WIDENING THE AUDIENCE
'The song captured a yearning deep inside'
'Yesterday' was not merely a rare gem of a song; its journey from Wimpole Street, London, and Albufeira, Portugal, via EMI's London studios to its position as the world's most recorded song made a lot of waves. It changed the Beatles' reputation. And the song was the springboard for their own future and that of popular music in the 1960s and beyond, 'Yesterday' provided an artistic stepping stone between the teen idol stance of rock 'n' rollers and the dramatic musical innovators of the latter half of that decade, and those who lifted it to new levels in the 1970s. 'Yesterday' was evidence that the high energy of 'I Saw Her Standing There' and the raw appeal of rockers like Tm Down' were but a tiny fraction of the Beatles story.
The sound of 'Yesterday' with its stark lyrics, plus the persona of Paul McCartney out front, alone, with an acoustic guitar, together produced a definitive moment. Suddenly, everyone had to take the Beatles seriously as musicians. They were not simply rock 'n' rollers. Parents who had hitherto maintained that the Beatles were a scruffy pop group who got lucky now faced a surprising truth: they could actually write and sing a beautiful melodic ballad. To the sceptical minority who still considered the Beatles the preserve of the young, 'Yesterday' spoke a new, adult language.
It formed the base from which Paul, with John, would help to chart popular music's new horizons. And the effect of 'Yesterday' on a generation of people of all ages, particularly in America, was enormous.
When Paul scored a number one hit in the USA with 'Yesterday', the only serious attention it got was from the radio. Disc jockeys spoke of it superficially: 'Another great track from the Fab Four.' Teenagers walked around with tiny transistor radios pinned to their ears, and were to be seen sitting silently as if in prayer, waiting for Paul's dulcet-toned smash. Rolling Stone magazine had not yet been born; every city had a disc jockey claiming to have a special knowledge and relationship with the guys from Liverpool. The magazines aimed at girls were jammed with breathless prose about the Beatles' personalities. 16 magazine, Teen Set, Teen Screen and Datebook were the literary diet of the Beatles generation. In later years, Crawdaddy, Circus and Creem came as the emphasis of pop and singles switched to a more contemplative world of rock and albums.
While some cynics in Britain reckoned the Beatles had 'gone soft' with 'Yesterday', the mood in the USA was different. There, the public was able to celebrate a number one hit. Americans, delineating the difference in the characteristics of the two nations, took a positive, optimistic approach. 'Initially,' says Dennis Elsas, one of New York's most articulate disc jockeys on station WNEW, 'our parents considered the Beatles another part of rock 'n' roll that they couldn't understand. By the time 'A Hard Day's Night' came, adults could see them as cute, not quite so dangerous. Hipper adults were mildly amused, and took an interest. But clearly, when they heard a song like "Yesterday" on the radio, they would not be turned off by the sound. The American view would be: Look, this group don't just write silly little rock songs! "Yesterday" was slow. There were strings, always a grabber for that audience, strings will always get you. When you watch a motion picture and the big swell comes, the strings come through and out comes your hankie; you shed a tear.'
'"Yesterday" was hugely popular on top forty stations which repeated their songs over and over. The song was so simple in its sadness. It touched us immediately in that part that responds to heartache; we all love to wallow a little bit and, as Elton John sings, sad songs say so much.'
'It's ambiguous, too. Why she had to go/I don't know/she didn't say. We all know that at some point we screwed up on something. But here we don't know if he's lost her for ever. I think we think he has. And that's sad. We can identify with that. The two Beatles songs prior to "Yesterday" that were closest to love songs were "And I Love Her" and "If I Fell". Those were not so powerful. "And I Love Her" is just a declaration. "If I Fell" is anticipation. But "Yesterday" is about lost love.'
Rock 'n' roll, as Dennis Elsas says, is usually thought of as being loud and raunchy. 'But some of the most memorable rock 'n' roll artists are best known for their ballads. "Love Me Tender" is still probably one of Elvis Presley's most popular songs. Great rockers seem to have the ability to write one of those soul-stirring ballads which touches us deeply.'
And yet, as Elsas points out: 'The Paul bashing probably began with "Yesterday". People could then say: See, he was always a softie!' The song marked the moment, for many listeners, when Paul and John began to express themselves differently as well as in unison.
