It came to him in a dream. Paul McCartney woke up one morning and the melody for “Yesterday” was in his head. He says he sleeps with a piano in his bedroom, so he got up and immediately started putting the song down on paper. He had the melody done before he even thought about words. For a while, he was worried that he had subconsciously plagiarized the tune from someone else, but after going around to all his friends and asking them if they had ever heard the tune before and receiving negative answers, he felt safe in proceeding with it. Soon, the woods were done as well and we have one of the greatest Beatles songs of all. “Yesterday” is credited to Lennon-McCartney just like all Beatles songs, but this one was written solely by Paul.
And Paul is the only one who sings it. No other Beatle appears on the record. It is just Paul with his guitar and a string orchestra backing him up. As, I said, he wrote the melody first and then the words. For a long time, the tune was called “Scrambled Eggs” since he didn’t know what he was going to call it.
“Yesterday” is a ballad of lost love. It was so different from anything the Beatles had done prior to this, that the band wouldn’t let it be released in England. It is easily one of the most recognizable songs ever written. In fact, “Yesterday” has been recorded by over 2500 other artists, making it the most covered song in history. This song alone would have made Paul McCartney a millionaire. “Yesterday” was voted the best song of the 20th Century in a 1999 BBC radio poll of listeners. It was also voted the number one song of all time by both MTV and Rolling Stone Magazine the following year, 2000.
The song was placed on the b-side of the album Help! and was released as a single in America on September 13, 1965, but it not released in England as a single until 1976. Matt Monro covered it in England in 1965 and hit number eight over there with the song.
The flip side is “Act Naturally” a country song done by Buck Owens. Owens spent four weeks at the top of the country chart in America in 1963. Ringo Starr took the lead on this song because they felt it fit him better than the other members of the band.
“Yesterday” entered the pop charts on October 2, 1965 and stayed at number one for four weeks.