The lyrics “Scrambled eggs/Oh my baby how I love your legs/Not as much as I love scrambled eggs” are not among Paul McCartney’s most profound. But these were the working lyrics for what eventually became the iconic “Yesterday”. The melancholic song appears on The Beatles’ fifth studio album “Help!” and was released as a single in 1965. But what’s the story and meaning behind the song? Let’s find out!
The Story Behind the Song
The melody of “Yesterday” arose to Paul McCartney during a dream. After waking, he rushed to the piano to avoid forgetting the melody. McCartney couldn’t believe a song occurred to him during a dream and was convinced he was plagiarizing someone. As a result, he was wary of working on the tune. McCartney wanted to be sure the melody was original.
In an interview with Wired, McCartney said: “After a couple of weeks of asking various people, like John, the guys in the band, George Martin, everyone said: ‘Well we don’t know, it must be yours’. And it was! It was very special because I just dreamed it. What a gift!
After McCartney realized it was his melody, he began working on the song. He gave it the working title “Scrambled Eggs”, with the humorous opening lines: “Scrambled eggs/Oh my baby how I love your legs/Not as much as I love scrambled eggs”. McCartney eventually turned “Scrambled Eggs” into “Yesterday” during a holiday to Portugal in May 1965.
A month later McCartney recorded “Yesterday”. Which he did in just two takes. The second take was later overdubbed by a string quartet. Contrary to all songs in The Beatles’ repertoire until “Yesterday”, it was the first song that didn’t feature all 4 Beatles. In fact, McCartney is the only Beatle who plays on “Yesterday”.
The Beatles’ producer George Martin and manager Brian Epstein actually discussed releasing “Yesterday” as a Paul McCartney song. But manager Epstein decided The Beatles needed to stay together at all costs. The song was eventually released on The Beatles’ fifth studio album “Help!”
The Meaning of Yesterday
The Beatles’ “Yesterday” is a breakup song about someone who reminisces about the past and longs for “Yesterday”. In the past, he and his lover are still together. But now she’s gone because of something wrong he said.
Some people speculate Paul McCartney wrote the song for his mother Mary. McCartney’s mother sadly passed away when he was only 14. Paul McCartney later said: “I never thought it (his mother’s passing) affected my music. Until years later people were saying: ‘well that song yesterday – why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say – that’s about your mum!’ I said ‘well maybe, I don’t know, I didn’t mean it to be, but it could be.”
Although “Yesterday” is generally perceived as a breakup ballad, it could certainly be McCartney subconsciously thought about his mother too. We do know McCartney’s mother heavily influenced another Beatles song: “Let it Be” (read the story behind “Let It Be”).
The Song’s Legacy
The song was a turning point for The Beatles. Before “Yesterday”, the band was still considered a boy band for younger audiences. But McCartney’s song gained The Beatles recognition from older audiences too. Besides that, McCartney’s solo composition inspired other Beatles to work on solo compositions too. In fact, most Beatles songs after “Yesterday” were written by just one member of the band. Despite that, John Lennon and Paul McCartney songs were still credited to Lennon-McCartney.
The song was released as a single in 1965. It topped the US Billboard Hot 100 in September 1965 and held the top spot for four weeks. The song also topped the charts in several European countries. The song wasn’t released as a single in the UK, because it didn’t align with the Beatles’ reputation. It eventually appeared on the UK charts in 1976, when recorded label EMI decided to release “Yesterday” as a single.
“Yesterday” is the most covered pop song of all time with over 3000 covers. Notable covers are from Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Boyz II Men, and Elvis Presley.
The song remains one of the most iconic songs of all time. It is often cited as the greatest pop song ever written. Not bad for a melody composed in a dream!
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