'I felt we did become more accessible to more people from "Yesterday",' Paul says. 'And that widening of our audience was my role within the group. People did think of me in terms of being the public relations man. I know John told Yoko I was the best PR person ever. I'm not sure he meant it altogether as a compliment at the time: But "Yesterday" helped. Even musicians like Buddy Rich had to say when they heard it: "Hey, wait a minute. I can't deny that . . ."'
While Paul McCartney was redirecting the course of the Beatles, eventually influencing his contemporaries, Bob Dylan was busy re-defining folk music. At the Newport Festival in July 1965, Dylan played electric guitar as he swung into 'Maggie's Farm' and stunned an audience who expected only acoustic guitar accompaniment from him. As he launched next into the song that would become one of his signatures, 'Like a Rolling Stone', the crowd booed, shouting: 'Play folk music: this is a sell-out! This is a folk festival! Get rid of that band!'
Dylan had entered the rock 'n' roll arena controversially, and he was to have a strong effect on the Beatles and on their music. But while Time magazine noted his impact, the unexpected sound of 'Yesterday' from the pen and voice of Paul McCartney went unobserved. New York's Village Voice did not even deign to mention the Beatles in 1965, except to denigrate Help! the Beatles' new movie.
'Yesterday' was simply born too early, in the evolution of media criticism, to receive its proper due. Axiomatically, critical appraisal for the Beatles and the shifts in popular music and culture in the 1960s and 1970s came when the era had gone. In one sense, the passage of time lent perspective; in another, it meant that the focus on the Beatles' music around 1965 was cursory, even naive, compared with the articulacy of rock criticism that has developed since the start of the 1970s and into the 1980s and 1990s. Nothing whatsoever, at the time of 'Yesterday"s arrival, pinpointed the significance and the potential of the song, commercially or artistically or even in the context of the Beatles' trajectory.
Britain fared better than the US in music coverage. Melody Maker, a weekly which originally leaned towards jazz, applauding singers of the calibre of Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee and the kind of music Jim McCartney enjoyed, had started publication in 1926. Cynical about pop, the paper heralded the Beatles as too important to ignore; its coverage was intensive and measured, but it did campaign for the Beatles to be honoured by their own country before they received the MBE.
Paul took a particular interest in the Melody Maker Mailbag column, which was seething with lively invective from old-timers who insisted that the new rockers could neither play nor write music.
Yet Melody Maker and its rival, the bigger-selling New Musical Express, paid scant attention to 'Yesterday' and did not see either its commercial future or its pivotal significance. 'How long before Yesterday becomes a standard?' asked the New Musical Express on 5 November 1965, nearly two months after its American release. That was the only note of prescience about the song struck by the British music press. Other pop weekly papers in Britain, Record Mirror and Disc, centred on the personalities of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the latest hit-makers. The country had, like America, breathless magazines for the teen-girl market, with deliciously evocative names like Fabulous, Petticoat, Mirabelle, Romeo, Raxy, Valentine, Boyfriend and Rave. All focused on the Beatles as heart-throbs but scarcely mentioned their music, still less their Perceptible switch of gear with 'Yesterday'. More serious attention “y ahead in 1967, the 'summer of love', when the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Among artists and observers, there are profound reflections on the relevance of 'Yesterday' to the Beatles and the music scene and on the impact the song had on them personally. Little Richard, the rock 'n' roll giant whose falsetto style and delivery was a seminal influence on the raunchier side of McCartney's work, speaks eloquently of the song. Describing it as a 'masterpiece', Richard says: 'That made you see something; that changed them from their rock 'n' roll thing. I think "Yesterday" brought respect to the Beatles. They weren't just a bunch of rock 'n' roll kids screaming, imitating and impersonating. They showed that they had a definition of themselves: singing in their own rights. They showed they had the ingredients, too, and that the ingredients were for the whole world and for every race, creed and culture. And it's still lasting today.'
A year after he performed 'Yesterday', Paul like the entire pop scene, was mesmerized by the outstanding album by the Beach Boys called Pet Sounds. Brian Wilson, the composing genius in that band, says that while he was not bowled over by the Beatles' early hit 'I Want to Hold Your Hand', their album Rubber Soul was the catalyst to his response. 'I tried Pet Sounds as an answer to Rubber Soul and I understood that Paul McCartney really liked that sound. And then they went in the studio and did Sgt Pepper! Damn! They exploded into creativity. It was a competitive thing but they were in a world of their own.'
