Paul McCartney reveals the surprising inspiration to 'Yesterday' lyrics

26 February 2024, 12:32 | Updated: 27 February 2024, 08:11

First trailer for Danny Boyle’s Beatles comedy-drama Yesterday

By Mayer Nissim

Paul McCartney reveals how an exchange with his mum inspired one of the greatest ever songs.

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The Beatles' 1965 single 'Yesterday' is quite rightly seen as one of the greatest songs of all time, and has apparently been covered more than any other in the history of pop.

While it's credited to the full band, the song was written by Paul McCartney and is performed by him and an orchestra alone, with John Lennon, George Harrison and even Ringo Starr sitting it out.

It's long been assumed that the song is about a breakup between romantic partners, but in the most recent episode of iHeartPodcast's A Life in Lyrics podcast about his songwriting, Paul said that at least one key phrase was a reference to a conversation he had with his mother.

McCartney's mother Mary died in 1956, when Paul was just 14, and was known to be the inspiration for The Beatles' 'Let It Be' ("When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me").

And in 'Yesterday', the lyric "I said something wrong / Now I long for yesterday" has been revealed to be about a regrettable exchange he had with his mum.

Listen to McCartney: A Life in Lyrics

"I remember very clearly one day feeling very embarrassed because I embarrassed my mum," Paul said.

"We were out in the backyard and she talked posh. 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. And it was a little bit Welshy as well – she had connections, her auntie Dilys was Welsh."

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He continued: "I know that she said something like 'Paul, will you ask him if he's going...'. "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...'."

It's not the first time Paul has acknowledged that the song could be about the loss of his mum at such a young age, telling Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in 2019: "I didn't mean it to be, but ... it could be."