Yesterday: the secret story of The Beatles’s song

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This story is part of the book:

Mama Mia Let Me Go!
A journey through the most intriguing lyrics and stories in rock music

Buy it on Amazon

“It’s not possible that I’m the first one writing it: are you really sure that this melody is totally new?”

Paul McCartney was unsettled. He kept asking his companions whether this song, which had awoken him and forced him to the piano in the middle of the night, was really his creation and not someone else’s work: yet Yesterday and his magical harmony had indeed never been written before.

McCartney was worried for one simple reason: the notes had flown out of his unconscious mind so easily, without any obstacles, that he had written a complete, finished version in just a few minutes. Only the lyrics were missing. He put it temporarily on hold, jotting down a few, meaningless words, waiting for more inspiration. That’s how the first funny words of Yesterday came to be: “Scrambled Eggs / oh my baby how I love your legs.”

Yesterday
All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday

George Martin later said that the song had been composed by McCartney in January 1964, but it was a year and a half later when the Liverpool Quartet recorded it for Help! What was initially presented to The Beatles’ original producer as Scrambled Eggs took a few months to become Yesterday, while McCartney was still not sure of what to do with it. In December 1964, he played the song in front of The Yardbirds, hoping that the band would be interested in recording it. Eric Clapton’s group declined, claiming that their rock imprinting didn’t fit well with a ballad (who knows, though, how Yesterday would have sounded, played by Slow-Hand).

From that moment onwards, McCartney didn’t miss an opportunity to play the song to friends, trying to clarify his doubts about the originality of the song. He even sat at the piano during the shooting of the Help! movie and let played it often, leading the exhausted director Richard Lester to threaten him with seizing the piano if he didn’t stop.

Why she had to go I don’t know, she wouldn’t say
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday

After a trip to Portugal in June 1965, where he finally made up his mind about recording the song, McCartney presented the definitive lyrics to his bandmates. He was opposed to the use of violins, terrified by the excessive pomposity that they could bring. He clashed with Martin, who eventually allowed him to direct the quartet as a way of convincing him to relent.

Paul McCartney (who recorded it practically solo, with no help from the other Beatles) agreed and Yesterday came to light as the first pop song with violins, which only contributed to the beauty of the melody.

Suddenly
I’m not half the man I used to be
There’s a shadow hanging over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly

The Beatles’ perfect pop song, the most played and recorded song in history (with more than 2500 versions over time) pushed The Beatles beyond their usual musical boundaries and allowed them to learn from classical sounds, something that they would explore more later on. In 1980, McCartney described the song as his best and happiest composition, especially for his instinctive and mysterious birth, confessing to still being shocked about how it had arrived to him in a dream on a winter night.

Among the many occasions that the art world has celebrated the brilliance of Yesterday, the most touching and most impressive in living memory is probably from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America, and the ambitious soundtrack composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone. Yesterday becomes a touching tear that accompanies the protagonist in his old age, when he is still trying to find the answers to the events that marked his past life. There is perhaps no more exciting moment in the history of modern cinema than seeing Robert De Niro distraught, aged, with sunken eyes and apathetic movements, retracing the critical steps in his life that he would have liked to forget.

Yesterday
Love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh, I believe in yesterday

This story is part of the book:

Mama Mia Let Me Go!
A journey through the most intriguing lyrics and stories in rock music

Buy it on Amazon

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