Song facts: Yesterday

Yesterday is a Beatles' song written by Paul McCartney, credited to Lennon/McCartney. Paul is thought to have conceived an early version of the music at the family home of his girlfriend Jane Asher. 

 Paul McCartney signing an autograph, 1965.

Paul McCartney signing an autograph, 1965.

I was living in a little flat at the top of a house and I had a piano by my bed. I woke up one morning with a tune in my head and I thought, 'Hey, I don't know this tune - or do I?' It was like a jazz melody. My dad used to know a lot of old jazz tunes; I thought maybe I'd just remembered it from the past. I went to the piano and found the chords to it, made sure I remembered it and then hawked it round to all my friends, asking what it was: 'Do you know this? It's a good little tune, but I couldn't have written it because I dreamt it.' - Paul McCartney

Convinced he'd stolen someone else's tune, Paul took the melody to many people over the following days and played it, asking them if they'd heard it before. When he was sure he hadn't plagiarised anyone McCartney began writing the lyrics. The working title for the song was Scrambled Eggs, and the first verse was initially Scrambled eggs, oh baby how I love your legs. According to McCartney the bulk of the lyrics came to him during a trip to Portugal in May of 1965.

 John Lennon, 1965.

John Lennon, 1965.

"Paul said he wanted a one-word title and was considering Yesterday, except that he thought it was perhaps too corny. I persuaded him that it was all right." - George Martin
"Well, we all know about Yesterday. I have had so much accolade for Yesterday. That's Paul's song and Paul's baby. Well done. Beautiful - and I never wished I'd written it."
A couple of lines he's come up with show indications he's a good lyricist, but he just never took it anywhere. He wrote the lyrics to Yesterday. Although the lyrics don't resolve into any sense, they're good lines. They certainly work. You know what I mean? 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 was yesterday - that much you get - but it doesn't really resolve. So, mine didn't use to resolve, either... - John Lennon

Recording 

Recording took place in Studio Two of EMI Studios on June 14th, 1965. It was the first Beatles' song to feature only one band member on the track; essentially making it a solo recording. Paul recorded Yesterday in only two takes, playing his Epiphone Texan steel-string guitar. Take two was considered the best and used as the master take. String arrangements were later added by producer George Martin. The first take of Yesterday was released on The Beatles' Anthology 2 album in 1996.

"On the day, I recorded Paul singing and playing guitar simultaneously. Then we overdubbed the strings while Paul had another go at the vocal. But because we didn't use headphones there was leakage from the studio speaker into his microphone, giving the impression of two voices or double-tracking." - George Martin
"Writing a song out with George Martin was nearly always the same process. For Yesterday he had said, 'Look, why don't you come round to my house tomorrow? I've got a piano, and I've got the manuscript paper. We'll sit down for an hour or so, and you can let me know what you're looking for'...
He would say, 'This is the way to do the harmony, technically.' And I'd often try to go against that. I'd think, 'Well, why should there be a proper way to do it?'
Yesterday was typical. I remember suggesting the 7th that appears on the cello. George said, 'You definitely wouldn't have that in there. That would be very un-string-quartet. I said, Well? Whack it in, George. I've got to have it." - Paul McCartney

On this same day the Beatles also recorded two more McCartney compositions: I've Just Seen a Face and I'm Down.

Yesterday remains one of the most popular songs of the 20th century and has been covered well in excess of 2,000 times.

Release

Yesterday was released on The Beatles' Help! album on August 6th, 1965. It was also issued as a single in the US on September 13th of 1965 with Act Naturally as the B-side. The single reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on October 9th 1965 and stayed there for four weeks; making it the band's fifth of six number one US singles in a row.

Personnel

  • Paul McCartney – lead vocal and acoustic guitar
  • Tony Gilbert – violin
  • Sidney Sax – violin
  • Kenneth Essex – viola
  • Peter Halling/Francisco Gabarro – cello
  • George Martin – producer
  • Norman Smith – engineer
 Paul McCartney during the filming of Help! 1965.

Paul McCartney during the filming of Help! 1965.

 Paul McCartney, 1965.

Paul McCartney, 1965.

 Paul McCartney performing Yesterday, 1965.

Paul McCartney performing Yesterday, 1965.