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Yesterday (song)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


"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, while BMI asserts that it was performed over seven million times in the 20th century alone. 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!. Some sources still assert that White Christmas by Bing Crosby has more cover versions[citation needed].

"Yesterday" takes the form of an acoustic ballad about a lost loved one. It was the first official recording by The Beatles that relied upon a performance by a single member of the band, although the background accompaniment of a string quartet was added a few days later during the editing stage. The final recording, which out of the band's members featured only Paul McCartney, differed so greatly from other works by The Beatles that the other three members of the band vetoed the song's release as a single in the United Kingdom. Although written solely by McCartney, the song was credited to both himself and John Lennon as "Lennon/McCartney", as were all Beatles songs written by either of the pair.


According to biographers of McCartney and The Beatles, McCartney composed the entire melody in a dream one night at the London flat in Wimpole Street belonging to his then girlfriend, Jane Asher. 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 hammering out lyrics to suit it. As The Beatles 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 wrote: "So first of all I checked this lovely 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", and that was all he had until he decided to finish the lyrics.

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]

Paul stated that 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." [2]

In July 2003, British musicologists stumbled upon remarkable 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". [4] Others have speculated that McCartney subconsciously based "Yesterday" on Ray Charles' version of "Georgia On My Mind". [3]

More recently, Italian producer and songwriter Lilli Greco claimed "Yesterday" to be a cover of a 19th century Neapolitan song called Piccere' Che Vene a Dicere'. [1]

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

The release

Eleven years after the U.S. release, "Yesterday" came out in the UK after all the band members agreed to it.
Eleven years after the U.S. release, "Yesterday" came out in the UK after all the band members agreed to it.

While on holiday in Portugal at the villa of Shadows guitarist Bruce Welch in June 1965, McCartney completed the finishing touches on the lyrics. Two days after returning home, the track was laid down at Abbey Road Studios on the 14th and 17th 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. [5] 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. [6] [7]

According to the liner notes for Anthology 2, only two studio recordings were made of "Yesterday". Take 1 appeared on the compilation, while Take 2 was the "master", which had the string quartet overdubbed onto it on the 17th June. On take 1, McCartney can be heard giving chord changes to George Harrison before starting, but he 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".

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. [7]

In America, The Beatles' influence on their record label, Capitol, was not as strong. A single was released there, pairing "Yesterday" with "Act Naturally" on Side B. 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. [8]

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom (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. [9] At this time, McCartney used "Yesterday" for vengeance — a couple of years earlier, the mother of his ex-girlfriend, Iris Caldwell, accused McCartney of having no feelings. McCartney phoned her and said, "You know that you said I had no feelings? Watch telly on Sunday and then tell me I've got no feelings." The following Sunday, The Beatles appeared on "Blackpool Night Out" on BBC, and performed "Yesterday" live for the first time. [10]

On March 4, 1966, "Yesterday" was released as an EP in the UK, joined by "Act Naturally" on Side A with "You Like Me Too Much" and "It's Only Love" on Side B. By 12 March it had begun its run on the charts. On March 26, 1966, the EP went to number one, a position it held for two months. [11]

Ten years later on March 8, 1976, "Yesterday" was released by Parlophone as a single in the United Kingdom, featuring "I Should Have Known Better" on Side B. Entering the charts on March 13, the single stayed there for seven weeks, but it never rose higher than number 8 in the charts. The release actually 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. [12]

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. [13] 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[14]. At the 2006 Grammy Awards, McCartney performed the song live as a mash-up with Linkin Park's "Numb" and Jay-Z's "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. In 1999, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) placed "Yesterday" third on their list of most performed songs of the 20th century, 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". [15]

"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. [6]

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." [16]

Music and lyrics

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. McCartney can be heard saying "It'll be an F for you. I'm in G, but it'll be an F" on the track called "Yesterday (take 1)" released on the album "The Beatles Anthology", disc 2), 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. [17] 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.

An unusual aspect of this song is that its first phrase is only seven measures instead of the customary eight measures found in most all popular music. The use of the IV to I cadence (called a plagal or "Amen" cadence) at the end of this first phrase results in the seven measure phrase sounding perfectly natural and almost religious in nature.[citation needed]

McCartney's eventual lyric for the song was sombre and fit 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.

The song is available on the Beatles Anthology without strings. It was a latter take of the song.


  • Thirty second sample of "Yesterday" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
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Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d e Cross, Craig (2004). "BEATLES SONGS - Y". Retrieved Dec. 9, 2004.
  2. ^ a b Miles, Barry (1997). "Many Years From Now". Secker & Warburg.
  3. ^ a b Hammond, Ian (2001). "Old sweet songs". Retrieved Jan. 14, 2006.
  4. ^ "King Cole 'influenced' Beatles hit". (July 7, 2003). BBC News.
  5. ^ Ortiz, Marcos (2005). "Marcos' Beatles Page - Yesterday". Retrieved Jan. 14, 2006.
  6. ^ a b Mallick, Heather (Nov. 22, 2000). "Past Perfect". The Globe and Mail.
  7. ^ a b Unterberger, Richie (2006). "Yesterday Song Review". Retrieved Jan. 14, 2006.
  8. ^ Cross, Craig (2004). "AMERICAN SINGLES". Retrieved Dec. 9, 2004.
  9. ^ Cross, Craig (2006). "BRITISH ALBUMS". Retrieved Jan. 14, 2006.
  10. ^ "Iris Caldwell". Retrieved Jan. 14, 2006.
  11. ^ Cross, Craig (2006). "BRITISH EPS". Retrieved Jan. 14, 2006.
  12. ^ Cross, Craig (2004). "BRITISH SINGLES". Retrieved Dec. 9, 2004.
  13. ^ "Most Recorded Song". Retrieved Jan. 14, 2006.
  14. ^ The Soundtrack of Your Life, from the April 10, 2006 issue of The New Yorker. Retrieved April 18, 2006.
  15. ^ "The BMI Top 100 Songs". Retrieved Feb. 11, 2004. (archive link, was dead)
  16. ^ "The Beatles Ultimate Experience Database: Songwriting and Recording HELP!". Retrieved Jan. 14, 2006.
  17. ^ Pollack, Alan W. (1993). "Notes on 'Yesterday'". Retrieved Jan. 14, 2006.

External links

  • Alan W Pollack's Notes on "Yesterday"
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