I love the Beatles. Their songs have informed the joys and the sorrows across the arc of my life.
One of the best Beatles songs is “Hey Jude” — written for Julian Lennon by Paul McCartney upon the dissolution of John Lennon’s first marriage — and I have always wondered about the meaning of a particular bit of lyric in that song.

Here’s where the lyric bit appears in the song and I made the line in question BOLD:

So let it out and let it in, hey jude, begin,
You’re waiting for someone to perform with.
And don’t you know that it’s just you, hey jude, you’ll do,
The movement you need is on your shoulder.

How do you interpret the line:

The movement you need is on your shoulder.

Earlier in the song we get this line:

Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.

I believe “the movement you need is on your shoulder” is a shrug.

McCartney is advising the young Lennon to not carry the
weight of the world — and the divorce and the legacy — on his
shoulders; he should just shrug it all off and live his own life.

Many of my friends believe I am reading too much into the “shoulders” of the song.

I want to know what you think.

How do you diving meaning in that line from “Hey Jude”
— and where do you think that song stands in the overall catalogue of
Beatles mega-hits?

42 Comments

  1. David,
    I like your interpretation of the lyric. It sounds spot-on to me.
    My favorite Beatles song is “Across the Universe,” but “Hey Jude” is a really, really close second.

    1. Hey Emily, “Across the Universe” is also my favorite Beatles song! It has great meaning to me, as well as “Hey Jude.” I take this line as a personal interpretation, as a violist. “You’re waiting for someone to perfrom with/ But don’t you know that it’s just you, hey Jude, you’ll do, the movement you need is on your shoulder.” Yup, my viola’s on my shoulder…and you just haveto get on stage – sometimesby yourself – and play your heart out and live your life. And Mr. David, I think your interpretation is good as related to Julian Lennon, if the song was for him.
      Love the Beatles forever!

  2. Hi David,
    It’s interesting to note that Paul McCartney didn’t like the “movement” line, according to “The Beatles Songfacts.”

    McCartney didn’t like the initial lyrics, especially the line “The movement you need is on your shoulder.” Lennon convinced him to keep them.

    This reminds me of a question a teacher raised when I was in high school about The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” about the lines:

    Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
    And though the holes were rather small
    They had to count them all
    Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall

    .

  3. Thanks for the additional information, Chris!
    It’s fascinating Paul didn’t like the line while Lennon did. I find the phrase incredibly telling and precious and I’m so glad they kept it in the song!
    Love that “Day in the Life” lyric as well! What was the final analysis of that stanza in class?

  4. Hi David,
    Everyone thought the line had to do with drugs because of the reference to little holes and filling up the Albert Hall.
    In reality, it had to do with a newspaper article about 4,000 potholes needing to be fixed in Blackburn.

  5. “Beatles” is an experience as a whole.
    Two of my favorites – “Goodday Sunshine” and “Tomorrow never knows”. Because of the lyrics and tune – both.
    Love “Hey Jude” too.
    I think the line “the movement you need is on your shoulder” is a shrug, a boost to go on with life!

  6. Hey David,
    Very interesting insight into “Hey, Jude.”
    I think you are right that McCartney is telling Lennon to ignore the world. I’m not sure about the shrug. Maybe that is too literal? Maybe he is just trying to say that Lennon has enough strength of character that he can survive the divorce. That he has it within him. Isn’t there another line that tells him not to be afraid?
    But then, again, what do I know? Maybe McCartney even didn’t know exactly what he was trying to say. Sometimes, I have experienced the muse speaking and I really don’t understand my own words.
    “Blackbird” is one of my favorite Beatles songs. Anything on the White Album.
    Donna

  7. Hi David,
    How right you are about “sometimes a lyric is just a lyric”!
    In late ’80s a new genre of music emerged in Calcutta, known as “songs of life”.
    The biggest hit was the following song: “Tomake Chai” aka – I want you
    http://esnips.com/doc/9d3111f4-7cc4-4e53-b11e-f94f9410c5b5/06.-Tomake-Chai
    It goes like this –
    I want you in the first place,
    I want you in the second
    I want you in the third…
    I want you till the end
    It was assumed that it spoke about wanting someone in every aspect of life – starting from the morning tea till the end of life – in joy, sorrow, happiness, and trauma – everything. It was an instant hit. Everyone interpreted the lyrics the way they wanted. Some said it was the height of romance, some said it spoke about the value of life….
    After a couple years later the singer/writer/composer sheepishly declared he was thinking about a cigarette while writing the song!

