“Yesterday” The Most Covered Song Of All Time


On 17th June 1965, working at Abbey Road studios in London, The Beatles completed work on the new Paul McCartney song “Yesterday” – with the overdubbing of an additional vocal track by McCartney and a string quartet. Paul had recorded his vocal and guitar in two takes – not a bad day’s work for the 23 year-old songwriter, then.

According to biographers McCartney composed the entire melody to “Yesterday” in a dream one night in his room at the Wimpole Street home of his then-girlfriend Jane Asher and her family. Upon waking, he hurried to a piano and played the tune to avoid forgetting it.

McCartney’s initial concern was that he had subconsciously plagiarised someone else’s work, a process known as cryptomnesia, which occurs when a forgotten memory returns without it being recognised as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original.

McCartney stated: “For about a month I went round to people in the music business and asked them whether they had ever heard it before. Eventually it became like handing something in to the police – I thought if no-one claimed it after a few weeks then I could have it.”

Upon being convinced that he had not robbed anyone of his melody, McCartney began writing lyrics to suit it. He gave it the working title “Scrambled Eggs” after the working opening verse “Scrambled Eggs/Oh, my baby how I love your legs”. Luckily for us, he came up with more suitable lyrics.

During this period, McCartney and his girlfriend took a holiday in Albufeira, the Algarve, where he borrowed an acoustic guitar from Bruce Welch of The Shadows, in whose house they were staying, and completed the work on “Yesterday”. The song was offered as a demo to Chris Farlowe prior to The Beatles recording it, but Farlowe turned it down as he considered it “too soft”.

According to Guinness World Records, “Yesterday” has the most cover versions of any song ever written. The song remains popular today with more than 1,600 recorded cover versions. Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) asserts that it was performed over seven million times in the 20th century alone.

Although it was never released as a single in the UK, “Yesterday” was voted the best song of the 20th century in a 1999 BBC Radio 2 poll of music experts and listeners, while in 2000, “Yesterday” was voted the number 1 Pop song of all time by MTV and Rolling Stone Magazine.

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  1. Did you actually read the record? Or just the words in the Guinness search summary for the record. Per Guinness site:
    There are thousands of different versions of The Beatles’ (UK) 1965 hit “Yesterday” and John Newton’s (UK, 1725–1807) 1779 hymn “Amazing Grace” on record, but George Gershwin’s (USA) jazz standard “Summertime” is considered to be the most recorded song, with a staggering 67,591 recorded versions in existence as of 1 June 2017. This is according to “The Summertime Connection”, a group of fans from around the world with a shared passion for the aria, written by Gershwin in 1933–34 for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. As of the same date, the group had collected 57,316 full recordings of “Summertime”. The song has been recorded by the likes of Sam Cooke, Fun Boy Three, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Al Martino and Billy Stewart.

  2. Technically versions of Summertime, Amazing Grace, Silent Night and other popular standards would not be considered covers. The reason is they were written and distributed (via sheet music or simply memorized) primarily for live performances and thus targeted to a variety of performers. There was no primary “hit” version or performer and thus no performance to be covered. A song like Summertime was written for a live performance, with the music widely distributed. In fact, in those days the author would receive royalties but not the performer, so there was incentive to have as many versions of a song performed and recorded as possible. These simply don’t qualify as covers.