The 100 Greatest Songs of the Rock Era: #98: Yesterday
The Beatles (well, at least one of them and George Martin) from Help! (1965)
“How do you think Paul McCartney feels when he sings this song now?” Peggy said.
“I think he probably always feels rich. What I mean is that he had just turned twenty-three years old when this song came out, which meant that he was no more than twenty-two when he wrote it. Yet there’s so much melancholy in the way he reflects here. Do you think, while he’s singing this song now, he ever imagines, ‘I can’t believe I thought things were that heavy back then?’”
“I think you just hit on what makes this a top 100 song. There are several songs on the list about which you could say the same thing.”
“I wouldn’t know, since I haven’t seen the rest of the list.”
“Nothing you say is going to tempt me to let you know what’s coming. My point here, though, is that the lyric works both in that naive way where everything seems so momentous when you’re in your early twenties and in the deeper way when you consider your truly life-changing events when you get older.”
“Probably why it’s been covered thousands of times. Wasn’t this one of the first songs by a rock band that Frank Sinatra ever recorded?”
“Yeah, he probably still considered McCartney a punk, but the message got through to him.”
“I love universals.”
“It probably wouldn’t have resonated as much if it had been about scrambled eggs, huh?”
I chortled, which was something only Peggy was able to make me do. McCartney had used the title and a few lines as a placeholder until he came up with more suitable lyrics for the melody he’d created. He and Jimmy Fallon performed the “original” version together on Late Night.
“Could you imagine if he’d decided those lyrics were good enough?” I said.
“Not out of the realm of possibility considering some of the songs he released post-Beatles.”
I allowed myself a few seconds to imagine the alternate reality where perhaps our greatest songwriting genius got derailed putting out a song about breakfast.
Then I let the real song seep back into me, which led me to consider the time that had passed since Peggy and I had been in regular contact.
“What are your ‘Yesterday’ moments?” I said.
She chuckled, and I thought I caught a bit of nervousness in it. “Don’t get me started.”
“Why not? I’ve got some time.”