    1. “Everyone interpreted the lyrics the way they wanted.”
      I’ve heard many stories about the lyrics of songs that follow this trend. The artist’s thoughts were FAR from what anyone else saw or heard. Sometimes I don’t peruse the actual thoughts behind the words from the artist himself/herself – it would pop my bubble of imagination – such as what happened here. A cigarette of all things. What a let down! 🙂

  8. Hi Donna!
    If the movement isn’t a shrug, what is the movement on the shoulder, then?
    I too, love Blackbird — my favorite version is found on McCartney’s MTV Unplugged CD. A spectacular effort overall. He’s warm, in good voice and has a killer “band” playing around him.

  9. Hi David,
    I don’t know the answer to your question.
    Another bit of speculation on my part. If we split the phrase into two parts: “the movement” and “is on your shoulder,” maybe “the movement” is an action and “is on your shoulder” means the action is in your (Lennon’s) hands and no one else’s. In otherwords Lennon and Lennon alone is carrying the burden of action. It’s up to him to act on or solve the problem. He is advising him to solve his own problems and not try to solve the problems of the world.
    Just my meandering thoughts on the subject.
    Donna

  10. Hi David,
    Thanks for answering, I didn’t know if this page was still working. Whilst searching for an interpretation for Hey Jude, this page was given. It was interesting to read all the different opinions.
    There were fun and games going on that night with the musicians singing through their music. I don’t suppose you know of any lyrics that include too much cociane gave her a pain -?
    Sue

    1. I once had a song ‘dedicated’ to me by a less-than-perceptive male. The song itself had nothing to do with me per se. He just liked the song. Maybe that’s what happened to you. Maybe he thought, “I like this song, and I like her – let’s put them together!” LOL

  11. Dave,
    Being a little niave I was never expecting their playing through music, so I wasn’t listening all I heard was Too Much Cociane gave her a pain, the dedication and let that be a warning to you all. I just thought it was one of their own songs made-up.
    I was just wondering if you have heard of any song to help out on my further investigation on interpretation.
    Thanks Sue

  12. I have to say this song completly changed my life. I am now a pianist / entertainment director at a Dueling Piano show, which is a big singalong and each night we basicly re-enact this video with the audience(although with other songs)
    Anyway, I wanted to point out one dimension that I believe has been overlooked.
    The Beatles were the most succesful songwriters ever. That’s what they did for a living. Here is a lyric that incorporates a bit of that. ” Take a sad song and make it better”. The whole lyric is sprinkled with vernacular from composing and performance. “Refrain” “perform with” “Movement”. This may have started out as a thought towards Julian but it isn’t really about getting over your losses, its about seizing the moment when you find your true love. No wonder Pauls’ songwriting partner took it as a message of encouragement to him.
    Also the ad-libs for the second half are the feature that never fail to blow my mind. It showcases how many creative ways exist for a 4 bar phrase to be embellished.

  13. “The movement you need is on your shoulders” was a throwaway line from the song that most likley refers to shrugging. Being more artsy and intuitve Lennon liked the allusion to shrugging while being more of a story teller McCartney wanted a lyric that made more sense. As for the verse in A Day in the Life about holes in Blackbrun Lancashire is taken from a newspaper article by Lennon as are his other contributions to that song. It refers to a large amount of potholes in Blackburn that the local government had counted and the part about the Royal Albert Hall was used because they had played the Albert Hall and it rhymed.

  14. I googled in Hey Jude and this is one of the pages I came up with. Hey Jude is not one of my favorite Beatles tunes but the Beatles have been and always will be one of my favorite bands. To the truth I was watching a documentry on WWII and was reminded of the fact that Jude is the German name for Jew. Could this song (or at least the name) be a comparison between the way Julian was treated by John and the way the Jews were treated by Hitler? Octricized, alienated, disowned, also we must remember the way John treated Brian Epstien, actually toyed with his affection. A far reach?

  15. That’s an interesting theory, but didn’t Hitler do more to the Jews than just “ostracize, alienate, and disown” them?
    If John had burned Julian in an oven or performed exploratory surgery on him without anesthesia or starved him to death — it might be a closer match between “Jude” and “Jew” in the song than I’m seeing now.

  16. Googling “Hey Jude” brought many a reader in here. Interesting. 🙂 I’ve always thought that song was one I’d NEVER understand and left it at that. This has been an interesting read.

  17. Just came across this from Google and have yo say this is the best interpretation of the “movement on shoulder” lyric – as a shrug.

    My interpretation to now has always been a more abstract one, that “movement” is change and your head is on your shoulder, so “the movement you need is on your shoulder” means the change you seek comes from your head.

  18. I think it was a shout out to Ayn Rand. Who carries the weight of the world on their shoulders, Atlas does….. The movement you need is on your shoulders…. Atlas Shrugged. He had the biggest money machine going and getting Jude rich, which as you mention is German for Jew. It seems to fit big time.