The Beatles’ “Yesterday” Lyrics Meaning

For the most part, “Yesterday” is interpreted as a song about a doomed romance. This understanding of the tune is based specifically on its chorus.  The singer lets us know that a female (who would logically be his romantic interest) has left him. And at first he states that he does not know why she chose this course of action. But then he concludes that it is because of “something wrong” that he said. And now, in the midst of being devoid of the woman he loves, he ‘longs for yesterday’. And why yesterday? Because it was the era when everything between he and his sweetheart was cool.

Verses Shift from Narrative

But the verses themselves don’t neatly fit into this narrative. This is especially evident in the first, which sounds more esoteric than romantic. And whereas the second verse seems to operate along the lines of romance, the singer stating that he ‘needs a place to hide away’ isn’t exactly in tune with the chorus.

And this brings us to a statement that co-writer John Lennon (1940-1980) has made, that “the lyrics don’t resolve into any sense”.  Rather he suggested that the mass appeal of “Yesterday” is based on the wording itself being “good lines”.

Conclusion

So with that in mind we can come to a dual conclusion. On one hand there is definitely a romantic motif resonating throughout, specifically in the choruses. But at the same time, the track is a lot more free-flowing than being restricted to romantic love. And throughout, the primary sentiment the singer is expressing, whether within the context of an amorous relationship or not, is that “yesterday” was a happier time than the present.

Lyrics of "Yesterday"

Release Date of “Yesterday”

“Yesterday” was officially released (in the United States) on 13 September 1965. However, it came out prior to that in the UK on 6 August 1965, as part of the Beatles’ fifth album, “Help!”.

This is significant because the American release of “Help!” did not feature “Yesterday”. Rather the song, in terms of actually being featured on an album in the United States, came out as a part of the Beatles’ “Yesterday and Today” the following year.

And the reason it was never released as a single in the United Kingdom also is apparently due to the tune not fitting the image the Beatles had established over there.

Paul McCartney

“Yesterday” is considered by many to be a Paul McCartney solo track since it only features him, his guitar and a string quartet.

And in terms of the string quartet, it was actually one of the first times the Beatles utilized session musicians to provide instrumentals to a tune.

FYI, it was Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, who shunned the idea of “Yesterday” being released as a solo track credited only to Paul McCartney.

Incorporation of Classical Music in “Yesterday”

“Yesterday” is widely recognized as being a one of the original pop tunes to incorporate classical music.

Also likely related to such, “Yesterday” is credited as the first Beatles’ track which was embraced by a wider audience outside of their usual younger fans. In other words, it had significantly increased their audience.

A True Gem

This classic is undoubtedly one of the Beatles’ most-celebrated songs, indeed a fan favorite in the history of 20th century music. This had been verified by reputable music institutions such as BBC Radio 2, MTV and Rolling Stone. All three of these organizations held polls to determine ‘the best pop song of all time’, and “Yesterday” topped them all.

Rolling Stone also placed it on the list of the “500 Greatest Song of All Time” (compiled in 2011), ranking it at number 13.

Indeed according to BMI, “Yesterday” was the third-most played song (on radio) during the 20th century. And in all, it was broadcast in excess of seven-million times.

Accordingly, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, specifically during the year of 1997.

“Yesterday” also took home an Ivor Novello Award in the category of Outstanding Song of 1965.

And commercially “Yesterday” is recognized as one of the most-successful tracks in history. Believe it or not, as of 2012, it had earned in excess of £19 million for its creators.

Who wrote “Yesterday”?

In addition to being the sole Beatle to perform on this song, Paul McCartney also co-wrote “Yesterday” alongside his bandmate, John Lennon. Or more specifically, an entity named McCartney-Lennon is credited as the co-writer along with Paul McCartney himself.

In fact John Lennon actually referenced “Yesterday” in his 1971 diss track (against Paul McCartney) entitled “How Do You Sleep?”

“Yesterday” was produced by regular Beatles’ collaborator George Martin (1926-2016).

“Yesterday” came to McCartney during a Dream?

The legend behind this song is that the melody, in its entirety, came to Paul McCartney in a dream. At the time he was sleeping in the home of his girlfriend, an actress by the name of Jane Asher. When Macca arose from his slumber, he quickly played out the music from his dream so that he wouldn’t forget it.

Mr. McCartney was so shocked by this revelation that he actually thought he was a victim of cryptomnesia. And what is cryptomnesia? We hear you ask? It is unintentionally plagiarizing someone’s work (i.e. subconsciously recalling a memory but believing it is new). However, such was not the case. And by the way, one of the most notable cases of cryptomnesia in music was the case of George Harrison’s global hit song “My Sweet Lord“.

Yet years later some specialists, including musicologists, did conclude that “Yesterday” shared similarities with other songs. However, they also concluded that at the end of day such likenesses were superficial considering the originality of McCartney’s work.

“Scrambled Eggs”

Reportedly it took McCartney quite awhile to get the recording of this song perfect, to the annoyance of his his bandmates and music director. The lyrics they used in the meantime as a placeholder were entitled “Scrambled Eggs”.

But McCartney also made a somewhat-contradictory statement, touting that the composition of “Yesterday” as an ‘easy tune’ which “took about two weeks”.

The place and time where Macca actually did finish composing the lyrics was in Portugal during May of 1965, whilst on vacation with Jane Asher.

The song itself is known to have been recorded on 14 June 1965 in London’s Abbey Road Studios. McCartney was able to lay a master version down in two takes.

And he actually performed the “Scrambled Eggs” version of the song, alongside comedian Jimmy Fallon, on the latter’s talk show back in December of 2010.

Moreover due to the popularity of “Yesterday”, “Scrambled Eggs” itself was released as part of the Beatles’ “Anthology 2” album in 1996.

“Yesterday” hits Number 1

Upon its original release in the United States, “Yesterday” marked the fifth time in a row a Beatles’ single reached number 1 in America. And the single the Beatles released afterwards, “We Can Work It Out” (1965), also went to number one.

Other countries in which “Yesterday” topped the charts include the following:

  • Belgium
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • The Beatles’ homeland, the United Kingdom

The song also charted in Poland and Spain as late as 2010.

“Yesterday” Live at the 48th Grammy Awards

The first time Paul McCartney performed at the Grammys was in 2006. And he dropped a medley which included an excerpt from “Yesterday”. McCartney performed a remixed version of this classic along with rapper Jay-Z and Linkin Park.

And of course “Yesterday” has been featured on a number of the Beatles’ compilation albums throughout the years.

Thousands of Cover Versions of “Yesterday”

“Yesterday” is recognized by many as ‘the most-covered (i.e. recorded) song in history’. Indeed it is speculated that well in excess of 2000 different versions of it (by other artists) exist. In fact as early as 1986, Guinness World Records had already verified that “Yesterday” had been covered in excess of 1500 times.

Some familiar names to have covered this song throughout the years include:

  • Tom Jones
  • Marvin Gaye
  • En Vogue
  • Frank Sinatra
  • The Supremes
  • Boyz II Men
  • The King himself, Elvis Presley

There’s also a feature film which came out in 2019 based on the Beatles’ work which is entitled “Yesterday”.

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1 Response

  1. Leon says:

    Totally agree with Lennon. Paul’s lyrics are often a mess and this is such a pretty song with lines worth words that sound good and fit, that we’re forgive that three song itself could be much improved with just a couple changes

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