Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: August 6, 1965
Appears on: HELP!
Lead vocal: Paul
"So for Paul McCartney...Opportunity knocks!"
"Yesterday" is probably one of the most important songs ever recorded. It features just Paul on acoustic guitar and a string quartet arranged by George Martin....and yet it has always felt like one of the most complex Beatles songs. There are the lyrics, which recount the tragic falling out between lovers, and that beautiful melody that Paul woke up with in his head. The whole story of how the song went from "Scrambled Eggs" to "Yesterday" has been recounted so many times that it's almost pointless to do it here, so I won't.
The song is the first to feature just Paul, which made it difficult when performing it live. It wasn't done very often, but when it was, Paul had a recording of the strings to back him up. There are two very important live performances. The first is, of course, the very first performance of the song on the Blackpool Night Out show here, where George gives his famous speech.
Then, there is the only electric performance of the song done in Tokyo, 1966. This version proves that the song Paul wrote was much too delicate to be taken lightly.
In the UK, The Beatles requested that the song not be released as a single. At the time, they almost felt embarrassed by it, since it was so different from anything else they ever did. They actually thought there was a chance of it sinking into obscurity if they not only put it on the second side of HELP!, but if they put it on the tail-end of the record. (Although they did issue it as the lead track of an EP in March, 1966.) We see how well that worked.
However, in the US, Capitol felt the need to release it as a single and it became the Beatles' third #1 in a row. The single was backed by "Act Naturally", which was also performed on The Ed Sullivan Show prior to the single release. When Capitol realized that the Beatles were performing two songs that they had yet to release in the States, they rushed out the 45 as soon as they could. Both sides of the single wouldn't make an LP appearance until June 1966 on Yesterday And Today. Of course, the track has been featured on nearly every Beatles compilation since and was finally issued on a 45 in the UK in 1976.
In the years since its release, it has become one of the Beatles' most popular songs, considering that it is officially the most covered song of all time. Still, there is nothing better than the original. I really can't say this is my favorite song, because it's not and also, it is very un-Beatle-ly. My favorite Beatles songs are the ones where all four of them made significant contributions, like great harmonies from John & Paul, a great guitar solo from George and fantastic percussion from Ringo. "Yesterday" has none of those qualities. It's still a great song, though and anyone who isn't moved by hearing Paul's vocal and those first few bars doesn't have a heart.