Help! album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 14, 17 June 1965
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 6 August 1965 (UK), 13 September 1965 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, guitar
Tony Gilbert: violin
Sidney Sax: violin
Kenneth Essex: viola
Francisco Gabarro: cello

Available on:
Anthology 2

Written by Paul McCartney, Yesterday holds the record as the most covered song in history, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

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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.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Paul McCartney is said to have composed the melody in a dream while staying at the family home of Jane Asher in Wimpole Street, London.

The melody came to McCartney fully-formed, although he was initially unsure of its originality.

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

The song's working title was Scrambled Eggs; its second line was "Oh my baby how I love your legs. George Martin claims to have first heard the song at the George V hotel in Paris in January 1964.

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
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

If McCartney did compose Yesterday in early 1964, it would have been left off two Beatles albums before they recorded it. McCartney's authorised biographer Barry Miles put the date of composition at May 1965, during the filming of Help!, when he was known to have been experimenting with the song's lyrics.

We were shooting Help! in the studio for about four weeks. At some point during that period, we had a piano on one of the stages and he was playing this 'Scrambled Eggs' all the time. It got to the point where I said to him, 'If you play that bloody song any longer have the piano taken off stage. Either finish it or give up!'
Richard Lester
A Hard Day's Write, Steve Turner

The Shadows' guitarist Bruce Welch recalled McCartney completing the lyrics in June 1965. McCartney took a holiday at Welch's Portuguese villa, where he is said to have settled on the title Yesterday.

I was packing to leave and Paul asked me if I had a guitar. He'd apparently been working on the lyrics as he drove to Albufeira from the airport at Lisbon. He borrowed my guitar and started playing the song we all now know as Yesterday.
Bruce Welch
A Hard Day's Write, Steve Turner

Although famously arranged for guitar and string quartet, McCartney considered having the BBC Radiophonic Workshop do a futuristic electronic version of Yesterday.

It occurred to me to have the BBC Radiophonic Workshop do the backing track to it and me just sing over an electronic quartet. I went down to see them... The woman who ran it was very nice and they had a little shed at the bottom of the garden where most of the work was done. I said, 'I'm into this sort of stuff.' I'd heard a lot about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, we'd all heard a lot about it. It would have been very interesting to do, but I never followed it up.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In the studio

Initial recording for Yesterday took place on 14 June 1965, after the band completed I've Just Seen A Face and I'm Down. Paul McCartney recorded his guitar and vocals simultaneously in just two takes.

After attempting an unrecorded arrangement of Yesterday with John Lennon on Hammond organ, George Martin suggested to McCartney that they use a string quartet - a first for The Beatles.

McCartney was initially skeptical, and insisted the musicians perform without vibrato. McCartney and Martin worked on the score together, with the majority written by 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

The strings were overdubbed on 17 June, and Paul attempted the vocals again. He didn't use headphones, and the original vocal track leaked from the studio speakers to the second recording, giving the impression of double-tracked singing.

The string players went uncredited on Help!, the album Yesterday first appeared on. Rather than being a regular quartet, the other players were recruited by violinist Tony Gilbert especially for the session.

Yesterday's legacy

The Beatles never allowed Yesterday to be released as a single in the UK, fearing that it would affect their image. The song did, however, become a part of the band's full live set during their 1966 world tour.

I wouldn't have put it out as a solo Paul McCartney record. We never entertained those ideas. It was sometimes tempting; people would flatter us: 'Oh, you know you should get out front,' or, 'You should put a solo record out. But we always said no. In fact, we didn't release Yesterday as a single in England at all, because we were a little embarrassed about it - we were a rock 'n' roll band.
Paul McCartney

In 1980 John Lennon explained how he was often mistakenly credited with having written the song.

I go to restaurants and the groups always play Yesterday. Yoko and I even signed a guy's violin in Spain after he played us Yesterday. He couldn't understand that I didn't write the song. But I guess he couldn't have gone from table to table playing I Am The Walrus.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

In the same interview Lennon spoke of McCartney's skills as a lyricist.

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
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Yesterday was issued as a US single in September 1966. Newspapers at the time commentated that "Paul McCartney is number one without the other Beatles". It swiftly became the most-played song on American radio, a position it held for eight consecutive years.

