‘Yesterday’ is seen by many as the most famous (and definitely most covered) Beatles track of all time and appeared on the album ‘Help!’ in 1965.
Who sang Yesterday? It was Paul McCartney who both wrote and sang ‘Yesterday’, with the rest of the band not contributing to the song, either vocally or playing any instruments. The origins of ‘Yesterday’ are unique, being that they came from just one member of the band, which was unusual back then with The Beatles, although this would change over time.
A Unique Recording Process
Depending on whom you listen to between John Lennon, George Martin or Paul himself, the song had been around for between a month and a year before Paul finally recorded it on the 14th June 1965, during an evening recording session.
What is agreed, is that the working title during this period was ‘Scrambled Eggs’ and it was only on a trip to Portugal that yesterday finally became the key lyric and the title of the song was born.
With the song having been around for so long, at the recording session Paul was told to just play it and see how it sounded. It was the first (but not last) time that one of The Beatles would record solo for a Beatles album.
Paul was initially unsure about recording the song alone, but having heard the arrangement, the rest of the band and producer George Martin were adamant that adding drums or another guitar would add nothing to the track. So eventually he went ahead and recorded by himself.
George Martin suggested to Paul that the only element which would add value to the track were some strings and after initially being unsure, Paul agreed, so a couple of days later a string quartet was added and on 17th June, ‘Yesterday’ was completed.
It marked the first time that the Beatles used such an arrangement on a song, considered to add ‘Baroque’ sensibilities to the track.
‘Yesterday’ was first released on the ‘Help!’ album in August 1965, although it did not appear in the film of the same name. The album was another big success for the band, although ‘Yesterday’ was not released as a single from the album.
Due to it being seen as a solo song by Paul, it was not released until March 1976 when the Beatles contract with EMI had expired and Parlophone released it as a single, where it reached number 8 in the UK charts.
The release of ‘Yesterday’ was handled differently for the US market, where it was released as a single in September 1965, reaching number one. It finally appeared on an album in the US the following year, ‘Yesterday and Today’ being released in June 1966.
In 2012, the BBC reported that the song was the fourth-best song of all time for royalties paid, have accounted for over £19 million by that point.
Covered in Glory
Whilst it is Paul McCartney that sings the Beatles version of ‘Yesterday’, it is one of the most covered songs of all time (it is claimed to have been covered over 2,000 times) and is certainly the most covered Beatles track ever.
The first cover of the song charted long before the Beatles released it as a single themselves. Brian Epstein had initially decided it would not be released as a single, due to it being ‘Paul’s song’, but just after the release of the ‘Help!’ album it appears on, Matt Monro recorded a version that made the UK top ten in Autumn of 1965.
This started a long list of covers that occurred before the songs own UK release in 1976. Take a look at this list of some of the covers from five of the most famous recording artists of all time
- Andy Williams (1966)
- Perry Como (1966)
- Ray Charles (1968)
- Frank Sinatra (1969)
- Marvin Gaye (1970)
Even after its release, artists continued to cover the song, including the 1992 version by En Vogue and a version in 1994 from Boyz II Men
Undoubtedly the most famous artist to record the track (aside from Paul McCartney himself!) was the late, great Elvis Presley, potentially the only artist in music history to rival the influence that the Beatles had on Rock and Roll.
Elvis covered the song during his residency at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in 1969. The song was released on the album ‘On Stage’ in 1970, recorded 7 months into the residency.