Today we commemorate not only the birthday of the great musician and The Beatles member John Lennon, but also the rise of one of his band’s biggest hits to the number one spot of the Billboard Hot 100 Chart 48 years ago.
“Yesterday” was penned by Lennon’s co-member Paul McCartney, although credit for the song went to the songwriting tandem of McCartney-Lennon. Apparently, the melody came to McCartney in a dream and when he woke up, he immediately tried to play it on the piano by his bedside to avoid forgetting it. Initially, McCartney was afraid that he had unwittingly plagiarized another person’s work; however, after asking around and confirming that he didn’t, he eventually claimed it.
In an interview with the Rolling Stone several decades later, McCartney would admit that the band was “a little embarrassed” about the song because, “We were a rock & roll band.”
After months of struggling to finish the song, “Yesterday” was finally recorded at the Abbey Road Studios on June 14, 1965, and on August 6, it was released in the UK as part of the album “Help!” The song featured only the vocals of McCartney, who also played an Epiphone Texan steel-string acoustic guitar, and accompanied by a string quartet. It’s a poignant ballad, but did you know that McCartney used to call it “Scrambled Eggs” when the song didn’t have its lyrics yet? The placeholder lyrics for the first line even went, “Scrambled eggs/Oh, my baby, how I love your legs!”
On September 15, “Yesterday” was released as a single in the US, with The Beatles’ cover of “Act Naturally” (with vocals by Ringo Starr) as the B-side track. A month later, on October 9, the song finally reached the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. It remained there for four weeks until it was bumped off by The Rolling Stones’ “Get Off Of My Cloud” to third place. All in all, “Yesterday” spent 11 weeks on said chart!
The song became a hit in The Beatles’ motherland, too, when it was released there as an EP the year after with the songs “Act Naturally,” “You Like Me Too Much,” and “It’s Only Love.”
“Yesterday” won the prestigious Ivor Novello Award for “Outstanding Song of 1965.” Today, it holds the distinction of being one of the most recorded songs in the history of popular music with reportedly more than 2,500 covers. Between 1965 and January 1, 1986 alone, there had already been about 1,600 covers released by artists including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Ray Charles! By 1999, the Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) ranked “Yesterday” as the third most performed song of the 20th century on American radio and television with reportedly 7,000,000 performances. It was on the Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list (#13) released in 2004, as well as its The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs list (#4).