Since its release there have been over 3,000 cover versions of Yesterday.

29 responses on “Yesterday

  1. Flavio Mascarenhas

    Opposing to ‘lemmon juice’, here comes the master piece from the ‘pure oil’. Despite it came from a dream, only a genious mind could make such a beautiful song and lyrics full of love and memories. Fabulous.

  2. Dan

    I always hear the lyrics as being about the death of Paul’s mother. She died “suddenly” of breast cancer and when told by his father that she had died, Paul replied”what are we going to do without her money”. She was a nurse who earned more than Paul’s dad. Paul said he always regretted that remark and his brother Michael says Paul left the kitchen crying. Paul was 13 at the time and kids make remarks like that to deflect the shock and pain. But this explains the lines in Yesterday:
    “Why she had to go/ I don’t know she wouldn’t say/ I said something wrong / now I long for yesterday”. In most situations people say something wrong first and then the person leaves. In this case Paul’s mom never said goodbye or even explained her illness. She simply died suddenly and then Paul made the remark that he long regretted. Her death left a shadow over his life. A very powerful confessional lyric from Paul in 1965(10 years after her death). Paul does not explain this publicly because yesterday is so accepted as a love song. It might be seen differently as a song about a mother dying. To me though it makes the song and the melody more poignant.

  3. Mean_Mr_Mustard

    Yes, Masterpiece blah blah blah…
    I’m sorry, this tune is #1 on the Most Whiny Song Ever list. For fun, try singing it while `fake-crying’ and you’ll see what I mean.

  4. Bronx boy Billy

    Funny song when you break down the lyrics. The protagonist of the song is totally clueless as to exactly why his girl left him, claiming she wouldn’t tell him (“Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say..”). He does, however, know it was because of something he said (“I said something wrong…”). He has no clue as to what, exactly, he uttered that caused her to leave (how could he possibly not know?!). Finally, he whines about it, crying that, without her, he’s not “half the man I used to be.” Boy, this guy really needs to grow a pair!

    1. Ronnie SeCoy

      It is so poorly written it is the most popular pop ballad ever recorded & has been recorded over 3,100 times by various artists. It has been voted the most popular “secular” song ever written. Other than that it’s OK I guess. Regardless of what Lennon thought of it. The world loves it.

    2. Water Falls

      It’s not poorly written. It is so well written that the genius of McCartney allows the simple subtlety of the lyrics to convey whatever the listener hears and concludes for him/herself drawing upon their own lifes experinces. Unlike so many songwriters that hit the listener over the head with blunt lyrics to make it plain, the song is about the songwriter and maybe the listener can relate…or not.

      The backstory to Yesterday is about how Paul’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. As anguishing as it was for them, Paul’s parents (Mary and Jim) were stoic Brits in the tradition of the stiff upper lip decided not to burden their very young sons with this news, both worked to provide and carried on living their lives. Times were hard and sometimes it was a struggle so both incomes were needed. One day Mary got so sick that she was hospitalized, hoping for the best, she was to undergo surgery, so Paul and his brother Michael were allowed to visit. They knew she was sick but unaware to what extent and never dreaming they’d never see her alive again. Her death to both boys seemed sudden, devastating. At a family gathering, (a funeral?) Paul blurted out “What are we going to do without her money?”, an understandable reaction from a confused frightened young boy reeling from the loss of a vital comforting and grounding presence that was his beloved mother. Embarrassed with himself that he said the “wrong thing at the wrong time” he was ashamed and wished that he could take it back, unsay it, wished the gathering could unhear it, wished that he could go back to a time when he was complete, before the dark gloom, when his life was happy, when all was right with his world, to before his world became upside down.

      ” Suddenly I’m not half the man I use to be, theres a shadow hanging over me”
      “Why she had to go, I don’t know she wouldn’t say. I’d said something wrong now I long for yesterday”
      Get it now?

      By not dictating completely this story of loss, McCartney allows the listener to hear, feel, relate to their own experience or that of friends or love ones or even empathize with witnessing a strangers pain at the loss of love. The song becomes more universal in the human experience because it makes such a strong connection. That’s why is is so loved the world over and was the most covered song ever. It is a masterpiece and McCartney is simply
      a genius.

