We are gathered here to praise that most sublime of musical experiences, the audience sing-along. Not just any audience sing-along: not the folksy trifles to be sung around a campfire, or the catchy song you simply know all the words to, or the call-and-response that the singer might have to goad a reluctant audience into. No, I’m thinking about a very specific type of sing-along: the coda, toward the end of certain songs, in which a simple repeated phrase — or string of nonsense syllables — suddenly transforms the song into a whole new species of awesome. It’s either just added on to the existing layers of sound, like icing on a cake; or else it knocks the song down several decibels to an intense near-silence, and builds back up from there. It’s an emotional shifting of gears, a near-spiritual epiphany: the aural equivalent of a dramatic change of stage lighting, or of walking through a door into wide open space, brilliant sunlight, infinite sky.
I’m not a musicologist, but I’m sure the sing-along has deep roots in the blues and gospel and other older traditions. But what’s bringing on my sudden exuberant spouting of bad metaphors is, specifically, the Beatles’ pop masterpiece “Hey Jude,” which for some reason I’ve been unable to extract from my brain for the past few days. So be it: I’ll embrace it, and praise it to the skies.
Here it is, in all its glory:
The Beatles apparently filmed several versions of this. Here’s another take, with more shots of the audience singing along. (Bonus: more Sixties fashion, rhythm-challenged hand-clapping, and squished Ringo!)
Here’s a splitscreen comparison of four existing edits:
And to see the impact “Hey Jude” has across cultures, here’s Paul McCartney electrifying a crowd of thousands at Red Square:
Phenomenal, right? But it doesn’t stop there. Having “Hey Jude” bounce around in my head made me think of other anthemic sing-alongs that, whether intentionally or not, achieve some of the “Hey Jude” effect. Here are some of my favorites: Continue reading