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Paul McCartney Recalls Embarrassing ‘Yesterday’ Lyric Inspiration: ‘It’s Only in Retrospect You Can Appreciate It’

today02/26/2024

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Casual asides, silly moments, regrettable comments — they all tumble around in a songwriter’s mind and if they’re lucky those incidents are transformed into lyrics that last forever. Paul McCartney has had more than a couple of those, including a very formative one he discussed on the latest episode of his songwriter podcast, “A Life in Lyrics.”

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The episode focused on the Beatles‘ “Yesterday,” specifically on the line, “I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday” on the tune’s bridge. The frequently covered, wistful ballad first released on the band’s 1965 Help! album is essentially a McCartney solo track, on which he plays acoustic guitar and sings along with a string quartet.

Macca said he thought it was inspired by a regretful conversation he’d had with his mother years before. “Sometimes it’s only in retrospect you can appreciate it,” he said, clearly remembering one day “feeling very embarrassed because I’d embarrassed my mom.”

The singer said one day he and his mom — who he described as having a very “posh” accent — were in the backyard. “She was of Irish origin and she was a nurse, so she was above street level. So she had something sort of going for her, and she would talk what we thought was a little bit posh,” he said.

“I know that she said something like ‘Paul, will you ask him if he’s going … ’,” he remembered. “I went ‘Arsk! Arsk! It’s ask mum.’ And she got a little bit embarrassed. I remember later thinking ‘God, I wish I’d never said that’. And it stuck with me. After she died I thought ‘Oh f–k, I really wish … ’” McCartney’s mother, Mary, died in Oct. 1956 at 47 due to an embolism following breast cancer surgery when the singer was just 14-years-old.

McCartney said he’s got a “couple” of those little moments which he knows the people involved would forgive him for, but he wishes he had an eraser that he could rub that “Yesterday” moment away with. “That would be better,” he said, before breaking into the bridge of the song that has been covered more than 2,000 times and wondering if sometimes he “unconsciously” flips scenarios into “girl” lyrics when he’s really thinking about his dead mother.

Click here to listen to McCartney talk about the origin of “Yesterday” (discussion of bridge begins around 25:15 mark)

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today02/26/2024


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