Out June 28, the new movie Yesterday is about a world in which the Beatles don't exist... except in the memory of one man. And because that man, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), is a singer-songwriter, that knowledge comes in very handy and propels him to superstardom. Obviously, this movie has to feature a ton of Beatles songs, but putting together the Yesterday soundtrack wasn't as simple as choosing a bunch of the band's many, many hit songs. The filmmakers had to put themselves in the mind of Jack Malik and ask this question: If the Beatles ceased to exist, which Beatles songs would someone think of first and which lyrics would they be able to remember word for word?
"I had an odd relationship with the Beatles’ songs whilst I was writing the film," explained screenwriter Richard Curtis in Yesterday's press notes. "I was half trying not to listen to them too much because I was half trying to think 'What would Jack remember?'"
Patel also commented on his character's journey with figuring out the Beatles' songs so he could play them himself. "You’ve got to pick the songs that are relevant to the story, so there’ll be some huge songs that people will wonder why they’re not in the movie," he said. "But Jack might not remember them; it’s only at the end of the movie that he remembers 'All You Need Is Love.' Throughout the film we’ve got this thread of him not being able to remember the lyrics to 'Eleanor Rigby.' That’s been amazing, trying to remember lyrics. When I’m trying to remember the songs myself, it’s been an interesting exercise in this weird situation. What would you do? Would you remember it all correctly?"
The answer is no. Music producer Adem Ilhan noted that because Jack is recording and performing all of the songs from memory, there had to be changes and mistakes in the songs to make it more realistic.
As for the songs that were chosen, Curtis explained that they made sure to include "rockier sides, romantic sides, reflective ones". The songs that ended up being included are: "When I’m Sixty-Four", "Yesterday", “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, “Nowhere Man”, “A Day in the Life”, “Let It Be”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “She Loves You”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Something”, “Carry That Weight”, “Hello, Goodbye”, “Yellow Submarine”, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, "In My Life", "Back in the U.S.S.R.", "The Long and Winding Road", "Penny Lane", "Eleanor Rigby", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Here Comes the Sun", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Hey Jude", "Help!", and "All You Need Is Love".
Ilhan explained that the order and way in which the songs are used help tell the story. For example: "Jack’s going through a metaphysical crisis. He’s with the wrong girl and doing things for the wrong motive; that’s when he sings 'Help!'" Curtis said of the 1965 single.
Now, obviously, these are a lot of Beatles songs to get the rights to, and the production notes also explain that Curtis and director Danny Boyle made sure to first get the blessings of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as from the estates of John Lennon and George Harrison.
In addition to the Beatles songs used, the movie also had to include Jack's music and a score. "We also had to write Jack’s rubbish songs!" said composer Daniel Pemberton. "Usually, I just write the score ... If someone says, 'Write a song better than the Beatles,; you’re like, 'ah sh*t!' But if someone says, 'Write a song that is not really that good, but good enough,' you’re like, 'yup, I’m your man!'" Pemberton added that Ed Sheeran, who plays a version of himself in Yesterday, also wrote a song for the end of the movie.
If you're interested in listening to the soundtrack... well, it's mostly Beatles songs, so those are pretty easy to find. The entire soundtrack, though, with the songs performed by Patel and Pemberton's soundtrack, will be available for purchase and streaming on June 21.