When we say there have been countless covers of The Beatles’ hit ‘Yesterday’, we really mean it. The track has become a staple of any singer or songwriter’s journey through pop’s past and is rightly revered as one of the finest ballads of the day. But while Paul McCartney, the song’s principal creator has his favourite versions of the song, we’d like to throw Captain Beefheart’s bizarre whistling homage to ‘Yesterday’ as a contender for the best. Largely because it is so inherently dismissive of the content.
Captain Beefheart made his name not through a reem of perfectly placed pop songs but through a dirge of experimental rock. The man behind the moniker, Don Van Vliet, had spent much of the sixties creating swirling kaleidoscopic sonic landscapes with his constantly undulating group the Magic Band. It is no doubt then that he would have been more than aware of the song and the impact of The Beatles on popular music and, could quite believably, hold it with some degree of contempt.
The track, written by McCartney and credited to the Lennon–McCartney writing partnership, was first released as part of the album Help! and, according to folklore, McCartney composed the entire melody in a dream at the home of his then-girlfriend Jane Asher. The song ranks among one of Macca’s best and is also heavily praised from across the critical world. But despite its huge popularity, it’s not his favourite.
In a previous interview, Sir Paul revealed when talking about the one song Lennon had always complimented him on, ‘Here, There and Everywhere’. “Well, it’s difficult to choose the favourite. It (‘Here, There and Everywhere’) is one of my favourites. You look at your songs and kinda look to see which of the ones you think are maybe the best constructed and stuff,” says McCartney. “I think ‘Yesterday’—if it wasn’t so successful—might be my favourite.”
It was perhaps this success which pushed Captain Beefheart to attempt a whistling version of the song on an appearance on Dutch TV back in 1974. Though a good-humoured appearance had preceded the rendition of the song, Beefheart’s eyes flash with anger as the attempts to whistle along with the tune he requested from the house organist. Soon enough giving up the ghost altogether and just deploying piercing notes to show his displeasure.
A handshake completes one of the most bizarre covers of The Beatles you will ever watch. And trust us, you will watch it again and again as there is something completely captivating about the agitator known simply as Captain Beefheart.