Paul McCartney on why famous Beatles classic is a ‘solo song’

Paul McCartney on how 'Yesterday' came to him in a dream

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Love Me Do was the first ‘official’ Beatles release on October 5, 1962, and reached number 17 on te UK charts. Two years later it would go straight to number one in the US (with Andy White on drums not Ringo Starr), but the band was already a global phenomenon by that time. Even though it lists Lennon-McCartney as the songwriters, 1965’s Yesterday stands out as a rare “solo song” that didn’t feature Lennon, Starr and George Harrison in any capacity. McCartney admitted, “It was a big deal at the time.”

In his book, The Lyrics; 1956-The Present, McCartney delved into some of the greatest compositions of his extraordinary career. He opened up about why the other three Beatles do not appear on the track, his initial worries he had plagiarised the tune and an early plan to release the song as experimental electronica.

McCartney was just 22 and living with the family of his girlfriend Jane Asher when he woke up one morning with an incredible melody going around in his head.

He said: “I thought, ‘I love that tune. What is it? Is it Fred Astaire? Is it Cole Porter? What is it?’ I fell out of bed and the piano was right there just to the side, I just had this tune, I had some chords. And to solidify it in my memory, I broke it down with some dummy words, ‘Scrambled eggs, oh my baby, how I love your legs, scrambled eggs.’ Using dummy lyrics wasn’t something I did a lot.”

McCartney was so sure he had copied the tune, he asked everyone he knew, from Lennon to fellow pop star Alma Cogan.

Everyone kept telling him they didn’t recognise it so he finally settled down to work on the lyrics, which came to him during a trip to Portugal with Jane.

He said: ‘”We landed in Lisbon and took a car ride for three or so hours, 180 miles, down to Albufeira near Faro. I was in the back of the car doing nothing, it was very hot and very dusty, and I was half-asleep, ‘Scrambled eggs…’ blah-blah-blah… What can that be? ‘Yesterday, suddenly…'”

Back in London, McCartney took the completed song to the band and was shocked by their response.

McCartney recalled: “Ringo said, ‘I don’t think I can really drum on that.’

“George added, ‘Well, I’m not sure what to put as guitar either.’ And John said, ‘I can’t think of anything. I think you should just do it by yourself. It’s really a solo song.’

“Now, this was kind of a big deal at the time because we’d never recorded like that before. It had always been the band. After some hesitation, I had decided to give it a go.”

McCartney revealed that an early idea was to record Yesterday as an electronic avant grade song, influenced by the work of Delia Derbyshire, who is best known for her work on Doctor Who.

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The eventual finished song, of course, is accompanied by a lush string section. It was the band’s legendary producer George Martin who came up with the idea.

McCartney admitted: “I was worried about that, I thought it would sound too classical… so we added in the flat seventh which is also known as the blues note.”

The record company was very enthusiastic about the track and wanted to release it as a single, but the band blocked it, keen to keep their reputations s a rock and roll band. It was, however, released as a single in the US.

McCartney also revealed how his own understanding of his work has changed over time, notably on this particular song.

He said: “It’s been suggested to me that it’s a ‘losing my mother song’ to which I’ve always said, ’No I don’t believe so.’ But the more I think about it, I can see that might have been part of the background, the unconsciousness behind the song.

“It was so strange, the loss of our mother to cancer was simply not discussed… I’m now not surprised that the whole experience surfaces in this song, where a sweetness competes with a pain you can’t quite describe.”


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