- Paul McCartney – lead vocal, acoustic guitar
- Tony Gilbert – violin
- Sidney Sax – violin
- Kenneth Essex – viola
- Francisco Gabarro – cello
Yesterday is probably Paul McCartney's most famous and popular song. It holds the Guinness Book of Records mark for the most covered song ever: more than 3,000. BMI estimates that it was performed over 7 million times in the 20th century. Yesterday was not released as a single in the UK, so it never became a number one record there. This was because it was so different from the other Beatles' hits that the three other band members opposed releasing it under the Beatles name as a single. Nevertheless, listeners who participated in the 1999 BBC Radio 2 poll voted it the best song of the century. In March of 1966 an EP release of the song in the UK did chart to number one. MTV and Rolling Stone named it the number one pop song of all time in 2000. In the US, it remained for eight years the most frequently played song on the radio. It was the third of six consecutive number one singles of the Beatles and went gold within five weeks of release.
No other members of the group participated in the recording that became part of the 1965 album, Help! This was the first, but certainly not the last time that was to occur.
Yesterday is a sad ballad about the singer's breakup with a love. Paul sings and plays acoustic guitar, backed up by a string quartet. He said that the composition came to him in a dream and that he awoke to race to a piano and jot it down before losing it. McCartney went to pains to be sure he had not unwittingly taken the melody from somewhere else, and when satisfied that it was original with him, he started putting the lyrics down.
It is really unclear how long the song had been incubating before it was finally recorded. Lennon later said it had been around for months and months. During a trip to Portugal, in late May of 1965, the song's title and the finishing lyrics came to McCartney, and the song dropped its "working title" of "Scrambled Eggs" and became Yesterday. Singer Chris Farlowe was offered the song first, but quickly turned it down as being too "soft." Then, on June 14, 1965, barley two weeks after Yesterday had been completed, McCartney recorded it for the Beatles. Most accounts state that the whole group was present and that different instrumental combinations were tried before George Martin persuaded the others to let Paul record it with just his guitar. There were two takes. Take 1 appears on Anthology 2. Take 2 was overdubbed with strings and released on Help!
This well-known song has just two sections: two verses and a chorus, with a couple of bars of humming to end it. There is no bridge, no solo, no intro and no coda. The verses are simple, with a line that rises and then comes back down slowly. The chorus is more anxious, with two melodic phrases that rise in a similar manner, the first coming back down, and the other rising to an unresolved ending that leads back to the verse. The song starts briefly in F-major and then moves to d-minor via e-minor and A-major. Musicologist and Beatles expert Alan Pollack called the composition "truly inspired."
|Chart (year)||Highest position|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (1965)||1|
|UK Singles Chart (1965, 1976)||8, 8|
|Australia Singles Chart (1965)||2|
|German Singles Chart 100 (1965)||6|
|Norwegian Singles Chart (1965)||1|
|Austrian Top 40 (1965)||10|
|Dutch Top 40 (1965)||26|
|Spanish Singles Chart (1965)||44|