Public interest in the fab four never ceases, and Ron Howard’s latest documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, is no exception. Debuting this week, the doc includes celebrity interviews, a look at the band’s stand against segregation in the 1960s, and lots of rarely-seen footage.
While we can anticipate what will appear in Howard’s film, it’s much less known just how exactly The Beatles’ came up with the songs that would make the band documentary-worthy in the first place.
In anticipation of the film, let’s recount some of the Beatles songs that made the Beatles famous, and the often looked-over or misunderstood stories behind them.
The Beatles’ most popular song has a rather endearing origin story, one that centers on grief, coping, and hope — particularly for John Lennon’s son, Julian.
The idea came to McCartney in a visit to Julian and Cynthia Lennon, who had recently split up with John. As McCartney said:
“I thought, as a friend of the family, I would motor out to Weybridge and tell them that everything was all right: to try and cheer them up, basically, and see how they were. I had about an hour’s drive. I would always turn the radio off and try and make up songs, just in case… I started singing: ‘Hey Jules – don’t make it bad, take a sad song, and make it better…’ It was optimistic, a hopeful message for Julian: ‘Come on, man, your parents got divorced. I know you’re not happy, but you’ll be OK.'”
Originally, McCartney called the song “Hey Jules,” but he later changed it to “Jude” so the lyrics would flow better.
Lennon would go on to say that while he knew certain parts were indeed about his son Julian, he believed McCartney’s song was also about Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono:
“I always heard it as a song to me. If you think about it… Yoko’s just come into the picture. He’s saying, ‘Hey, Jude – hey, John.’ I know I’m sounding like one of those fans who reads things into it, but you can hear it as a song to me. The words ‘go out and get her’ – subconsciously he was saying, Go ahead, leave me. On a conscious level, he didn’t want me to go ahead. The angel in him was saying, ‘Bless you.’ The devil in him didn’t like it at all because he didn’t want to lose his partner.”
In 1968, the Beatles traveled to India to study transcendental meditation under guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi — and were not the only celebrities to do so. Many actors and musicians made their way to the ashram, among them Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence.
As John Lennon later said, in an attempt to “reach God quicker than anybody else,” Prudence refused to leave her room at the ashram. This refusal, Lennon said, lasted for weeks.
Prudence did so against the wishes of Maharishi, and eventually George Harrison and Lennon were tasked with getting her out. “They selected me and George to try and bring her out because she would trust us,” Lennon said.
Prudence — in spite or perhaps because of her isolation — inspired Lennon to write a song about her, aptly named “Dear Prudence.” Describing the song, Lennon said that it’s “about Mia Farrow’s sister, who seemed to go slightly barmy, meditating too long, and couldn’t come out of the little hut that we were livin’ in.”
Harrison and Lennon wrote the song while still in India, only letting Prudence know that they had done so as they were leaving. She would only hear it upon the White Album’s release.
Prudence later confirmed Lennon’s story, saying the following:
“Being on that course was more important to me than anything in the world. I was very focused on getting in as much meditation as possible, so that I could gain enough experience to teach it myself. I knew that i must have stuck out because I would always rush straight back to my room after lectures and meals so that I could meditate.
John, George and Paul would all want to sit around jamming and having a good time and I’d be flying into my room. They were all serious about what they were doing but they just weren’t as fanatical as me…
At the end of the course, just as they were leaving, George mentioned that they had written a song about me but I didn’t hear it until it came out on the album. I was flattered. It was a beautiful thing to have done.”
“Here Comes The Sun”
Put plainly, “Here Comes The Sun” is a song about happier times. George Harrison wrote the tune at the country home of Eric Clapton on a borrowed guitar. Harrison only had time to write it because he decided to play hooky from a day of business and marketing meetings at record label headquarters.
As Harrison writes in his autobiography:
“Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote ‘Here Comes the Sun.'”
Carl Sagan wanted to include the song on a disc he would send into space during the 1977 Voyager mission, which he hoped would provide any alien entity that found it with a “representative sample of human civilization.” Ultimately, however, copyright issues kept “Here Comes the Sun” from being included.