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The Beatles Yesterday single

The single cover for Yesterday (A side) and Act Naturally (B side)

Yesterday is a pop song originally recorded by The Beatles for their album Help! (1965). According to the Guinness Book of Records, "Yesterday" has the most cover versions of any song ever written. The song remains popular today with more than 3000 recorded cover versions, the first hitting the United Kingdom top 10 three months after the release of Help!. BMI asserts that it was performed over seven million times in the 20th century alone, probably cementing the song as the most performed composition of all time. "Yesterday" was voted the best song of the 20th Century, in a 1999 BBC Radio 2 poll of music experts and listeners - despite never being a UK number one single.

"Yesterday" takes the form of an melancholic acoustic ballad about a break-up. It was the first official recording by The Beatles that relied upon a performance by a single member of the band: McCartney was accompanied solely by a string quartet. The final recording differed so greatly from other works by The Beatles that the other three members of the band vetoed the release of the song as a single in the United Kingdom. Although credited to "Lennon/McCartney", as were all Beatles songs written by either member of the pair, the song was written solely by McCartney.


According to biographers of McCartney and The Beatles, McCartney composed the entire melody in a dream one night in his room at the Wimpole Street home of his then girlfriend Jane Asher and her family. Upon waking, he hurried to a piano, turned on a tape recorder, and played the tune to avoid letting it slip into the recesses of his mind.[1]

McCartney's initial concern was that he had subconsciously plagiarised someone else's work (known as cryptomnesia). As he put it, "For about a month I went round to people in the music business and asked them whether they had ever heard it before. 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."[1]

Upon being convinced that he had not robbed anybody of his melody, McCartney began writing lyrics to suit it. As Lennon and McCartney were known to do at the time, a substitute working lyric, entitled "Scrambled Eggs", was used for the song until something more suitable was written. In his biography, "Many Years From Now", McCartney recalled: "So first of all I checked this melody out, and people said to me, 'No, it's lovely, and I'm sure it's all yours.' It took me a little while to allow myself to claim it, but then like a prospector I finally staked my claim; stuck a little sign on it and said, 'Okay, it's mine!' It had no words. I used to call it 'Scrambled Eggs'."[2]

During the shooting of Help!, a piano was placed on one of the stages where filming was being conducted. McCartney would take advantage of this opportunity to perform "Scrambled Eggs" accompanied by the piano. Richard Lester, the director, was greatly annoyed by this, and eventually lost his temper, telling McCartney to finish writing the song, or he would have the piano removed.[1] McCartney's original lyrics were, "Scrambled eggs, Oh, baby how I love your legs."

McCartney originally claimed he had written "Yesterday" during The Beatles' tour of France in 1964; however, the song was not released until the summer of 1965. During the intervening time, The Beatles released two albums, Beatles for Sale and A Hard Day's Night, both of which could have included "Yesterday". Although McCartney has never elaborated his claims, it is likely that the reason for such a long delay, if it existed, was a disagreement between McCartney and George Martin regarding the song's arrangement, or, equally likely, the distaste of the other Beatles for the song.[1]

Lennon later indicated that the song had been around for a while before: "The song was around for months and months before we finally completed it. Every time we got together to write songs for a recording session, this one would come up. We almost had it finished. Paul wrote nearly all of it, but we just couldn't find the right title. We called it 'Scrambled Eggs' and it became a joke between us. We made up our minds that only a one-word title would suit, we just couldn't find the right one. Then one morning Paul woke up and the song and the title were both there, completed. I was sorry in a way, we'd had so many laughs about it."[3]

McCartney said the breakthrough with the lyrics came during a trip to Portugal in May 1965: "I remember mulling over the tune 'Yesterday', and suddenly getting these little one-word openings to the verse. I started to develop the idea ... da-da da, yes-ter-day, sud-den-ly, fun-il-ly, mer-il-ly and Yes-ter-day, that's good. All my troubles seemed so far away. It's easy to rhyme those a's: say, nay, today, away, play, stay, there's a lot of rhymes and those fall in quite easily, so I gradually pieced it together from that journey. Sud-den-ly, and 'b' again, another easy rhyme: e, me, tree, flea, we, and I had the basis of it."[4]

On 27 May 1965, McCartney and Asher flew to Lisbon for a holiday in the Algarve, and he borrowed an acoustic guitar from Bruce Welch—whose house they were staying in—and completed the work on "Yesterday".[5]

The song was offered as a demo to Chris Farlowe prior to The Beatles recording it, but he turned it down as he considered it "too soft."[6]

What the Song is About[]

The main character in the song said something stupid ("I said something wrong"), and it aggravated his lady love to the point that she dumped him ("she had to go"), and he became sad ("I long for yesterday").