Wilson admires many of the Beatles ballads and says of 'Yesterday': 'It's a very sad song. It makes you cry. In a sense, it's like looking back into the past which I do a lot myself, and I see what he means because sometimes when things get all messed up you start looking for other things that make you feel better. So I'm sure that's what he had in mind when he did that. Musically I thought it was very well done.'
Christopher Reeve, of Superman fame, remembers the division between adults and the young that existed before 'Yesterday' forced a rethink by the cynics. He recalls how as kids, many Americans were 'stunned' by the Beatles' hairstyles when they were first seen on The Ed Sullivan Show ' . . . and our parents were always saying they were not talented and they didn't have any musical ability. I remember how we used to defend them. I was studying piano at the time. The harmonies they got into, and the chord progressions — this was not just standard stuff, not just rock 'n' roll. But the song that really put it over the top, so that you could go to your parents and say: "These people are musicians", was "Yesterday". It was so unexpected from rock stars. And I think that's where parents, or at least my parents, were convinced that the Beatles were real musicians.'
One American parent whom the song certainly hooked was the mother of movie star Timothy Hutton, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his first film performance, in Ordinary People. 'We were living in Boston and my mother was a big Beatles fan, and she loved that song. The house was filled with Beatles songs and I have a real memory about that song.' As he heard the 'lovely beginning' to 'Yesterday' over and over from his upstairs room, Hutton remembers hearing his mother replaying the single and his thought as she did so: 'There she goes again! The two hundredth time today!'
An unforgettable memory of 'Yesterday"s impact comes from Chazz Palminteri, who played the intelligent gangster in Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway: 'I remember that song because I was making love to a girl in a motel and that song came on and I said: "what a great song this is!" And I leaned over and sat on the edge of the bed and I listened to the rest of the song. And she looked at me and she got really upset about it. And then we went back to going what we were doing. So it's one of those things I never forgot. It's absolutely true.'
The adventurousness of 'Yesterday' was a compass for the executives in the recording studio. When the Beatles began their assault on America, 'every engineer, every musician, did everything they could to imitate,' says Phil Ramone, the top-pedigree producer who has worked with Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Billy Joel and many others, and who co-produced McCartney's single 'Once Upon a Long Ago' in 1987. 'The brilliance of these guys was about the way they opened up the doors to something else, musically. They did not want to stop. In those days, it was hard to put bass on the vinyl like they did. We copied.'
Guitarist Craig Chaquico of Starship describes 'Yesterday' as 'one of the first songs where I realized that the lyrics were just as important as the guitar part'. Until he heard that song, he went to concerts 'where the acoustics were so bad you couldn't understand the words anyway. And I just fell in love with melodies and how the music made you feel. But I remember hearing "Yesterday", even as a little kid. I didn't have that many yesterdays as a little boy but it still reminded me of the girl I fell in love with last summer. That's the key to real good music: if it reminds you of a personal experience, really touches you in a personal way. And that song did.'
The actor-writer John Patrick Shanley, who wrote Moonstruck, recalls that he used the Ray Charles version of 'Yesterday' in his play Beggars in the House of Plenty, in New York. 'I used it to evoke a tremendous feeling of sadness about one era of my life in the Bronx, to close the second act in that play. So it means a lot to me.' The underlying yearning and sadness of the song covers many situations, Shanley considers. 'You remember all things with a certain emotional passion that was powerful in your life, even if they were unhappy. And you want to return there to revel in that feeling, on occasion. When you do, and you listen to a song like "Yesterday", it can be a very powerful combination.'
Typical of the many millions of Beatles fans, Sue Weiner hung on their every record and every nuance of their spoken words. Today she is a magazine editorial director in New York City; at sixteen, she was growing up in Levittown, in Long Island. And she fell in love with Paul McCartney - primarily through 'Yesterday'.
What Paul offered to millions was the antidote of sensitivity and affection to contrast to the Beatles' rock 'n' roll drive. Citing Paul's singing of 'Till There Was You' as 'the unforgettable moment when America met its next romantic hero', Sue Weiner says: 'There were other incredible songs. Great songs, sad songs, soft songs, hard songs. Wonderful and beautiful songs. But they were only songs . .. until "Yesterday". Nothing rang as true. From the very first instant, the song captured a yearning deep inside and then, when that pure voice, ripe with emotion, rang out the very first word "Yesterday", we all knew this was a song that would last.'
