Apparently the most-covered pop song of all time, “Yesterday” is essentially a perfect composition, so don’t be fooled by its ranking just shy of the top 100. When the protagonist began playing it in the recent film of the same name, I got chills, and that was a decidedly flaccid “guitarist on the quad” rendition of the song. But the versions by Ray Charles, Judy Collins, Aretha Franklin, and of course the Beatles’ original are all beautiful blueprints of the possibilities of putting this song in the right hands.
When I say the Beatles, though, I really just mean Paul McCartney, who is the only member of the band involved with its writing and recording. Even when it was performed in concert, John, George, and Ringo would step aside for Paul’s solo spotlight. Despite its generation-spanning appeal, the song was not released as a single in the UK until the 1970s, because the group wasn’t sure how to market it. It became a #1 hit in the US, though, where Capitol Records was like, “Uh, you just slap the word ‘Beatles’ on it and it will sell, durrrrr.”
Surprisingly enough, the $130 White Album pen still hasn’t sold out. Why are you still reading this caption?! Go buy it, you fool!!!
As Paul McCartney has revealed in literally every single interview he’s given, the song began as “Scrambled Eggs,” and in 2010, he joined forces with Jimmy Fallon to perform “Yesterday” in its pre-chicken form. An even more hilarious version is John Lennon’s brief, twisted cover from his 1974 Walls and Bridges session. Of course, as much of a jokester as I am, the melancholic original is impossible to dethrone. There’s a reason why thousands of artists have turned it into a modern standard. This is the song that made the baby boomers’ parents begrudgingly acknowledge that these moptops maybe had a shred of talent after all (or at least one of them did). It’s the song that Paul McCartney, the greatest pop composer of all time, will want etched on his gravestone.
While I can appreciate the stunning strings and astonishingly mature lyrics–believe it or not, Paul was just 22 when he wrote this–it kind of fell into a black hole of my Beatles listening history. When I first got into the band, I was all about the uptempo stuff, so “Yesterday” didn’t excite me very much. Over the years, I wanted to revisit songs that were less familiar, and “Yesterday” is so ubiquitous that I could never hear it with fresh ears the way I was able to with some more obscure ballads in the catalog. Objectively, it’s a masterpiece, but in my personal ranking, this is where it ends up.