It’s a fascinating thought that the lyrics of one of the world’s most popular songs came to mind during a car journey between Lisbon and the Algarve.
Paul McCartney had been toying with the melody of a song for some months and seems to have been inspired by the backdrop of southern Portugal’s enchanting Alentejo region, scribbling down the words of Yesterday on the back of a brown envelope en route to Albufeira on the 27th of May, 1965.
He was taking a much-needed break with his actress girlfriend Jane Asher when this monumental moment of music history took place.
It was during that warm, rather dusty journey as he sat next to Jane in the back of a chauffeured car that Paul remembers writing the words to a song that had been hanging around in his head for quite a while, a process that he recalls came quickly and naturally.
“I remember mulling over the tune and suddenly getting these little one-word openings to the verse. I started to develop the idea … da-da da, yes-ter-day, sud-den-ly, fun-il-ly, mer-il-ly and Yes-ter-day, that’s good. All my troubles seemed so far away. It’s easy to rhyme those a’s: say, nay, today, away, play, stay, there’s a lot of rhymes and those fall in quite easily, so I gradually pieced it together from that journey. Sud-den-ly, and ‘b’ again, another easy rhyme: e, me, tree, flea, we, and I had the basis of it”.
On reaching the Algarve, Paul and Jane checked in at the Boa Vista Hotel (the location of which is indicated on the map below) before heading to the home of The Shadows guitarist Bruce Welch in an adjacent street.
In those days Albufeira was a peaceful fishing village where pop stars like Cliff Richard and Frank Ifield had homes close to the one owned by Welch. Besides anything else, it was a place where Paul could unwind and revel in the anonymity.
Bruce Welch was in residence that day and vividly remembers Paul’s arrival at the house. “He immediately asked: ‘Have you got a guitar?’ I realised he had been composing a lyric during the journey because he was carrying a piece of paper in his hand. I gave him the only guitar I had with me, a 1959 Martin 0018 model, and being a left-handed guitarist he had to play it upside down. Later he asked: ‘What do you think of this?’ and immediately started singing the song. I think I was the very first person to hear the song with the lyrics. I realized it was magic with those chord progressions but only after having heard the final recording did I realise that the song had begun in Portugal.”
After their two-week stay in the Algarve, the young couple were forced to return to London one day earlier than expected. The reason was one of those important events that regularly made The Beatles headline news. Manager Brian Epstein had insisted that Paul should be back in England before midnight on the 11th of June when the news would finally be released to the press that John, Paul, George and Ringo were to be awarded the OBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Since its original release in the autumn of 1965, Yesterday has been recorded more than three thousand times by a wide variety of artists ranging from Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan and The Supremes to Aretha Franklin, Joan Baez, Michael Bolton, Nana Mouskouri and Plácido Domingo.
The words of this iconic song have been much intepreted over the years, linking some of the lines to the unexplained break up of one of Paul’s relationships and to the sudden death of his beloved mother when he was just fourteen years old.