Live performances

The Beatles performed ‘Yesterday’ during their later tours, often with a full band arrangement. Paul McCartney sang it with a pre-recorded string trio backing during the band’s final Ed Sullivan Show appearance on 14 August 1965 (first screened on 12 September 1965), after which John Lennon remarked “Thank you Paul, that was just like him”.

The audience was out there, and we were kind of very new to America – loving it, but a little bit scared, and I had to do ‘Yesterday’, my song, on my own, and I’d never done this, I’d always had the band with me, but suddenly they said, ‘You’re doing ‘Yesterday’,’ so I said, ‘OK’. So I was standing there – ‘come on, get it together, it’s OK’ – and the floor manager, the guy on the curtain, came up to me and said, ‘You nervous?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘You should be, there’s 73 million people watching.’

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 on 13 September 1965. 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.

There were also a number of single and EP releases of the song. In the UK it was the title track of The Beatles’ 11th EP, released on 4 March 1966, although it was not a single in their home country.

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

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