The Beatles are about as ubiquitous as pop music can be. The band created a huge shift in the music world when they burst onto the scene, and, ever since, their music has been intrinsically woven into the fabric of our society. No matter where you are in the world, you can be sure there is a diehard Beatles fan just around the corner. It is a facet of life that can leave you feeling both comforted and, if you’re a Beatle, a little bit problematic.
We can imagine that for the members of the band trying to go about their daily business, it must’ve been neigh-on impossible to go through a day without somebody mentioning a fact, figure or anecdote about the Fab Four. For Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the two surviving members of the band, it has become a part of their daily regime, but that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying. John Lennon found it particularly difficult to bear, and there was one song, in particular, that would drive him up the wall.
‘Yesterday’ is a universal anthem. The song has become as vital to our pop culture landscape as the very earth upon which it was crafted. Years and years of endless covers have rendered it an anthem that is now rarely revered but digging through the band’s catalogue; it is hard not to be stopped in one’s track by the magnanimous beauty of the song. It’s also a song championed by the band’s two principal songwriters, Lennon and McCartney.
In a previous interview, Sir Paul revealed, “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. It’s true; the song has now been so widely covered and repeated that to remove it from its universal appeal is almost impossible. It means that every performer worth their salt has given it a go, from Willie Nelson to Boyz II Men — ‘Yesterday’ is in everyone’s repertoire. Everyone except John Lennon.
“Paul wrote the lyrics to ‘Yesterday,'” recalled Lennon when noting the song in 1980 to David Sheff. “Although the lyrics don’t resolve into any sense, they’re good lines. They certainly work, you know what I mean? They’re good — but if you read the whole song, it doesn’t say anything; you don’t know what happened. She left, and he wishes it were yesterday — that much you get — but it doesn’t really resolve. So, mine didn’t used to either. I have had so much accolade for ‘Yesterday.’ That’s Paul’s song, and Paul’s baby. Well done. Beautiful — and I never wished I’d written it.”
One assumes that this suggestion, the final sentence proclaiming he was glad he had nothing to do with the song, derived from a few choice meetings. When speaking to the BBC, McCartney revealed how the track would annoy the bespectacled Beatle, “The worst thing for John, was that he didn’t write ‘Yesterday’, I did, and he would get really quite biffed because you would be in New York and the pianist would go and hum the song. That would annoy him.”
It was a notion confirmed by one of Lennon’s friends. “‘Yesterday’ drove him crazy,” journalist Lennon Howard Smith told MOJO Magazine back in 2013. “People would say, ‘Thank you for writing ‘Yesterday’, I got married to it, what a beautiful song….’ He was always civil. But it drove him nuts.”
The song still ranks as one of the most universally adored tracks of all time. However, there must have been some consolation for the iconic Lennon as his own song, ‘Imagine’, is probably the only song in the world to outstrip Macca’s for sheer universality. Below, listen to ‘Yesterday’, The Beatles song that drove John Lennon “nuts”.