Thirty years later, Sue Weiner remembers with clarity what she loved about 'Yesterday' on first hearing. Tt shattered the myth that rock 'n' roll had to be hard to decipher. I didn't have to play the song twenty times before I knew what Paul was saying. I didn't even have to write the lyrics down to memorize them. They were as clear as song lyrics can get. And "Yesterday" hit me at a time when I was not yet ready to leave my childhood behind.'
Still a serious Beatles student and non-fanatical McCartney devotee, she says, unashamedly misty-eyed: 'I didn't know how quickly this excitement would pass and I'd long to be back to this time .. . but even though my mind didn't know, my heart heard what Paul was trying to tell us all: treasure these joyous times. They are so rare and so precious. So even in my happy hysteria (and that's the state I was in most days during the height of Beatlemania) I knew that it wouldn't last for ever. And that's what made it all the more special, and incredibly poignant. That's what "Yesterday" is all about.'
For Sue Weiner and for millions, 'No other Beatle was harmonizing over Paul's voice, no other instrument was drowning him out, and it seemed as if he was singing direct to me.' As for the lyrics: 'For the first time as a Beatles fan I caught a glimpse into Paul's soul and saw a darker place. It's only years later that I realize it's a place where the past and the future merge. As fans, we looked to the Beatles to show us the way - and Paul was giving all of his fans one of the most important life lessons. We took it deep inside our souls. We knew that one day that song would take on an entirely different meaning. And because we had learned so early, we'd be able to accept it.'
Two major British artists who studied the revolutionary music of the Beatles were transfixed by 'Yesterday' upon its release. 'The moment I heard it, I knew it was a classic,' says Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, who wrote 'Nights in White Satin' which has sold 5 million singles and has been recorded by 100 artists. He had just left his first band job, with Marty Wilde's Wildcats, when 'Yesterday' was released. Pointing out that nobody in pop music had tried the marriage of a pop song with a string quartet, Hayward suggests 'there was some influence, particularly in the opening, of Bob Dylan; there's an inversion that Paul uses on the open chord that reminds me of "The Times They Are a-Changin'".
Immediately a Beatles song was released in those years, Hayward recollects, 'I would learn everything they did. I had to look at everything they did from a musician's point of view, not for stage work. First, with "Yesterday", I had to work out the right chord inversions on the second bar. So many people play that Wrongly.
The song became part of every musician's life,' he adds, 'because it has a perfection of simplicity, of sentiment, and of feel. And that's what every songwriter hopes for. The choice of instruments is exactly right on the record; the McCartney and George Martin arrangement was just ideal. I think I knew in my heart that McCartney and Lennon were no longer writing all their material together. That was Paul's expression completely. I don't think it needed to be a single. Everything from their albums got played anyway. If Paul had never written another song, before or afterwards, "Yesterday" would put him among the greatest songwriters of all time.'
Cliff Richard, echoing that view, shares Justin Hayward's thought about the guitar work. 'One of "Yesterday"s secrets is that it's deceptively simple, and yet, though I've never played it on the guitar, I bet it's not that simple. If you break down the chord sequences, I imagine it's got some twist in the tail. The minute I heard the song in 1965 I knew it was a classic,' Cliff Richard said to me, independently of the same remark by Justin Hayward. 'I'm not really surprised it's the most recorded song. "White Christmas" has been around much longer, but in terms of quality, there's no doubt "Yesterday" ranges along with the best of standards. The sign of a really good song is that it can take all sorts of interpretations. "Yesterday" was a simple emotion to deal with. It wasn't typical of the Beatles, but neither was "Michelle". We all thought: Hello, what's this about? Suddenly, a middle-of-the-road, pretty ballad.'
The Beatles had a knack, Cliff observed, of writing songs that instantly touched the soul. 'Even if their meaning was obscure; you just had to dig around to find what it was.' He has never actually sung "Yesterday": 'Only in the bath, without a guitar; but there's still time, of course.'
The song will always have a special place in the hearts and souls of all McCartney fans, even those who were not particularly followers of Paul's work. Lori Citero, for example, was a 'Lennon girl' as she describes herself, but 'Yesterday' reached her with extraordinary power. Three years old when it was released, she can remember hearing it as if it were yesterday. 'It was on the radio; I didn't know it was a Beatles song but it got through to me even at that age. Through the years I grew to love the Beatles and that song did something to me. Paul proved himself a different kind of genius.' Now a nurse in New Jersey, she says: 'I thought it was a love song until I got older. Then you listen to the words and realize it could be about anyone; a relative, a sister, a lover. It affects everybody because everybody can choose who it identifies with for them.'
