to cheer the young lad up as his parents (John & Cynthia Lennon) were separating. Even if Julian hadn’t gone on to become a pop star in his own right, being the catalyst for The Beatles’ biggest hit isn’t too shabby a hook to hang your hat on. As the Fab Four’s most well-known tune, “Hey Jude” was inescapable even without turning on classic rock radio (which was still heavily ’60s based when I was comin’ up in the early/mid ’80s). Despite its omnipresence, it still holds up (I would say that’s why it’s omnipresent, but there are plenty of huge hits that fall flat in my ears today). It would be great if you could eliminate a couple of minutes of “na na na na”s that close the song, but that’s a relatively minor quibble.
“Hey Jude” has also spawned a few awesome (and significantly shorter) covers. My favorites are this swingin’ one by Ella Fitzgerald and this jammin’ one by Wilson Pickett. Meanwhile, if you want something a little different, here’s a cover of “Hey Joe” by Eddie Murphy.