That is the essence of "Yesterday." In terms of a time line, the singer is telling us his troubles the day after he committed his "What did you say!" gaffe.

He's melancholic and regretful, and realizes that he might have been taking his releationship a little too much for granted ("love was such an easy game to play"). Interestingly, nowhere in the song does he say he would like to make amends and win back his love. Instead, he mopes and withdraws ("I need a place to hide away").

No wonder he believes in yesterday: He had self-esteem and a girlfriend who put up with what was apparently recurrent nonsense from him. Now he has been called on the carpet, but he doesn't seem to have the emotional wherewithal to do anything beyond acknowledging his mistake. Did he learn from this experience? Probably not, since he repeatedly tells us that he believes in and longs for yesterday.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, right?


Two days after returning home, the track was recorded at Abbey Road Studios on the 14 June and 17 June 1965. There are conflicting accounts of how the song was recorded, the most quoted one being that McCartney recorded the song by himself, without bothering to involve the other band members.[7] Alternative sources, however, state that McCartney and the other Beatles tried a variety of instruments, including drums and an organ, and that George Martin later persuaded them to allow McCartney to play his acoustic guitar, later on editing in a string quartet for backup. If so, none of the other band members were included in the final recording.[8][9] However, the song was played with the other members of the band in a 1966 Tokyo concert.

McCartney performed two takes of "Yesterday" on 14 June 1965.[10][11] Take 2 was deemed best and used as the master take. A string quartet was overdubbed on take 2 and that version was released.[11] Take 1, without the string overdub, was later released on the Anthology 2 compilation. On take 1, McCartney can be heard giving chord changes to George Harrison before starting, but George does not appear to actually play. Take 2 had two lines transposed from the first take: "There's a shadow hanging over me"/"I'm not half the man I used to be,"[10] though it seems clear that their order in take 2 was the correct one, because McCartney can be heard, in take 1, suppressing a laugh at his mistake.


Although McCartney had fallen in love with the song, he had a much harder time convincing the other members of the band that it was worthy of an album place, the main objection being that it did not fit in with their image, especially considering that "Yesterday" was extremely unlike other Beatles' songs at the time. This feeling was so strong that the other Beatles—Lennon, Harrison and Ringo Starr—refused to permit the release of a single in the United Kingdom.[1] This did not prevent Matt Monro from recording the first of many cover versions of "Yesterday" to come. His version made it into the top ten in the UK charts soon after its release in the autumn of 1965.[9] Other artists to perform cover versions of this song include Ray Charles, McFly and Sting.

The Beatles' influence over their U.S. record label, Capitol, was not as strong as it was over EMI's Parlophone in Britain. A single was released in the U.S., pairing "Yesterday" as the B-Side of "Act Naturally", a track which featured vocals by Ringo, the most popular Beatle in the States at that time. After the tremendous success of "Yesterday", the order in which the songs appeared on the sleeves was changed. The single was charting by 29 September 1965, and topped the charts for a full month, beginning on October 9. The song spent a remarkable total of 11 weeks in the American charts, selling a million copies within five weeks. "Yesterday" was the most-played song on American radio for eight consecutive years, its popularity refusing to abate.[12]

Meanwhile, in the UK, Help! debuted at number one on August 14 1965 (the first album ever to do so), and continued to top the charts for nine weeks.[13] According to a website, "Yesterday" was dedicated to Iris Caldwell[14] on the show "Blackpool Night Out". Her mother, Violet, told McCartney that her daughter didn't want to speak to him again because he "didn't have any feelings".[15] During this performance, McCartney sang the song and played acoustic guitar, backed by a string quartet, but not by his fellow Beatles. When The Beatles played "Yesterday" during their 1966 world tour, however, the band played the song in an alternate key of G, with their usual live instrumental lineup of McCartney on electric bass guitar, Harrison and Lennon on electric guitars, and Starr on drums.

On 4 March 1966, "Yesterday" was released as an EP in the UK, joined by "Act Naturally" on the A-side with "You Like Me Too Much" and "It's Only Love" on the B-side. By 12 March it had begun its run on the charts. On 26 March 1966, the EP went to number one, a position it held for two months.[16]

Later that same year, "Yesterday" was included as the title track for the U.S.-only "Yesterday and Today" album, which was originally packaged in the now famous (or infamous) "butcher sleeve".

