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Paul McCartney reveals heartbreaking meaning behind lyrics to ‘Yesterday’

In his podcast, The Beatles star wonders if the lyrics to one of his most famous songs was inspired by a fleeting but regrettable exchange with his late mother

Roisin O'Connor
Monday 26 February 2024 11:59 GMT
Paul McCartney performs at Glastonbury 2022

“I said something wrong/ Now I long for yesterday…”

Sir Paul McCartney first sang those moving words almost 60 years ago, but it’s only now that he’s revealed the real meaning behind them.

On his A Life in Lyrics podcast, in which the legendary Beatles musician regales listeners with the stories behind some of his most famous songs, McCartney, 81, said he believes the lyric was inspired by a regretful moment where he mocked his mother for sounding “posh”.

“Sometimes it’s only in retrospect you can appreciate it. I remember very clearly one day feeling very embarrassed because I embarrassed my mum,” McCartney recalled on the latest episode.

The Liverpool-born musician explained that his mum, Mary, was a nurse of Irish origin so “talked posh” compared to the rest of the family, and that he had called her out for this while in the backyard of his childhood home.

“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***, I really wish … ’”

Paul McCartney wrote the lyrics to ‘Yesterday’ when he was 24 (PA)

McCartney said he had a few of those moments, which would seem harmless to his fans but that he still regretted: “They’re little things, but they’re little things that I just think, ‘If I could just take a rubber, just rub that moment out it would be better’.”

McCartney, who was 24 when he wrote the song, said he had initially dismissed someone’s suggestion that the song was inspired by Mary McCartney’s death from cancer when he was 14.

“I always said ‘no, I don’t think so’, but the more you think about it…” he said.

“It may be that there is so much tumbled into your youth and your formative years that you can’t appreciate it all. Sometimes it’s only in retrospect that you can appreciate it.”

“And when she died, I wonder, ‘I said something wrong’, are we harking back to that crazy little thing. So I don’t know. Does this happen? Do you find yourself unconsciously putting songs into girl lyrics [about a lost lover] that are really your dead mother? I suspect it might be true. It sort of fits, if you look at the lyrics.”

‘It sort of fits, if you look at the lyrics’ - McCartney on ‘Yesterday’ (Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

“Yesterday” is one of the most covered songs of all time, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1997.

McCartney’s podcast, which explores the inspirations behind his songwriting with the poet Paul Muldoon, is available on all major streaming platforms.

Perhaps next season he will be able to delve into the role his iconic bass guitar, which was recently returned to him after being stolen in 1972, had on songs including “Twist and Shout”, “Love Me Do” and “She Loves You”.

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