This past Friday night, Paul McCartney’s Freshen Up tour rolled into Arlington, Texas’s Globe Life Park, where the former Beatle performed a 38-song set for nearly three hours before some 50,000 fans.
And today—77 years after his mother Mary gave birth to him at Liverpool’s Walton Hospital—McCartney notches yet another milestone as rock’s reigning elder statesman. During his long career, he’s performed “Yesterday,” arguably his most recognizable composition, more than 600 times.
But if you’re taking in a McCartney concert this year, don’t get your hopes up. The Cute Beatle hasn’t played “Yesterday” since an October 2018 stint in Tokyo. While the song clearly looms large in his legend, “Yesterday” comes in at a mere sixth place on his roster of solo performances, with “Let It Be,” “Hey Jude,” “Band on the Run,” “Live and Let Die,” and “Back in the USSR” comprising the top five.
McCartney and the Beatles recorded “Yesterday” 54 years ago this month. It was a watershed moment for the Fab Four, to say the least. With the addition of George Martin’s understated string quartet arrangement, “Yesterday” exploded the Beatles’ demographic, which had previously consisted principally of teenagers and their ilk. But after “Yesterday”—and later, “In My Life,” “Michelle,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Yellow Submarine”—their audience was virtually unlimited, ranging from children to septuagenarians.
In spite of the song’s four-week reign atop the American charts in 1965, “Yesterday” came up short at the Grammy Awards, losing out to Tony Bennett’s “The Shadow of Your Smile.” Over the years, “Yesterday” has emerged, not surprisingly, as one of the most covered songs in music history.
But for all the song’s fanfare, McCartney has seemed reluctant, at times, to perform his most famous song. In a notorious 1984 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, a frustrated McCartney fended off the host’s numerous attempts to prod the ex-Beatle into playing “Yesterday.” At the end of the segment, Carson’s team helpfully produced an acoustic guitar. Visibly flummoxed by the experience, McCartney dashed expectations and performed a folksy rendition of “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” instead.
As McCartney whiles away his 77th summer with a lively, no-doubt grueling, and “Yesterday”-free concert tour, the song continues to make the news as the title of a new musical comedy from acclaimed director Danny Boyle. The film’s most exorbitant expenditure involved securing the rights for the Beatles’ songs, which reportedly cost more than $10 million to acquire.
As for the Freshen Up tour itself, fans can take heart in the setlist, which—even without “Yesterday”—is a tour-de-force of pop classics. And McCartney, even as he closes in on his 80th year, handles all of the lead vocals, while shifting easily among a moveable feast of instruments that includes bass, piano, and lead guitar.
For the past several years, McCartney has led his backing band through a blistering cover version of “Foxy Lady” as a coda to “Let Me Roll It.” Breaking off a series of scorching lead guitar lines on his Gibson Les Paul, the aging rocker isn’t simply showing off his chops—his virtuosity has been in evidence since his earliest days at Abbey Road Studios. McCartney’s still doing it, plainly and simply, because he can. And effortlessly, at that.