The Top 20 Beatles Songs, #12: “Yesterday”


Videos by American Songwriter

Album: Help! (1965)

Composer: Lennon/McCartney

Constantly appearing on rock music best-of lists, the superlatives for this song are well deserved. In fact, the Guinness Book of Records has determined “Yesterday” to be the most covered song of all time, with over 3,000 versions floating around.

The tune’s back story is almost as legendary as the finished product. Paul McCartney supposedly composed the song’s melody in a dream. When he awoke, he got to a piano and played out the tune, but he was soon doubtful of the song’s originality. He ran the song by countless music producers before he was sure he had written it. He later joked: “Eventually it became like handing something in to the police. I thought if no-one claimed it after a few weeks then I could have it.”

The lyrics for “Yesterday” were much harder to come by. After relying for some time on the Beatles convention of filling in blank lines with “scrambled eggs,” McCartney finally finished the song in Portugal, in June 1965, almost two years after his legendary dream.

In between the song’s composition and release, two full Beatles albums were produced. It seems strange that McCartney could not get it together and throw “Yesterday” on one of these records. Many speculate that the delay was caused not by Paul’s internal creative struggles, but by contention within the band over the song’s release. Being the first Beatles song performed by a sole band member, the group wanted to be sure “Yesterday” was representative of the band’s style. While this formula later became a key component of later Beatles records, Paul really had to sell the idea. “I wouldn’t have put it out as a solo Paul McCartney record,” he later said. “We never entertained those ideas.”

Even if the struggles surrounding it were an early indication of diverging musical motivations, “Yesterday” is nonetheless a true “Beatles song,” and a gorgeous one at that.


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  1. Of course, though Paul may have done it solo, the Beatles as a band did do the song. The most famous example is at the Budokan. Ditching there old way (Paul playing and singing over canned strings) the band give it a more electric feel. All the guitars give it a full feel that does not recall the string section, but all the same does not leave it lacking. Ringo only plays metronome (Ringo was never creative with the band when on stage, for he feared if he did a fill, he’d lose time, since he couldn’t actually hear the others playing.)

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