      1. Water Falls

        i meant to add: The song can be about a loss like Paul experienced when his mother died suddenly or a romantic love lost. It’s however the listener “hears” the experience and interprets its meaning for him/herself.

    3. Nige UK

      Re clueless male. I split with my wife last year and she wouldn’t elaborate on why other than saying ‘you have known for a while I shouldn’t have to tell you’. Well I honestly haven’t a clue neither had her best friend or parents. We hadn’t argued for over 12 months I did not ignore her and if ever she did seem distant and I enquires if she was ok I was told ‘yes babe I’m fine love you’.
      I think some people can’t either explain what’s up or don’t know so it’s easier to just say ‘oh you know’ as in Yesterday.

      The other reason may just be we guys will NEVER understand women ?

  5. carlos gutman

    Maybe I take another road, but I´m really fed up of “yesterday”, yes a masterpiece, but I prefer other geat songs of Paul´s (like “let it be” or “I saw her standing there” or “All my loving” or “Penny Lane”, etc)

    1. Water Falls

      Many of us McCartney fans also love his other great songs, many gems in his treasure trove. Yes indeed he has more than just one masterpiece to be enjoyed. I say he has many masterpieces, one only needs to pick their own particular favorite(s) and just enjoy!

  6. paulsbass

    Ok, since this is “Yesterday” it should be appropriate to have some more positive comments down here.

    Overplayed? Hell, yeah! This is one of the most often played songs on earth, so it MUST be overplayed.
    I skip it almost every time on “Love”.

    But when I don’t, I have the chance to listen to these incredibly mature, sensitive, expressive, intimate vocals Paul delivered here, live, while playing guitar (!), on the second take!!
    Yes, it took him 6 minutes to record THIS song (plus strings).

    So many other artists lined up to make this song their own or turn it into a power ballad, making this the most often covered song ever, with thousands of versions – and still not a single cover can touch the original. Not remotely.

    The way his vocals blend with the strings, and his down-tuned guitar (technical mistakes and all) with his unmistakable strumming, the little funny things he and George put into the string arrangement – but above all the SOUL in his voice.

    This was unheard then and it is still extremely rare.

    Fantastic recording, and when I play it live EVERYBODY still joins in.

    It also provided a very funny moment: Someone wanted me to play it for his friend who was going to get married soon. And when I started singing I realized who much this sounded like “I’m doomed” – “now it looks as though (my troubles) are HERE TO STAY” – “There’s a SHADOW HANGING OVER ME” – “I’m NOT HALF THE MAN I USED TO BE”…
    I broke out laughing several times…

    So this is obviously not a romantic ballad, it’s a very serious and mature song.

    And it’s a shame that this little masterpiece has become such a huge beast of a legendary work that it’s really getting hard to appreciate it for all his simple and honest beauty.

    Well done, Paul.

    1. BeatleBug

      “…it’s a shame that this little masterpiece has become such a huge beast of a legendary work that it’s really getting hard to appreciate it for all his simple and honest beauty.”

      Thank you, paulsbass! (BTW, I love Paul’s bass too.) I agree, it’s a bit too well-known; and I only say that because I love practically every Beatles’ song as much as “Yesterday”. But there’s a reason it’s a Jupiter-sized hit. It’s beautiful, and brilliant, and all that.
      But it’s the little recording blips that get me– especially on the fourth verse where he sings “Oh I believe…” and on that “I” his voice goes just a wee bit rough. I flip out over that 1/2 second! No idea why.
      I suppose, after all the covers, it’s nice to keep the original record in mind, and that it’s really just a simple, little song that’s not perfect, and, therefore, it’s perfect.

  7. appmanga

    There’s no overstating the impact of this song on The Beatles. “Yesterday” is the song that convinced the remaining holdouts that this was a group of very talented young men who had more to say than “yeah, yeah, yeah”. This song forced many who had yet to understand, the Fabs were serious artists. “Yesterday” also changed the dynamics of the group, emboldening Paul while also heightening John’s insecurities. While John remained the leader of the group (and when he felt the need, he could flex his muscles in this regard), he allowed Paul to have much more influence from this point forward.