Ten years later on 8 March, 1976, "Yesterday" was released by Parlophone as a single in the United Kingdom, featuring "I Should Have Known Better" on the B-side. Entering the charts on 13 March, the single stayed there for seven weeks, but it never rose higher than number 8. The release came about due to the expiration of The Beatles' contract with EMI, Parlophone's parent. EMI released as many singles by The Beatles as they could on the same day, leading to 23 of them hitting the top 100 in the United Kingdom charts, including six in the top 50.[17]

Awards, accolades and brickbats[]

"Yesterday" has achieved recognition as being the most recorded song in the history of popular music; its entry in the Guinness Book of Records suggests over 3000 different cover versions to date, by an eclectic mix of artists including Joan Baez, Liberace, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Wet Wet Wet, Plácido Domingo, The Head Shop, and Boyz II Men.[18] In 1976, David Essex did a cover version of the song for the ephemeral musical documentary All This and World War II. After Muzak switched in the 1990s to programs based on commercial recordings, Muzak's inventory grew to include about 500 "Yesterday" covers.[19] At the 2006 Grammy Awards, McCartney performed the song live as a mash-up with Linkin Park and Jay-Z's "Numb/Encore."

"Yesterday" won the Ivor Novello Award for 'Outstanding Song of 1965', and came second for 'Most Performed Work of the Year', losing out to another McCartney composition, "Michelle". The song has received its fair share of acclaim in recent times as well, ranking 13th on Rolling Stone's 2004 list The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[20] In 1999, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) placed "Yesterday" third on their list of songs of the 20th century most performed on American radio and television, with approximately seven million performances. "Yesterday" was surpassed only by The Association's "Never My Love" and the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling".[21]

"Yesterday," however, has also been criticised for being mundane and mawkish; Bob Dylan had a marked dislike for the song, stating that "If you go into the Library of Congress, you can find a lot better than that. There are millions of songs like 'Michelle' and 'Yesterday' written in Tin Pan Alley". Ironically, Dylan ultimately recorded his own version of "Yesterday" four years later, but it was never released.[8]

Shortly before his death in 1980, Lennon explained that he thought the lyrics didn't "resolve into any sense... They're good — but if you read the whole song, it doesn't say anything; you don't know what happened. She left and he wishes it were yesterday — that much you get — but it doesn't really resolve. ... Beautiful — and I never wished I'd written it."[22]

Music and lyrics[]

Chord Progression:

intro: |F   /   /   /  |F    /   /   /  |  
A:     |F   /   /   /  |Em   /   A7  /  |Dm   /   / Dm/C |Bb   /   C   / |  
       |F   /   F  F/E |Dm   /   G7  /  |Bb   F   /   /  |  		  
B:     |Em  /   A7  /  |Dm Dm/C  Bb F/A |Gm   /   C   /  |F    /   /   / |  
outro: |F   /   G   /  |Bb   /   /   /  |

The tonic key of the song is F major (although, since McCartney tuned his guitar down a whole step, he was playing the chords as if it were in G), where the song begins before veering off into the relative minor key of D minor. It is this frequent use of the minor, and the ii-V7 chord progression (Em7 and A7 chords in this case) leading into it, that gives the song its melancholy aura. The A7 chord is an example of a secondary dominant, specifically a V/vi chord. The G7 chord in the bridge is another secondary dominant, in this case a V/V chord, but rather than resolve it to the expected chord, as with the A7 to Dm in the verse, McCartney instead follows it with the IV chord, a Bb. This motion creates a descending chromatic line of C B Bb A to accompany the title lyric.

The string arrangement supplements the song's air of sadness, especially in the groaning cello melody that connects the two halves of the bridge (on the line, "I don't know / she wouldn't say") as well as the descending line by the viola that segues the chorus back into the verses. This simple idea is so striking, McCartney mimics it with his vocal on the second pass of the chorus.[23] This viola line and the high A sustained by the violin over the final verse are the only elements of the string arrangement attributable to McCartney rather than George Martin.

McCartney's eventual lyric for the song was sombre and fitted the reflective melody. Although the lyric is rather vague, it could be interpreted to reveal sadness about a lost loved one. Most believe that it revealed sadness about a breakup, while some believe that there is an obscure connection to this song with the death of his mother when he was a teenager. When the song was written, the lyric was considered unusual for a McCartney composition. Until then, most of McCartney's songs had been positive and upbeat; Lennon was considered the Beatle with the more introspective and sad lyrics.