Until that song, Lori Citero avers, what people in America expected was 'more of the Yeah yeah yeah stuff. What she cannot comprehend is the sight of people at his concerts 'kissing, clutching, or even making out while he's singing songs like "Yesterday". I went to a concert at Giants Stadium, New Jersey and saw that happening during "Yesterday". Unbelievable! It's the moment in a Paul McCartney concert I wait for, when he sings "Yesterday" or my other favourite "My Love". How can these people think of that when listening to such music?' No other song will last like 'Yesterday', she believes. 'A song will win the Grammy award and be forgotten, but 'Yesterday' should be put in a time capsule in sodium. It definitely won't come again.'
Of his live performance of the song, Paul says he values 'Yesterday' for two reasons. 'It's a candle-holding moment for the audience, and for me it's a nice change of pace. I have a pretty definite feeling that the audience will go for it. It is something they want from me.' And he responds to that expectation: 'When I play to an audience, I'm a punter. If I go to hear the Rolling Stones, I want to hear "Satisfaction". I don't want to hear too much of their new material. If I go to see Bob Dylan, I want to hear him do "Mister Tambourine Man". When people come to hear Paul McCartney a lot of them want to hear "Let It Be", "The Long and Winding Road", "Fool on the Hill" and "Yesterday".
'When I sing it now, I think back, Now I'm fifty-two, I've seen friends come and go, I've seen loved ones die, I've been in life-threatening situations with the kids; somebody's in danger; somebody's in hospital. So when I sing "I'm not half the man I used to be", I can think: well, I know what I mean now. Then, I was some kid. I was twenty-two. And I hadn't become a man yet, barely. And I was doing these world-worn lyrics. So it's quite funny, thinking back on it.'
While he can understand nostalgic adults needing to hear 'Yesterday', he is bemused by 'little kids welling up tears for "Yesterday" . . . WOW! I think: my God, what's going on here? When I was twenty-two that same age group was doing that. Now I'm fifty-two. Excuse me, are you sure you ought to be crying at this? I'm your grandad! But it does have an effect. People like sad songs. That is something that has always stuck with me.'
In a small Ohio town in 1965, Terri Hemmert was a sixteen-year-old rhythm and blues fan who suspected the Beatles were 'just another white-boys cover group', trying but failing to achieve the black sound. She was converted by their appearance on the Ed-Sullivan Show. Now, thirty years later, as Chicago's leading disc jockey on station WXRT, Terri Hemmert reflects on how 'Yesterday' made its enormous impact on her.
'Adults at that point were not taking the Beatles seriously, but this was a really well-crafted song. Suddenly, they were contenders. They had done ballads before, but this was not typical. Songs like "And I Love Her" did not have the sophistication of "Yesterday".'
Much credit must go to George Martin, Terri Hemmert emphasizes, 'because in the wrong production hands, "Yesterday" could have sounded like a schlock ballad. It could easily have been lost. The fact that Martin put a string quartet on it, instead of a hundred and one living strings, gave the song an edge that rock fans had never heard before. I loved classical music but never thought that classics and rock would ever come together. But that song was the beginning of the whole art-rock movement, the precursor to other Paul McCartney work such as the piccolo trumpet touch in "Penny Lane", the sounds of the Moody Blues, the Beatles' Sgt Pepper, Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale". It all began with "Yesterday".'
The pathos of the lyrics struck Terri Hemmert and others as enigmatic: 'You aren't sure exactly what his thoughts are; he doesn't just throw it out like a typical ballad. Other versions of the song are drippy because the delivery is predictable, but Paul and that string quartet made it a masterpiece.'
Richard Carpenter, who with his sister Karen successfully recorded two Beatles songs early in a glittering career which earned them the respect of many artists, including Paul McCartney, has profound thoughts on 'Yesterday'.
