Beatles – Yesterday

From Wikipedia: “Yesterday” is a song originally recorded by English rock band the Beatles for their 1965 album Help!. Although credited to “Lennon–McCartney”, the song was written by Paul McCartney. It remains popular today with more than 2,200 cover versions, and is one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music.

“Yesterday” was voted the best song of the 20th century in a 1999 BBC Radio 2 poll of music experts and listeners and was also voted the No. 1 Pop song of all time by MTV and Rolling Stone magazine the following year. In 1997, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) asserts that it was performed over seven million times in the 20th century alone.

“Yesterday” is a melancholy acoustic guitar ballad about the break-up of a relationship. McCartney is the only member of the Beatles to appear on the recording, and it was the first official recording by the Beatles that relied upon a performance by a single member of the band. He was accompanied by a string quartet. The final recording was so different from other works by the Beatles that the band members vetoed the release of the song as a single in the United Kingdom. (However, it was issued as a single there in 1976.)

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 and played the tune to avoid forgetting it.

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.”

Upon being convinced that he had not robbed anyone of their melody, McCartney began writing lyrics to suit it. As Lennon and McCartney were known to do at the time, a substitute working lyric, titled “Scrambled Eggs” (the working opening verse was “Scrambled Eggs/Oh, my baby how I love your legs”), was used for the song until something more suitable was written. In his biography, Paul McCartney: 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’.

During the shooting of Help!, a piano was placed on one of the stages where filming was being conducted and McCartney took advantage of this opportunity to tinker with the song. Richard Lester, the director, was eventually greatly annoyed by this and lost his temper, telling McCartney to finish writing the song or he would have the piano removed. The patience of the other Beatles was also tested by McCartney’s work in progress, George Harrison summing this up when he said: “Blimey, he’s always talking about that song. You’d think he was Beethoven or somebody!”

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, A Hard Day’s Night and Beatles for Sale, both of which could have included “Yesterday”. Although McCartney has never elaborated on his claims, a delay may have been due to a disagreement between McCartney and George Martin regarding the song’s arrangement, or the opinion of the other Beatles who felt it did not suit their image.

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.”

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.”

On 27 May 1965, McCartney and Asher flew to Lisbon for a holiday in Albufeira, Algarve, and he borrowed an acoustic guitar from Bruce Welch, in whose house they were staying, and completed the work on “Yesterday”.The song was offered as a demo to Chris Farlowe before the Beatles recorded it, but he turned it down as he considered it “too soft”.

In a March 1967 interview with Brian Matthew, McCartney claimed that Lennon came up with the song’s title:

Brian: “Give us the inside story on the song ‘Yesterday.'”

John: “Ah well, this is John saying I don’t know anything about that one. I’ll hand you over to Paul.”

Paul: “[laughs] This is Paul, taking up the story in a holiday villa in Corsica. Strumming away on a medieval guitar, I thought [sings] ‘Scrambled Egg.’ But I never could finish it, and eventually I took it back in. With the ancient wisdom of the east, John came out with [sings] ‘Yesterday’.”

 

The track itself was recorded at Abbey Road Studios on 14 June 1965, immediately following the taping of “I’m Down”, and four days before McCartney’s 23rd birthday. 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. 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 Epiphone Texan steel-string acoustic guitar, later on editing-in a string quartet for backup. Regardless, none of the other band members was included in the final recording. However, the song was played with the other members of the band in concert during 1966, in G major instead of F major.

Here are a few original recordings of the song:

Yesterday (Live in Germany):

A concert in the USA

Live at the white house – with a strings quartet:

And now – recorder arrangements:

The Beatles – Yesterday – Recorder Quartet – by Orlan Charles:

Sekishi Recorder Quartet
October 25, 2014, Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church Hamamatsu: