Song Analysis – “Yesterday” – The Beatles

Yesterday – Music and Lyrics by Paul McCartney

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday

[What can you say about “Yesterday”? It’s a song loved by  music fans of all different stripes. It’s often been voted the best rock song ever written. Fans voted Yesterday “the best song of the 20th century in a BBC Radio poll. It also won #1 pop song of all time in both MTV and Rolling Stone. According to Guiness Book, the song has been covered over 3,000 times – more than any other song. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yesterday_%28song%29.

The word “yesterday” can refer to the preceding day or it can refer to the past in general. McCartney may have been referring to either.

He says that all his “troubles seemed so far away.” Every life has its share of problems. Yet love or joy or a sudden victory can all make these problems recede into the background. But when that love or joy goes away, we are reminded that “our troubles are here to stay.” It seems that McCartney is saying that love doesn’t actually solve our problems, it just directs our focus away from them. When that love goes away, issues like depression, addiction, compulsiveness, and others suddenly return into focus.

He says he believes in yesterday. This makes me think of the feeling one has upon waking up when one is not sure if one is still dreaming or not. He feels that the world he was living in before was the real one and the present nightmare he is in is false.] Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be
There’s a shadow hanging over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly

[He feels overwhelmed by the problems in his life, to the point where he doesn’t seem nearly as strong or as smart or as attractive as he used to be. Shadows are symbolic of negativity, evil, or bad luck. A shadow follows a person everywhere. It’s like that expression, “We all have our crosses to bear.” Our sins and our problems are difficult burdens to unload.

The suddenness of the shift he feels is a key aspect of the song. He’s not referring to the distant past, a time long ago. He’s referring to the immediate past – “yesterday.” But perhaps there is an element of illusion here. If McCartney is talking about a relationship breaking up, which certainly fits the idea of a sudden loss of love, it seems unlikely that it was totally instantaneous. With experience one comes to realize that relationships rarely break up in an instant. A break-up often comes at the end of a protracted series of conflicts.]

Why she had to go I don’t know, she wouldn’t say
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday

[Now it becomes clearer that his subject is a break-up. He expresses his utter perplexity at what’s happened.

He guesses that he said something to hurt her. He doesn’t really know what it was that he did or said, but he knows he must have made a mistake because otherwise she would still be with him. But there seems to be something missing. How many women would leave a man just because of one thing he said? There are some nasty things I can imagine him saying, but in the absence of any offensive action, mere words seem insufficient. ]

Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh, I believe in yesterday

[Love as a game is a common metaphor in music. There are players competing at achieving objectives. Sometimes it seems that love has rules, that there are patterns that lead to success or failure. But people also say, “All’s fair in love and war,” implying that love really has no hard and fast rules. Yet the two are not necessarily contradictory. Some kinds of behavior will lead to positive results in love and some will lead to negative results. Since all is fair in love, one can try anything, but the results are never guaranteed.]

Why she had to go I don’t know, she wouldn’t say
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday

Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh, I believe in yesterday, mm

[There’s some chatter on SongMeanings.net saying that McCartney wrote this song in honor of his mother who had passed away. I guess it fits the idea of lost love and the image of a shadow hanging over him. But it makes more sense to me as a break-up song. The lines where he says that he said something wrong that caused her to go away don’t make sense if it refers to his mother’s death. Is he saying that he said something stupid, angered God, then God punished him by taking away his mother? Seems far-fetched to me. Perhaps I’m misinterpreting something as cause-and-effect when it’s really before-and-after. He said something wrong that he wishes he could take back. Now someone he loves is dead and he can’t make amends. It’s not that what he said made her go away, it’s that her going away magnifies the damage of what he said because it takes away his chance for forgiveness.]

As always, I welcome and appreciate your comments. Even if you just want to say, “I love this song,” I’d be glad to put it up.

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  1. #1 by bean on April 20, 2010 - 5:40 pm

    thank you! i needed that for an nglish project. that was a really good analysis. it realy explained the song a lot more. and it has to be one of my favorate songs

  2. #2 by compre viagra on December 9, 2010 - 4:55 am

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  3. #3 by nursenan on May 26, 2011 - 2:39 pm

    Asad, Hi. I’ve seen your name before. Today, I was linked to your Yesterday post. Pun intended but by accident *-* Well, its been awhile for this post of yours, so I hope you receive this comment. My blog, “battleforbluejeans.wordpress.com” is a one pager until tonight when i will write part two. The original blogname was “yesterdaysuddenly.wp”. I changed it today because I was always telling people the article title instead of name. But i did originally name it YesterdaySuddenly after the song. Thought I’d do a header of the lyrics or somewhere on it. The topics to come are to be about events in our pasts. But, again I had a hard time remembering title…hope it catches on better this way. Who the hell knows. ……..But I’m glad I found your very well-written post. Excellent reporting. See ya, Nan

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