Bach meets the Beatles – “Yesterday”

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Bach meets the Beatles – Variations in the style of Bach “Yesterday” – Improvised by John Bayless, piano.

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John Bayless is one of the top classical cross-over recording and concert performing artists, best known for his top-selling albums, “Bach Meets the Beatles,” “The Puccini Album” and “Circle of Life: Songs by Elton John in the Style of Bach.” 

He has appeared at Carnegie Hall in a performance of his own West Side Story Concert Variations for solo piano and orchestra, made his Tanglewood debut playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Boston Pops, opened the San Francisco Summer Pops season with the same work and appeared in three sold-out concerts at the Hollywood Bowl with John Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

He performed his West Side Story Concert Variations and his Bach Meets the Beatles repertoire with the Philadelphia Orchestra.  Bayless is Artistic Director for the Waring International Piano Competition. For more information, visit

Show was directed by Stewart Schulman. Singer actress Jean Kauffman has a cameo. Bayless had a stroke in 2008 which left him paralyzed on his right side. Bayless shares his road to recovery, and his return to composing and performing with one hand. This story of resiliency and hope has something for everyone.


“I really reckon ‘Yesterday’ is probably my best song.” This humble statement from Paul McCartney typifies what many believe to be the truth as to his creative output throughout his career. Although when asked at different times through the years what his favorite original composition was, he came up with many answers.

“Your songs are like your babies, it’s difficult to have a favorite,” he said in 2007. “Here, There And Everywhere” has been stated regularly, although “Hey Jude,” “Blackbird” and “Here Today” have been cited. He also once included “Maybe I’m Amazed” as one of his favorites, saying “that’s a nice song, I like that one.”

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In 1980, Paul explained why “Yesterday” could be described as his best song. “I like it not only because it was a big success, but because it was one of the most instinctive songs I’ve ever written.” Concerning the song being a “success,” it has been described as the most successful song in history. According to Chris Ingham’s book “The Rough Guide To The Beatles,” “It holds the record as the most recorded song in history, with over 2500 versions, and has been broadcast on American radio over seven million times.”

As to the song being “instinctive,” Paul’s explanation of how it was written has passed into the category of legend, as we’ll investigate below.

The song was written at 57 Wimpole Street, London, the family home of Richard and Margaret Asher where Paul was living while dating their daughter Jane Asher. He slept in a small attic room of the house that was rather cramped without too much extra room for anything, although there was one thing that did manage to get squeezed in. “I eventually got a piano of my own up in the top garret,” remembers Paul. “Very artistic. That was the piano that I fell out of bed and got the chords to ‘Yesterday’ on. I dreamed it when I was staying there.”

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Paul vividly remembers that morning: “I woke up with a lovely tune in my head. I thought, ‘That’s great, I wonder what that is?’ There was an upright piano next to me, to the right of the bed by the window. I got out of bed, sat at the piano, found G, found F sharp minor 7th – and that leads you through then to B to E minor, and finally back to E. It all leads forward logically. I liked the melody a lot but because I’d dreamed it I couldn’t believe I’d written it. I thought, ‘No, I’ve never written like this before.’

But I had the tune, which was the most magic thing. And you have to ask yourself, ‘Where did it come from?’ But you don’t ask yourself too much or it might go away…There are certain times when you get the essence, it’s all there. It’s like an egg being laid – not a crack or flaw in it.”

Speaking of eggs, so that his memory of the melody wouldn’t “go away,” he wrote some simple words to go along with the phrasing of the melody line. “It had no words. I used to call it ‘Scrambled Eggs.’ The lyrics used to go, ‘Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs…

There was generally a laugh at that point – you didn’t need to do any more lyrics.” Jane Asher once replied: “Don’t believe that part about ‘How I loved your legs.’ That’s bunk! My legs are horrid!” (And to set the record straight, Paul did not write a second verse that started “Cottage fries, oh, my baby, how I love your thighs.” 

Since we know where the melody was first conceived, many wonder when exactly this morning occurred. Barry Miles, co-author of Paul McCartney’s book “Many Years From Now,” explains this morning as having occurred in May of 1965. While this seems to be the final word, there is evidence to suggest an earlier date. “The song was around for months and months before we finally completed it,” recalls John Lennon.

He continues: “Paul wrote nearly all of it, but we just couldn’t find the right title. Every time we got together to write songs or for a recording session, this would come up. We called it ‘Scrambled Eggs’ and it became a joke between us. We almost had it finished when we made up our minds that only a one word title would suit and, believe me, we just couldn’t find the right one. Then, one morning, Paul woke up, and the song and the title were both there. Completed! I know it sounds like a fairy tale, but it is the plain truth. I was sorry, in a way, because we had so many laughs about it.”

