The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’: Paul McCartney Reacted to Elvis Presley Changing the Lyrics

Yesterday” is one of The Beatles’ widely-covered songs. During an interview with talk show host Jonathan Ross, Paul McCartney discussed Elvis Presley’s version of “Yesterday.” He noted Elvis changed one of the lyrics of the song and Ross’ audience found the change laughable.

Elvis Presley performing a song on a guitar
Elvis Presley | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Paul McCartney had a theory about why Elvis Presley changed the lyrics to a Beatles song

Paul appeared on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Ross mentioned several artists who have covered “Yesterday,” including Acker Bilk, Richard Clayderman, Liberace, and Snoopy from Peanuts. Ross also asked Paul whether he listens to his back catalog of work. Paul responded he does listen to recordings of artists covering his material. He talked about Elvis’ version of “Yesterday.”

“I heard that Elvis did ‘Yesterday,'” Paul told Ross. “I’d never heard that song, so I got to listen to that ’cause he gets the lyrics wrong. It was during his flaky period.” Ross asked about Elvis’ alteration to the lyrics.

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“I tell you the words,” Paul said. “He gets the last verse wrong. But the thing these guys always do. I wrote, ‘Why she had to go/I don’t know/She wouldn’t say/I did something wrong and I long for yesterday.’ Well, Elvis and a lot of these guys went ‘I must’ve done something wrong.’ It’s like, they’re not admitting it.” Ross’ audience laughed at what Paul said. For the record, the original lyrics are “I said something wrong” not “I did something wrong” and “now I long for yesterday” not “and I long for yesterday.”

Paul felt Elvis and other artists who altered the lyric were trying to cast doubt on the idea they’d done anything wrong. Ross said to Paul the men are “covering their bases.” Paul agreed. “Exactly, disclaimer in there,” Paul responded. Paul seemed to be discussing one of the versions of the song Elvis performed live.

How the public reacted to The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’

The Beatles’ “Yesterday” reached the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained on the chart for 11 weeks. “Yesterday” is No. 13 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs ever.

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In the United Kingdom, “Yesterday” was successful, albeit considerably less so. The Official Charts Company reports the song hit No. 8 in the U.K. and remained on the chart for 9 weeks. The song continued to have influence decades later. For example, the 2019 film Yesterday was named after the song and featured it.

How the public reacted to Elvis Presley’s ‘Yesterday’

According to Time, Elvis covered “Yesterday” during his first show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in 1969. As part of that set, Elvis also performed other ballads like Mac Davis’ “Memories” and Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” This show was an important part of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s comeback in the late 1960s.

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Elvis included a version of “Yesterday” on the album On StageFebruary, 1970 that retains the original lyrics. Elvis didn’t release his version of “Yesterday” as a single; however, the album peaked at No. 13 and remained on the Billboard 200 for 20 weeks. The Official Charts Company reports On Stage: February, 1970 charted at No. 2 in the U.K. and remained on the chart for 18 weeks. The Beatles’ and Elvis’ versions of “Yesterday” did well — even if Elvis modified the lyrics at some point.