  8. James Ferrell

    Like Dan above I hear the lyrics as being related to the death of Paul’s mother.

    It’s a beautiful song. But the big revelation to me when it came out was Paul’s guitar playing on the tuned down Martin. It’s such a great natural idiosyncratic strumming style and every time he reverts to it (e.g.Heart of the Country, Here Today) it really affects me.


    Nothing Paul did while in Wings compares to this song. Wings produced mostly sappy gobbly-de-gook . Paul was what – 23 – 24 years old when he wrote this masterpiece? The PID folks can certainly use this song as evidence that that master is no longer with us.

    1. Water Falls

      I couldnt disagree more with this entire comment. Wings was a fantastic band with a catalogue of great songs that I dare say would have been just as beloved if part of the Beatles catalogue. You sound like a nutcase PIDer or a Lennonista bitter that John isn’t still around to show us all what’s what or just a plain old Paul hater!
      Paul McCartney is ICONIC in his status as a LIVING Legend which he has earned through hard work, brilliant songwriting and music, scaling many genres, beautiful singing. He is beloved the world over by many fans and admirers, of all ages, and races. You may not like it, you don’t have to, but he is and that is that. Deal with it!

  10. Johan Cavalli

    Important to know.
    1. the idea with strings was George Martin´s idea, not McCartney´s. Without the strings, the song would never been that success.
    2. The melody was inspired by Lennon´s Do You Want to Know a Secret? The same upclimbing melody.

  11. A Serviceable Villain

    I love the performance of Yesterday on Anthology 2 from Blackpool Night Out, worth watching the whole show on youtube. McCartney’s vocal is glorious. Does anyone know who played the strings on that live version? Was it the house ABC band in the pit? The string arrangement is a little different from the record too. This is the only live Beatles recording of this song with strings that I have heard. Is there another?

    1. Alan Mumby

      Blackpool Night Out was a weekly Sunday variety show from Blackpool’s ABC theatre. My wife was at the show and witnessed the first live performance of the song. She still has the programme from the show which I believe is a bit of a rarity and can even be heard shouting “Paul” quite clearly on Anthology 2. The programme says that the strings were provided by the Bob Sharples Orchestra who were the resident weekly orchestra for the variety acts.

  12. Randy Taylor

    I don’t understand well Paul’s statement about them being a rock and roll band. In my opinion, their songs and songwriting were way to diverse to be looked at that way. When I look for rock and roll bands my mind does not leap to The Beatles. They certainly played many songs in that category but many other songs were not.

  13. Graham Paterson

    One of Paul McCartneys best and an all time classic. Just like another of his greatest songs , Let It Be, I think subconsciously this is about the early loss of his mother. Because he was always less obviously an autobiographical song writer than John Lennon, it is always more open to conjecture.

  14. Biased Lennon-Harrison fan

    Yesterday is always mentioned as the greatest Beatles song of all time, and that shows how much people really know about the Beatles. John Lennon wrote 3 ballads during the same time period:
    It’s Only Love, Yes It Is and You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away that were all just as good or better than Yesterday, but they never get mentioned in the same breath.
    More importantly, these three songs were actual BEATLES records. Yesterday was just Paul and his ego. This was really the beginning of the end of the Beatles. John, George and Ringo had to be feeling betrayed as Paul’s egotistical “masterpiece” claimed all the spotlight for so many years. It’s an okay song, but not even in the top 50 Beatles songs

  15. Johan cavalli

    Yesterday was the beginning of the end of The Beatles. The establishment and the elder generation now discovered The Beatles, and thought this was the start of The Beatles. It wasn´t known that Lennon had composed most of the hits before Yesterday. The press people treated McCartney like a God, and Lennon like a fool. The litterature pointed out McCartney as the composer. Lennon said that Yesterday got to his head, and Harrison said that McCartney thought he was Beethoven. That led to the split. And the singles became worse.

    Ray, I have no sourch, but many people think that the upclimbing melodies in Do You Want to Know A Secret, and Yesterday are similar.

    Yes,Baised Lennon-Harrison fan, I agree. And If I Fell, and Do You Want to Know A Secret, and This boy, and Across The Universe.

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