'I heard it first in my car. By 1965 they were the most popular group on the planet. "Yesterday" was played on radio stations like KHJ immediately on its arrival. It was quite a departure from anything that had been on modern pop radio. A pop song with a string quartet and acoustic guitar was really different, not just for 1965. And the studio engineer [Norman Smith] did a superb job. The song climbed out of the radio: it was right there in the room with you. Between the song itself and the treatment, it really caught my ear. It was brilliantly and simply approached as an arrangement. By this time, being a Beatles follower, I had presumed that John pretty much did his stuff and Paul did his, though the credits said Lennon-McCartney. I thought this was probably Paul's melody with lyrics by John.'
Typical of the adult generation, Harold Carpenter, Karen and Richard's father, 'just flipped when he heard it'. Keen on the music of the big bands and singers like Bing Crosby and Perry Como, rather like Jim McCartney, Harold suddenly accepted that the Beatles offered something special as well as rock. 'People say Sgt Pepper finally made the Beatles acceptable with the older generation,' Richard Carpenter observes, 'but I really think "Yesterday" is what set it up.'
Visiting his record store in Downey, California, to buy the single, Richard found it had quickly sold out. 'But by the time it was re-ordered and I subsequently purchased it, I'd heard it so much on the radio that I didn't even bother to put it on the turntable. My copy is as new, to this day. I knew the tune and all the lyrics. I was turning nineteen, Karen was fifteen and it was right around the time her voice was coming through. She loved the song and we recorded it on our home tape recorder and Karen sang it at the few engagements we had at that time.'
Richard Carpenter, who arranged and produced all his work with Karen, says he did not think a great deal abut the lyrics of 'Yesterday', though as a singer he admired the 'nice vowel sounds, the concentration on the A's instead of the E's. I thought far more about the construction of the song and its arrangement. It was a vindication for me, as a very early Beatles follower, that they proved the sceptics wrong and were indeed capable of producing timeless music'
There is only one thing to be said about a song like "Yesterday",' says Nathan East, the eminent bass guitarist who tours with Phil Collins and Eric Clapton. 'It was sent down from heaven where it was born, as one of the top five greatest songs ever written. I feel that strongly about it. Not only musically but with its lyrical content, it goes through changes and progressions that have been borrowed and stolen by so many writers after it, just as bass players have copied Paul. I don't mind admitting that I have mugged him! The first time I heard "Yesterday", when I was about ten and miming to the Beatles with a broomstick as my guitar, while I watched them on the television, I knew it was a timeless piece of work from one of those guys who invented the wheel of music'
To a lifelong, ardent McCartney fan named Phyllis Lattner, 'Yesterday' has an especially powerful memory. Now a legal secretary in Manhattan, she was a thirteen-year-old living in Washington DC when the record was released. 'I was a carefree teenager and my biggest problem was saving up enough money for the next Beatles album which I did by saving my lunch money every day. That's how I lost my baby fat. They were the biggest influences on my life, especially Paul.'
It is people's ability to identify with the lyrics, applying whatever interpretation they wish, that makes 'Yesterday' so special, Phyllis Lattner believes. 'Everyone has a time in their lives which they wish they could go back to, whether it's for the company of someone who has died, or a pet who has gone, or an old boyfriend. It is so poignant, it almost makes you cry.' Adulthood has not diminished her appetite for following Paul's career; she has seen him perform the song thirteen times, including two successive nights at New York's Ed Sullivan Theatre in 1993. 'I long not just for any "Yesterday",' she adds, 'but for the time when the song was first released.'
To Paul McCartney, 'Yesterday' literally means Liverpool. The character of the great city that shaped him is forever embedded in Paul's soul. In 1982 I interviewed the outstanding American rock singer-writer Carl Perkins, whose rockabilly work was among the Beatles' inspiration. He had spent some time with Paul and told me an intriguing anecdote which spoke volumes. Perkins, relaxing at his home in Jackson, Tennessee, said how much the town meant to him, adding: 'And Paul told me he feels just the same about his city, Liverpool. He said: Carl, Fve tasted the jet set life, and it isn't for me. I like to get back there as often as I can, with the real people.'
McCartney has demonstrated extraordinary attachment and loyalty to Merseyside, maintaining a house there, performing his ambitious and critically acclaimed Oratorio in Liverpool Cathedral; giving a majestic outdoor concert on the banks of the river at King's Dock in 1990; planning the 1995 opening of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.
There is a Beatles story on every street in Liverpool, though the city was late in celebrating its heritage as the birthplace, physically and musically, of popular music's greatest group. But in 1990 'The Beatles Story', a permanent exhibition crammed with artefacts, memorabilia and replicas of the entire phenomenon of the Beatles, opened at Albert Dock. There is non-stop Beatles music and 'Yesterday' is played every day as the place teems with international tourists.
