The song probably originated in the mind of the loathsome but gifted John Lennon, but there has been much dispute over the years as to whether he or McCartney actually crafted and honed it. What is beyond dispute is that the instrumental bridge was written by the Beatles' arranger, the phenomenal George Martin, who we have encountered before on this blog. He wanted something reminscent of a harpsichord, in the style of Bach, but was unable to adjust any of Bach's work to the song's tempo; so, he played a tune on an electric piano at half speed, and then adjusted the speed for the recording. Martin, who actually plays the bridge on the song, was probably a musical genius, and no small part of the Beatles' excessive success.
Anyway, that's the Beatles' vision of the song - - - Martin's, really. But, as we said at the beginning, this kind of song admits of many interpretations, because everyone who performs it has different memories and sensitivities. Consider this 1966 cover by the Serbian singer Dušan Prelević , whose voice and style are reminiscent of Tom Waits:
Needless to say, the song has also been covered by many female artists, although it grieves me that Nina Simone seems to have skipped it: she'd melt your heart with it. The most notable cover, alas, was probably that of Bette Midler, who sang it in the 1991 film For the Boys. But this blog has been a Bette Midler-free zone, and will remain so. Judy Collins' recording was a lovely vocal exercise, of course, but had about as much emotional depth as a thimble. A better interpretation is performed here by the Canadian Allison Crowe:
We said that a song's popularity, or at least its universality of appeal, comes from its lyric. It is a rare song that can be performed as a spoken-word piece, but this is one of them. Unlike some actors who have made the horrendous mistake of attempting to sing (Richard Chamberlain and William Shatner come to mind), Sean Connery has never done so, at least to my knowledge. But, along with Clint Eastwood, Alexander Scourby, and James Earl Jones, Connery has one of the most distinctive and recognizable voices in the English-speaking world, and in 1998, he contributed a recitation of the song to a tribute album to George Martin. Because Sean Connery is Sean Connery, it works, although it's not technically a cover of the song. Connery's narration was featured in the following 1998 commercial for the Singapore development giant SC Global:
But once again, we've saved the most poignant cover for the last. When you hear this, you know it's coming from the heart, not merely a sheet of music. In 2002, in the waning years of his own life, the song was performed, unforgettably, by Johnny Cash. Lennon and McCartney get full credit for writing it; but I'm not sure I ever really heard it performed until I heard this version.