When the song was performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, it was done in the above-mentioned key of F, with McCartney as the only Beatle to perform, and the studio orchestra providing the string accompaniment. However, all of The Beatles played in a G-major version which was used in the Tokyo concerts during their 1966 tours.

When McCartney appeared on "The Howard Stern Show", he stated that he owns the original lyrics to "Yesterday" written on the back of an envelope.

In July 2003, British musicologists stumbled upon similarities between the lyric and rhyming schemes of "Yesterday" and Nat King Cole's "Answer Me", leading to speculation that McCartney had been influenced by the song. McCartney's publicists denied any resemblance between "Answer Me" and "Yesterday".[24]

Ian Hammond speculated that McCartney subconsciously based "Yesterday" on Ray Charles' version of "Georgia On My Mind," but closed his article by saying that despite the similarities "Yesterday" is a "completely original and individual [work]."[3]

In 2006, Italian producer and songwriter Lilli Greco claimed "Yesterday" to be a cover of a 19th century Neapolitan song called Piccere' Che Vene a Dicere'. In the same article, Greco claimed that McCartney and Lennon had an "encyclopaedic knowledge" of world music and were particularly fond of Neapolitan songs.[25] Neither Lennon nor McCartney could read sheet music, and the article does not indicate when—or if—McCartney or Lennon heard a performance of the song.

'Yesterday' was voted Best Song of the 20th Century in 1999 BBC Radio poll. [1]


  • Paul McCartney - Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar (Epiphone Texan)
  • Tony Gilbert - Lead violin
  • Sidney Sax - Rhythm violin
  • Francisco Gabarro - Cello
  • Kenneth Essex - Viola


  • This is the first time a Beatle recorded solo.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Cross, Craig (2004). "BEATLES SONGS - Y". Retrieved on 2004-12-09.  (broken link as of 2007-03-09)
  2. Miles, Barry (1997). Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now . New York: Henry Holt & Company. pp. 201–202. ISBN 0-8050-5249-6. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hammond, Ian (2001). "Old sweet songs". Retrieved on 2007-03-09. 
  4. Miles, Barry (1997). Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now . pp. 204. 
  5. Miles, Barry (1997). Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now . pp. 204–205. 
  6. Simon Napier-Bell, Black Vinyl, White Powder, 100.
  7. Ortiz, Marcos (2005). "Marcos' Beatles Page - Yesterday". Archived from the original on 2000-03-07. Retrieved on 2006-01-14. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Mallick, Heather (2000-11-22). "Past Perfect". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 2001-12-22. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Unterberger, Richie. "Review of Yesterday". Retrieved on 2006-01-14. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Template:Cite album-notes
  11. 11.0 11.1 Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Beatles Recording Sessions . New York: Harmony Books. pp. 59. ISBN 0-517-57066-1. 
  12. Cross, Craig (2004). "AMERICAN SINGLES". Retrieved on 2004-12-09.  (broken link as of 2007-03-09)
  13. Cross, Craig (2006). "BRITISH ALBUMS". Retrieved on 2004-01-14.  (broken link as of 2007-03-09)
  14. Iris Caldwell was a girlfriend of McCartney from several years before "Yesterday" was written
  15. "Iris Caldwell". Archived from the original on 2003-01-07. Retrieved on 2007-03-09. 
  16. Cross, Craig (2004). "BRITISH EPS". Retrieved on 2006-01-14.  (broken link as of 2007-03-09)
  17. Cross, Craig (2004). "BRITISH SINGLES". Retrieved on 2004-12-09.  (broken link as of 2007-03-09)
  18. "Most Recorded Song". Guiness World Records. Retrieved on 2006-10-14. 
  19. "The Soundtrack of Your Life". The New Yorker. 2006-04-10. Archived from the original on 2013-01-04. Retrieved on 2006-04-18. 
  20. "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Retrieved on 2007-02-28. 
  21. "BMI Announces Top 100 Songs of the Century". BMI. Retrieved on 2007-03-09. 
  22. "The Beatles Interview Database". Archived from the original on 2001-04-10. Retrieved on 2007-03-09. 
  23. Pollack, Alan W (1993). "Notes on "Yesterday"". Retrieved on 2006-01-14. 
  24. "King Cole 'influenced' Beatles hit". BBC News. 2003-07-07. 
  25. "McCartney's 'Yesterday' a cover of a 19th century Neapolitan song?". Retrieved on 2007-03-10.