By coincidence, Shelagh Johnston, the manager of 'The Beatles Story', has a unique link to Paul's yesterdays. Her mother, Helen Carney, was a midwife, and when Shelagh was six she moved into the house at 72 Western Avenue, Speke, vacated by the McCartney family, who went to another house nearby before moving to Allerton.
When Shelagh was thirteen, her mother was surprised when the postman delivered a letter from the Royal College of Midwives addressed to her old friend Maty McCartney. Shelagh was asked to take the letter to Jim McCartney in Allerton. Visiting the McCartney home, in 1963, Shelagh found Jim McCartney welcoming; over a cup of tea he inquired about her mother and said he did not know how to cope with the fan mail that was beginning to arrive for his Beatle son. Shelagh volunteered to help, and for the next two years liaised over the fans' letters until Brian Epstein was forced to organize a fan club more formally with the appointment of a full-time secretary, Freda Kelly.
During her regular visits to Jim McCartney's home, Shelagh returned a possession of Paul's which he had left behind in the loft at Western Avenue: a Rupert Bear annual. Jim said she could keep it as a memento.
So when 'Yesterday' was released, its impression on Shelagh Johnston was touching in its evocation of her youth and that of Paul. 'Although it's a love song, I think that somewhere in there must be memories of his mother', she believes. 'For someone so young, it's a song from a person who's lived a lot. It's full of his feelings, and it's a comment on how suddenly one's life can change. The melody got to me as much as the words; the success of any song, no matter what the words are, depends on the melody. This song's story, to me, is a reflection by Paul on his childhood and how important those years were to him.'
By 1984, Shelagh Johnston was one of Liverpool's dozen official Beatles guides, having passed the rigorous test to qualify for the job. Unexpectedly, Paul phoned her one evening to ask if she still had his Rupert Bear book since he was making a film on the subject and wanted to use it. 'I said yes, I've still got it; it was in my wardrobe next to my wedding album and GCE certificates.' However, since it was a 1948 black and white edition and the film needed a coloured edition, it could not be used.
They met for a one-hour chat on the day Paul went to Liverpool in 1984 for the premiere of his film Give My Regards to Broad Street. 'We talked about our childhoods and mums and Western Avenue. I took him two roses from the garden in Western Avenue.' Paul said he would press them and keep them as a reminder of his yesterdays.
Songwriters, musicians and other artists consider 'Yesterday' important both in the story of Paul McCartney's evolution and in the story of popular music's growth.
'It was a very brave composition and a brave decision to record it,' says Keith Emerson, the keyboards player whose band Emerson, Lake and Palmer helped to implement the heavier rock sounds of the 1970s. 'Having been classically trained, my attention was drawn to it as one of the first eclectic examples of how the Beatles would progress. "Yesterday" started them in their search, whereby they would move ahead to use Indian raga forms, Salvation Army Bands, and much more.'
Pondering McCartney's early feeling that he originally believed he had subconsciously derived it from another tune, Emerson adds: 'I could have sworn I'd heard it before, that it was from a classical piece of music. But then, I do believe that Paul could have dreamed it. I have written songs without knowing where they came from and that's what must have happened in Paul's case with "Yesterday". Ginger Baker once said that when he played drums sometimes, it was as if someone was standing behind him, doing it.' Creativity could be scary: 'It was very untypical of what Paul McCartney had been turning out. It's as if it was beamed down to him from somewhere.'
Many songwriters believe that some of their work is sent to them by a force outside their conscious selves. This is not necessarily connected to a religious conviction, but has a bearing on a spirituality which gives birth to creativity. Since Paul has used the words 'awesome' and 'spooky' to describe its arrival in his head, this theory merits analysis. 'Even if Paul didn't want to write "Yesterday", it was going to happen,' Emerson says.
'I have a feeling he could not stop himself; he was being remotely controlled by another force that none of us can understand,' says the songwriter Roger Greenaway, composer of hits including 'I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing' and 'You've Got Your Troubles'.* 'It was coming from God knows where, rather like David Gates who woke up and wrote that song 'IP in about fifteen minutes, lyric and melody. It was a moment of inspiration, some ethereal force that determines that this will come through the writer, whether he intends it or not. There's no other reason for it. For Paul to be able to write such a classic melody on such simple chords and then put a lyric to it of that depth could probably not be done completely consciously. It wasn't contrived in any way. The Beatles plagiarized nothing and nobody, and have not been matched since. Nor will they be.'
