We went on the search for the most covered song of all time and ran up against a decades’ old debate.
What defines ‘most covered?’ And which song comes out on top?
We’ve got some answers, but the debate goes on.
Let’s dig in!
The Debate: Covered vs Recorded
There’s some debate as to what ‘most covered’ means. So let’s talk about that a little before we get into the song.
According to Guinness World Records, Summertime is the most recorded song, with 67,591 recordings as of June 2017. However, some debate this, stating Summertime wasn’t originally a recorded piece, while others say recordings don’t equal covers. A band could cover a hit and create multiple recordings in the studio or live. And don’t forget fans’ bootlegged versions.
If we take Summertime recordings out of the mix and look at covers, most sources rate it in the top ten but not #1. That honor goes to The Beatles’ hit, Yesterday.
Who Originally Wrote Yesterday?
Sir Paul McCartney wrote Yesterday, and that odd story will come next. First, we’ll talk about the man.
James Paul McCartney grew up in a working-class family in Liverpool, UK. His father sold cotton and was a jazz musician. His mother was a nurse who died when Paul was 14 years old.
After his mother passed away, Paul’s father encouraged him to learn music. Paul’s natural talent had him picking up Spanish guitar, trumpet, and piano and writing songs such as When I’m 64 by the time he turned 16.
Around that time, he met John Lennon, whose similar working-class upbringing and early loss of his mother gave them a strong connection. Lennon already had a band, The Quarrymen, and invited McCartney to join them.
The two became the songwriters for the band, which evolved over the years into The Beatles. They were so prolific that they stopped doing song covers by their third album.
Early on, the men agreed to always credit their songwriting as Lennon-McCartney. This would cause some grief after they released Yesterday.
Although The Beatles broke up in 1970, Sir Paul has had great success with Wings and as a solo singer/songwriter. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him as a member of The Beatles in 1988 and a solo artist in 1999. He’s had more #1 hits in the UK than any other artist and 32 #1 singles on the US Billboard Charts.
How Did Paul McCartney Write Yesterday?
McCartney dreamed of the song’s melody one night in 1964 and immediately went to a piano to play it and remember it. He asked various people if they’d heard it before, thinking it may have been a jazz tune his dad played. He certainly didn’t want to plagiarize anyone’s song. But no one recognized it.
Eventually, he started writing lyrics for it. The second line was “Oh my baby, how I love your legs” and the working title “Scrambled Eggs” because it rhymes with legs. Sir Paul worked on the words while they were shooting Help! In fact, he played the tune and sang scrambled eggs so much that the film’s director finally told McCartney to “Either finish it or give up.”
McCartney says the breakthrough in the lyrics came for him while on a trip through Portugal. He woke up one morning and had bits of it in his head. Over the next few weeks, he finished the song.
This lengthy writing process was unusual for Paul, who often completed songs in hours, especially when working with his pal John. But this labor of love was all McCartney, even though he credited Lennon as they’d agreed upon so many years earlier.
When Was the Most Covered Song Released?
The Beatles recorded Yesterday on their Help! Album, which they released in 1965. In the US, it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for four weeks. However, the song wasn’t released as a single in the UK until 1976, peaking at #8.
His bandmates and others weren’t fond of the tune. Besides being driven crazy with the lengthy creation process, they felt it wasn’t The Beatles’ sound. It was too soft. But, they finally agreed to record, and it became their most popular song.
The tune went on to irritate John Lennon until the day he died because of the writing credit we mentioned above. He didn’t write it and didn’t like it, yet people frequently came up to him to talk about it or sing it to him. He was always kind to the fans but frustrated on the inside.
What Great Covers Are There of Yesterday?
Everyone from crooners to opera singers, including Molly Hatchet, Frank Sinatra, and Liberace, has covered Yesterday.
Placido Domingo’s version came out in 1981 on his opera-pop album, Perhaps Love. The tenor’s voice and rendition bring chills.
Most covers weren’t recorded for albums but appear in concert videos and TV show clips. Ray Charles’ performance on an Australian tour will bring tears to your eyes, and Aretha Franklin sang it with a smoky jazzy-blues mood on The Mike Douglas Show.
We Believe in Yesterday
Summertime may be the most recorded song out there, but we feel Yesterday ranks as the most covered classic rock song. Sir Paul McCartney spent many months writing the lyrics, and we believe it justly deserves the attention it receives. What do you think? Is Yesterday the hit with the most covers or is it Summertime?