Since John relates that it was “around for months and months,” just how many months was it? Producer George Martin has a strong recollection that indicates a good amount of months indeed. “I first heard ‘Yesterday’ when it was known as ‘Scrambled Eggs’ – Paul’s working title – at the George V Hotel in Paris in January 1964.”

George Martin accompanied The Beatles during their residency in Paris as the group played a series of shows at the Olympia Theatre in the latter half of January, 1964. A piano was brought up to their hotel room for songwriting purposes and, if his remembrances are correct, Paul premiered an early version of “Yesterday” to him at this time. Since Paul began living at the Asher home in London in November of 1963, this story could be feasible.

A 1968 quote from Paul appears to tell a different story. “It was called ‘Scrambled Egg’ for a couple of months, until I thought of ‘Yesterday.’ And that’s it. True story.” However, the statement “a couple of months” seems to have been an understatement.

Chris Dreja, the rhythm guitarist for The Yardbirds, clearly remembers an event that occurred during the “Beatles Christmas Show” of late December 1964 when Chris’s group were one of the opening acts. As quoted in Andy Babiuk’s book “Beatles Gear,” he recalls how Paul asked to come into the dressing room of The Yardbirds to premier a new song he was writing. “He sat down with the guitar, and at that point hadn’t got the lyrics, just the melody. He said it was called ‘Scrambled Eggs.’ And of course it was ‘Yesterday.’ There we were witnessing the start of one of the most famous songs of all time, and Paul was just playing it for us on an acoustic.”

Keeping in mind that Paul held off on pushing the song on The Beatles, saying “we were a little embarrassed about it – we were a rock’n’roll band,” it appears that he may have indeed held it back for quite a long time –  through two entire British albums in fact.

The next job was to verify that he did indeed write the song. “It came too easy,” Paul relates, “I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe that I had written it. I thought that maybe I had heard it somewhere before, it was some other tune. I went around for weeks playing the chords of the song for people, asking them, ‘Is this like something? I think I’ve written it,’ and people would say, ‘No. It’s not like anything else, but it’s good.’”

One person he auditioned the song for was British singer Alma Cogan, at her flat in Kensington. “Alma was a bit of a song buff,” Paul relates, “and she said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but it’s beautiful.’” Director Richard Lester remembers Paul bothering everyone with the song on the set of their movie “Help!” “At some time during that period, we had a piano on one of the stages and he was playing this ‘Scrambled Eggs’ all the time,” Lester remembers. “It got to the point where I said to him, ‘If you play that bloody song any longer I’ll have the piano taken off stage. Either finish it or give it up!’”

At some point, Paul was convinced that the melody did in fact come from him. “Eventually it became like handing something in to the police. I thought that if no-one claimed it after a few weeks then I would have it.”

The only thing left was writing proper lyrics. After filming for “Help!” was complete, Paul and Jane arranged for a vacation in Albufeira, on the southern coast of Portugal, using a villa borrowed from his friend Bruce Welch, guitarist with Cliff Richard and The Shadows.

After flying from London to Lisbon on May 27th, 1965, Paul and Jane needed to drive 180 miles from Lisbon to get to the villa. “It was a long hot, dusty drive,” Paul remembers. “Jane was sleeping but I couldn’t, and when I’m sitting that long in a car I either manage to get to sleep or my brain starts going. I remember mulling over the tune ‘Yesterday,’ and suddenly getting these little one-word openings to the verse.”

Paul continues, “I started to develop the idea: Scram-ble-d eggs, da-da da. I knew the syllables had to match the melody, obviously: 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 ‘s’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.”

Then, when he arrived at the villa, he met up with Bruce. “I was packing to leave and Paul asked me if I had a guitar,” remembers Welch. “He’d apparently been working on the lyrics as he drove to Albufeira from the airport at Lisbon. He borrowed my guitar and started playing the song we all now know as ‘Yesterday.’”

“I think I finished the lyrics about two weeks later, which was quite a long time for me,” Paul adds. “Generally, John and I would sit down and finish within three hours, but this was more organic. I put in the words over the next couple of weeks.” This would take it right up to the recording date of the song – June 14th, 1965.

Although John had intimated in 1966 that he had played a part in writing the song, saying “We just helped finish off the ribbons ‘round it, you know – tying it up,” this appears to be an isolated case. For instance, in 1980 he remembered it differently. “That’s Paul’s song, and Paul’s baby. Well done. Beautiful – and I never wished I’d written it.” In a 2001 interview in Readers’ Digest, Paul interestingly states: “John always said he had nothing to do with that song.” Even Ringo concurs: “Paul, of course, had written his ‘Yesterday,’ the most recorded song in history – What a guy!”

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