The Hey Jude album was not compiled by Capitol; the project was conceived by Allen Klein and Apple Records. Klein had negotiated a more lucrative contract for the group in 1969 and was anxious to sweeten the pot with an additional album. He directed Allan Stickler of ABKCO/Apple to work on an album. Steckler chose songs that had not appeared on a Capitol album in the US and which spanned the group's career. He also focused more on recent singles than on earlier material. The absence of the songs from a US Capitol album was partially a consequence of the Beatles' unwillingness to include single releases on their contemporaneous albums, partially a consequence of their arrangement with United Artists in 1964, and partially due to the habit (of EMI affiliates worldwide) of recompiling the Beatles' British releases for local markets. Steckler chose not to include "A Hard Day's Night", which had been released as a single by Capitol and was available on the United Artists soundtrack album, "I'm Down", which was the B-Side of "Help!", and "The Inner Light", which was the B-Side of "Lady Madonna". He also overlooked "From Me to You", "Misery" and "There's a Place", which were first issued in the United States by Vee-Jay Records but were not issued on a Capitol album yet. "Sie Liebt Dich", a German-language version of "She Loves You," and the single version of "Get Back" were also ignored.
Steckler and Apple had become disappointed with the Capitol Records release schedules and determined to promote the new album themselves. Steckler also took the tapes to Sam Feldman at Bell Sound Studios (in New York), rather than delivering them to Capitol. He would do this for several releases thereafter.
Originally, the album was to be named The Beatles Again. Shortly before the record was released, however, the title was changed to Hey Jude, in order to promote the inclusion of the top-selling song that led off side two. Unfortunately, the name change occurred after the labels were printed, and an untold number of copies of the album were sold with an Apple label sporting the title The Beatles Again. This was also true for cassette copies of the album, which retained the original title. Neither the front nor the back of the album displayed the record's title, but most copies were sold in a jacket whose spine read Hey Jude. Furthermore, in an attempt to clear up any confusion caused by the preprinted label, initial copies of the album also displayed a sticker on the cover bearing the title Hey Jude. The edition of the album with the The Beatles Again label bore catalogue number SO-385 on the label, but not on the jacket. This is because of a similarly-timed decision to reduce the price from $6.98 (SO- prefix) to $5.98 (SW- prefix). The record jacket was prepared late enough so that it lists the catalogue number as SW-385. The SW-385 catalogue number appears on the label of later pressings that bear the title Hey Jude on the label.
The front and back cover pictures were taken at the last-ever Beatles photo session, on 22 August 1969, at John Lennon's new house, Tittenhurst Park.
Klein authorized release of the album as a sales buffer during post-production of the delayed Let It Be. In 2007 Neil Aspinall claimed that the back cover was supposed to be the front cover and vice-verse, but that Klein had reversed them in error. This is not entirely true. At least three prototype cover designs are known to exist, with the earliest of those showing the photos "reversed." Apparently, the art department made the determination that the photo that now appears on the front cover was better suited for that purpose. Bruce Spizer's book, The Beatles on Apple Records, contains many previously-unknown details about the release.
The compilation was released in many countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Spain, Germany, France, Greece, Japan, and most of South America. It was also available to other countries as an "export" from Britain (Parlophone/Apple CPCS-106) but was not at first issued in Britain, although it was a popular import to the UK. Because of its popularity worldwide, Parlophone released Hey Jude in Britain on 11 May 1979 (catalogue number PCS 7184.) (If a fan who owned all twelve studio British Beatles albums augmented his or her collection with Hey Jude, Magical Mystery Tour, A Collection of Beatles Oldies, and the British version of Rarities, his or her collection would include every official Beatles song, although a number of officially-released alternate mixes would still be missing.) Until the release of 1967–1970 in 1973, Hey Jude was the only way to own the extremely popular "Hey Jude" single on LP or in a stereo mix. The songs "Lady Madonna", "Rain", and "Revolution" also appeared for the first time in stereo on this album. Prior to the release of the "Get Back" single in Spring, 1969, all Beatles singles were issued in mono in the US. If nothing else, this compilation showcased stereo versions of previously single-only mono Beatles songs. Several other countries wound up with the original The Beatles Again title, with Spain's perhaps being the most interesting — because "Ballad of John and Yoko" was clipped from the album, having been deemed offensive (either because of its reference to Christ, or to the fact of Lennon's referral of "Gibraltar near Spain", at a time when Spain's Franco administration was contending with the UK over the ownership of Gibraltar).
On the reel-to-reel and cassette tape releases sides one and two are reversed. Although it is clear on the vinyl version that "Hey Jude" opens side two, when compiling this issue for audio tape, some compilers (at Capitol and Ampex) thought to make the change, which resulted in "Hey Jude" leading off the album. This was done because side two was the longer side, and it was the practice in some tape formats to lead the album with the longer side. The four-track tape, prepared by Ampex along with the reel-to-reel tape, has the songs in the original, chronological order. (The eight-track tape was treated to the usual re-ordering that eight tracks received.)
The album was released in both stereo and mono in Brazil and Argentina. While the Argentine mono issue uses a reduction of the common stereo tapes, the Brazilian (Apple BTL 1009) is made of all original UK single mixes and is true mono, with the exception of "Ballad of John and Yoko" and of "Old Brown Shoe", which are mono reductions of the original UK single mixes.
The CD era saw the standardising of the Beatles' discographies worldwide, and the Hey Jude album is not available on compact disc. All of the tracks contained on 'Hey Jude' can be found on A Hard Day's Night and Past Masters. An unauthorized import CD referred to as a Mini LP Edition, however, can be found.
All tracks written by Lennon/McCartney, except where noted.
- "Can't Buy Me Love" – 2:19
- "I Should Have Known Better" – 2:39
- "Paperback Writer" – 2:14
- "Rain" – 2:58
- "Lady Madonna" – 2:14
- "Revolution" – 3:21
- "Hey Jude" – 7:05
- "Old Brown Shoe" (George Harrison) – 3:16
- "Don't Let Me Down" – 3:30
- "The Ballad of John and Yoko" – 2:55