Messing with the form of a Beatles song can be sacrilege if not done correctly. More often than not, it’s best to go completely deconstructionist, like The Damned did with ‘Help!’ or The Residents did with… a whole host of songs on their ‘The Beatles Play The Residents and The Residents Play the Beatles’ single. Trying to match the Fab Four is nearly impossible, but that hasn’t kept some of the most legendary artists of all time from giving it a shot.
During an interview with Pulp mastermind Jarvis Cocker at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts back in 2018, Paul McCartney reflected on the multitude of covers that he’s encountered over the years. McCartney mentioned a preference towards Ray Charles’ version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ from 1968 and also got into the legendary reputation of ‘Yesterday’ and its thousands of covers over the years.
“I was lucky when I came up with ‘Yesterday’. Because that’s got covered like about 3000 times,” McCartney told Cocker. “And I think 3000 people, maybe over that, have recorded that. So I was always amazed: ‘3000, wow. That is so great.’ But I thought, ‘Who are these people?’”
Curiosity got the better of McCartney. So he thought of a solution: get one of his employees to assemble a list of the best covers to compare and contrast how other artists have interpreted one of his most beloved songs. What he got back proved to be a surprise.
“So I said to one of our guys ‘Johnny, can you get me like the top ten? Just give me the sort of top ten best ones’. So I listened to all of them. They were great,” McCartney gushed. “It was like Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Marvin Gaye – very cool, Ray Charles and the list went on. Amazing people, amazing versions. It’s a funny thing though. When I listened through them it was Frank, Elvis and I think Marvin, who changed the lyrics a little bit.”
“In the middle I go ‘Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say, I said something wrong…’. They changed to ‘Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say, I MUST HAVE SAID something wrong,’” McCartney observed. “Like you know, ‘Disclaimer! I don’t think I did, maybe. They say I did. But I don’t think I did.'”
Gaye’s version, specifically, includes the lyrical change that McCartney is discussing, along with a few other notable changes that Gaye included to make the song his own. Check out all three covers of ‘Yesterday’ down below.