Recently, a huge furore was caused among classic rock aficionados as a big shift in the public perception happened in front of their eyes. It saw Rolling Stone Magazine remove The Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from the top spot of their “greatest album of all time” list and replace it with Marvin Gaye’s landmark album What’s Going On?. While that debate will rage on for years to come, as all good musical debates should, we thought we’d look back at a moment these two juggernauts of pop culture met.
The world tragically lost Marvin Gaye far too early. The singer was taken from not only his fans but his chance at being regarded as the pinnacle of pop music when he lost his life. In fact, we’d bet, the only band to truly try and match his legendary status would have been those Fab Four lads from Liverpool. If you wanted proof of that sentiment, then you need only look at his own stunning cover of a Beatles classic.
One of the greatest songs of all time, ‘Yesterday’ is perhaps one of the most covered Beatles tracks of all time. There’s certainly room in the world for the covers of ‘Yesterday’ from Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin to name a few. But for our money, there is only Marvin Gaye’s classic that truly comes close to matching the original in poise and poignancy.
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.”
“But, you know, you get that thing when something is just so successful… people often don’t want to do ‘the big one’ that everyone wants them to do. They kind of shy away from it,” continued McCartney. “‘Here, There and Everywhere’ with ‘Yesterday’ as a close second.” But which, out of the nearly 3000 different versions of the song that exist, is McCartney’s favourite? “I think I like Marvin’s best,” he once replied.
That’s the Way Love Is, the tenth studio album by iconic soul musician Gaye; it included his now famed cover of The Beatles when it was released in 1970 and has since become a large chunk of the singer’s iconography. Gaye’s cover remains the benchmark of ‘Yesterday’ fandom.
Gaye once said of his music-making: “I hope to refine music, study it, try to find some area that I can unlock. I don’t quite know how to explain it but it’s there. These can’t be the only notes in the world, there’s got to be other notes some place, in some dimension, between the cracks on the piano keys.” It’s fair to say that he took The Beatles’ and McCartney’s song to a brand new space.