“Yesterday. All my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay, oh, I believe in yesterday.”
While there are countless songs in the cannon of The Beatles that remain etched into the annals of history for the pioneering impact they had on popular music as we know it today, few ring stronger than ‘Yesterday’.
Written by the formidable creative partnership of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, ‘Yesterday’ arrived slap-bang in the middle of the 1960s counterculture revolution and typifies The Beatles at their swooning, romantic, and polished best. Penned about the break-up of a relationship, the song is a wonderful example of the sincere brilliance that established the Fab Four before they all moved into their psychedelic and experimental ways.
First released as part of the album Help! and, according to folklore, the melody was composed by McCartney during a dream at the home of his then-girlfriend, Jane Asher. The song ranks among one of Macca’s very best and is also heavily praised from across the critical world. However, like many artists that came before and after The Beatles, the albatross of success has dampened its creator’s enjoyment of the material.
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.” Despite his own personal issues with the song, that hasn’t stopped the track’s universal appeal.
The subject of well over 3000 official cover versions of the song, McCartney has been vocal in reflection on some of the greats that have put their own spin on the track over the years. McCartney remembered some of his favourites and name-checked the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye before admitting: “I think I like Marvin’s best.”
He added: “You know the funny thing about Sinatra, Marvin and Elvis? They changed the words. In the middle, I sing ‘I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday’ but all of them said: ‘I must have said something wrong’. They’re not owning up!”
Having stopped by the Late Show with Stephen Colbert in recent years to discuss The Beatles and, more specifically, the incredible impact the band had on music, McCartney drilled down on his favourites. After a segment discussing McCartney’s classic songwriting style, Colbert pointed out that the band’s iconic 1965 song ‘Yesterday’ sits top of the pile as one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music. “I heard it had been recorded 3000 times or something,” McCartney replied.
Below, Macca picks out the best.
Paul McCartney’s favourite covers of ‘Yesterday’
Frank Sinatra, 1969
As part of his album now-iconic My Way, released in 1969 on his own Reprise label, the great Frank Sinatra added his own spin on The Beatles classic. The album, mainly consisting of cover versions of then-contemporary pop songs, also included a version of Simon and Garfunkel hit ‘Mrs. Robinson’ and Ray Charles song ‘Hallelujah, I Love Her So’.
Sinatra and the Fab Four have always been quite closely linked with the crooner once saying The Beatles track ‘Something’ was “the greatest love song written in the last 50 years”.
Elvis, Las Vegas, 1969
Elvis was never shy to show his admiration for those four lads from Liverpool and, during some of his performances in Las Vegas in the August of 1969, The King would regularly cover ‘Yesterday’ as part of his set.
Below, enjoy a rare clip of the man himself practising the song as part of his Vegas rehearsals. Despite clearly enjoying the band as musicians, Elvis was a patriotic American and was concerned by the Fab Four – and especially John Lennon – who was seemingly thrilled to be portrayed as ‘un-American’.
Ray Charles, 1967
When releasing his 1967 record Ray Charles Invites You to Listen, Charles included a cover version of ‘Yesterday’. Unlike any other performance of the track, Charles enacted his deep, emotional voice to add gravitas to the song.
In an album, which failed to impress critically, Charles’ rendition of The Beatles classic remains the lasting legacy of the project and yet another affirmation of Macca’s insatiable songwriting ability.
Marvin Gaye, 1970
That’s the Way Love Is, the tenth studio album by iconic soul musician Marvin Gaye, included his now famed cover of The Beatles when it was released in 1970. Cited as McCartney’s favourite rendition of the song among the 3000 other versions, 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.