The story behind ‘Yesterday’, one of the most popular Beatles tracks of all time, is an interesting one, including many firsts for the band, like it being a solo project and in its use of strings. Whilst, like most Beatles tracks, Lennon and McCartney are both credited with the song, it was in fact written and performed only by Paul.
Considering this unique origination, what was the song ‘Yesterday’ about and how was it created?
1. It Was All a Dream
The story behind how ‘Yesterday’ came to Paul, all starts with a dream he had whilst filming ‘Help!’, the movie the Beatles released in 1965. Paul woke and immediately began composing the song from memory on a piano that was located next to his bed.
It was so easy for him to start composing the tune that he became convinced that he must have heard the song somewhere else and just couldn’t remember where. He is quoted as saying he would hold onto the tune for a couple of weeks and if no one claimed it, then he could keep it. Many remember Paul asking them if they had heard it somewhere else.
2. Breakfast Anyone?
The original working title and lyric for ‘Yesterday’ is actually ‘Scrambled Eggs’, all about how he loved a pair of legs, but not as much as scrambled eggs. It wasn’t unusual for Lennon and McCartney to work like this, they would often get a tune and having a temporary title or lyric whilst they worked on the song.
The big difference with ‘Yesterday’ is how long the song was around before being recorded. Depending on who you believe, it took between a month and a year for Paul to finally walk into the studios on 14th June 1965 to record the song.
McCartney himself says that the title for the song and the lyrics that everyone knows today came during a holiday in Portugal, specifically on a 5-hour drive from the airport to Albufeira, where Paul and Jane Asher were staying at a villa owned by his friend and Shadows guitarist Bruce Welsh.
Bruce recalls how, upon arriving, Paul asked for a guitar and started playing the chords with the lyrics he had written in the back of their chauffeur-driven car and Bruce heard the first version of what would become a Beatles classic.
3. The Inspiration?
For a long time, most assumed the song was about an ex-girlfriend of Paul’s, as the lyrics are all about a guy who has lost his girlfriend and dreams of going back to when they were together, rather than moving on with his life.
However, in more recent times Paul himself has started to question whether the inspiration is actually his own mum. In a 2013 interview with Mojo magazine, he said that without realising it, he thinks he was singing about his mum.
After many years and hundreds of performances of the song, this feeling about subconsciously singing about his mum really hit home. Some have also commented on the fact that at the time of the song coming to him, he was living with Jane Asher (his girlfriend at the time) and her family, so his mind was longing back to that time in his own life.
In fact, both the melody and the lyrics for ‘Yesterday’, though they came to Paul over a year apart, were at times of relaxation for him. The melody coming when he stopped living with the band and moved in with Jane’s family and the lyrics during a break from their gruelling touring schedule. Both point to Paul reflecting and thinking about his past and in particular his departed mum.
It Was Not a Natural Single
Despite going on to be one of the most famous Beatles tracks and the most covered song of all time, Paul and the rest of the band were not really convinced it would ever be a single.
Whilst it appeared on the ‘Help!’ album in August 1965, they never released it as a single, feeling it did not really fit their image at the time and their management didn’t like the idea of releasing a song only performed by one band member. It was finally released in 1976 when the Beatles contract with EMI had expired.
But let’s leave the last words with the late John Lennon, who described the song as ‘Paul’s Baby’. He said it was beautiful but he never wished he had written it. ‘Yesterday’ might be the most famous Beatles track ever, but when Paul sings Yesterday it is clearly a song close to his heart.