'Yesterday' Composer Daniel Pemberton Talks Recording Beatles Classics in 'Behind the Screen' Podcast

Himesh Patel as Jack Malik in Yesterday-Composer Daniel Pemberton -Getty-Inset-H 2019
Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures; Inset: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Composer Daniel Pemberton, whose responsibilities on Danny Boyle's Yesterday ranged from writing the score to overseeing the arrangements of Beatles songs and recording the soundtrack album, is the guest on a new episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Behind the Screen podcast series.

With the approval of the original Fab Four members or their estates, the production secured the composition rights to Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon and Ringo Starr's influential songs, meaning Yesterday is jam-packed with classics including "Hey Jude," "Let It Be," "In My Life," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Help" and "All You Need Is Love." The movie stars Himesh Patel as Jack, a struggling musician who is suddenly the only person on Earth who remembers The Beatles.

"It was a massive amount of work, even though Danny told me three weeks and I could get back to Spider-Man," says Pemberton, who at the time was also working on the score for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. "This project went on forever, but I've loved every minute of working on it.”

The songs were recorded at London's Abbey Road Studios, which The Beatles, of course, made famous. “We were recording in the very room where all of these [Beatles] records were made,” Pemberton relates. “We used the actual pianos The Beatles used…[and the drums were] mic’d up in the way Ringo would do it.”

The composer also shares the stories behind the recording of new takes on classics such as "Hey Jude," which in the movie gets a change to "Hey Dude" by Ed Sheeran, who gamely plays himself.

“I have recorded a version of ‘Hey Dude’ that I’m worried that one day is going to haunt me,” Pemberton says. “I was very against recording ‘Hey Dude’; I thought this is sacrilege and I fought for a long time not to do a recording" — though he admits in the end the gag “was quite good fun as well.”

“We did a whole chant at Abbey Road,” he continues, saying that he sent a WhatsApp message out to friends: “’Friday night, Abbey Road, come down to the bar we’ll do something at 9 o’clock and it will be fun.’ They turned up and had a few beers, and I said, ‘We’re going to Studio One and recording the chorus of "Hey Jude,"' because I wanted the biggest, most crazy version, and we did ‘Hey Dude’ at the same time.”

During the conversation, Pemberton also talks about recording live, saying that Sheeran “was super kind in lending us his stadiums.” A Wembley Stadium-set scene was actual shot in the London arena after one of the singer-songwriter’s performances.

Yesterday marks Boyle’s second film collaboration with the Emmy-, Golden Globe- and BAFTA-nominated Pemberton. They previously collaborated on Steve Jobs.  The composer’s recent credits also include Into the Spider-Verse, Ocean’s Eight and the “USS Callister” episode of Black Mirror.

Hosted by THR tech editor Carolyn Giardina, Behind the Screen features conversations with the artists behind the making of motion pictures and series, including directors, cinematographers, composers and editors.

Hear it all below on Behind the Screen — and be sure to subscribe to the podcast to never miss an episode.