13. The Beatles, 'Yesterday'
Writers: John Lennon, Paul McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Released: Sept. '65, Capitol
11 weeks; No. 1
Paul McCartney's greatest ballad holds a Guinness World Record as the most recorded song of all time; seven years later, there were 1,186 versions by artists as varied as Frank Sinatra, Otis Redding and Willie Nelson. But McCartney's original reading — cut on June 14th, 1965, at EMI's Abbey Road studios in London — remains the most beautiful and daring of all: a frank poem of regret scored and sung with haunted elegance. There are no other Beatles on the record. None were needed. George Martin's arrangement for a string quartet emphasized lower-octave melancholy, while McCartney's almost whispered vocal reverberated with longing in the big, dark spaces where drums and electric guitars would have been. The melody, he said, came to him in a dream: "My dad used to know a lot of old jazz tunes, I thought maybe I'd just remembered it from the past." McCartney auditioned the song for Martin, with the working title "Scrambled Eggs," in a hotel room in Paris in January 1964 — before the Beatles had even landed in America — but would not record it for another year and a half. "We were a little embarrassed about it," McCartney confessed. "We were a rock & roll band." A Number One single in America, "Yesterday" was, in his own words, "the most complete song I have ever written."
Appears on: Help! (Capitol/Apple)