'If you're looking for explanations,' Paul McCartney says, 'and I'm not a great one for explanations, actually .. . I'm just so lucky I'm blessed. When people say it's a God-given gift, I'm not a great religious guy but I'd go along with that. I like the word "gift" . .. it washed over me when I was younger. They used to say: "It's a gift you've got." Actually, as you get older, you think: that's a good word. Somebody gave me that. So I love all that stuff, I'm very proud of all that stuff now. Whereas when you're younger you cover it up a little bit more.' His personality was gregarious,
* - Roger Greenaway toured Britain on Beatles concert bills in 1963 as a singer with the Kestrels. Later, as half of David and Jonathan, he made records of 'Yesterday' and 'Michelle'. A successful songwriter, he is a former chairman of the Performing Right Society and now European director of ASCAP, the songwriters' organisation.
to his advantage. 'I didn't cover it up that much because if I had, I would never even have tried to write a song called "Yesterday".'
'Yesterday' will not be superseded, Roger Greenaway declares. 'If s inconceivable to think of a new song being covered by more than two-and-a-half thousand artists.' This is not a negative view of future creativity, he says, but based on his theory that the saturation point in writing popular music may have been reached. Greenaway adds: 'The chromatic scale has only twelve notes. Computer experts will tell you that the combinations are almost infinite on those twelve notes. I actually believe that the combinations that work are not infinite.'
A more pragmatic and less euphoric view about 'Yesterday' and songwriting generally is held by Don Black, the lyricist who, co-incidentally, managed Matt Monro. Black, who wrote the Grammy Award-winning song 'Born Free' as well as James Bond film themes, and has worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber on Sunset Boulevard among his many credits, considers 'Yesterday' truthful and honest. 'It touches a nerve and has a universal theme which every songwriter looks for. Everybody can relate to the situation where one's troubles seemed so far away. And it is unusual for such a sad song to sweep the world. Most standards carry a more optimistic air, citing love and romance. But here is a heartbreaker of a song. That's what is so rare about its success.'
But, exploding what he considers to be a myth about songwriters 'who the public sometimes think live in a pink cloud,' Don Black says: 'In reality, the job of the songwriter is to write; that's what he does. People in other walks of life get up and go to work. The songwriter gets up and goes, let's say, to the piano and stares at a blank piece of paper and fills it with words and ideas. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes a magic happens. Paul had a great day that morning. He got up and wrote "Yesterday".'
The figures concerning 'Yesterday' are astounding, but it might be difficult to find a more impressive performance for the song than that of the French pianist Richard Clayderman. In 1978, when he was starting his career and had success in Germany, his record company there asked him to come up with songs for an album combining classical interpretations with contemporary winners. 'Yesterday' was one of his immediate popular music choices, alongside Francis Lai's 'Love Story', Paul Simon's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and Henry Mancini's 'Moon River'. The instrumental album, entitled Dreams, has sold between 20 and 25 million copies internationally.
Describing 'Yesterday' as 'among the miraculous songs, from the gods', Richard Clayderman, who speaks little English, says he is not attuned to the words. 'I am concerned with the melody, which is just gorgeous. It brings many sensations; to any musician, "Yesterday" is perfection.' Touring the world (in 1995 he played several shows in China with the Be'jing Symphony Orchestra), Clayderman includes the song in all his concerts within a medley that includes three other songs by Paul McCartney: 'Let It Be', 'Get Back' and 'The Long and Winding Road'.
Dr Glenn Wilson notes that the inflection of the song is hymnal, and that it has a religious tone. There is almost a feeling that Paul could sing 'Amen' at any point. '"Yesterday" frequently goes to a note that is not where it actually seems to be aiming at,' he feels. 'And it has to re-settle. It always goes to a note slightly oblique to the one it is going to settle on. This tendency in song to shoot slightly astray from a key note, or a stable resting point, is one of the most emotional forms of music. It gives people a direct emotional tingle.' A song with a similar flavour, cited by the psychologist, is 'We'll Gather Lilacs (In the Spring Again)', which lyrically and musically offers a texture close to that of 'Yesterday'. With words and music by Ivor Novello, 'We'll Gather Lilacs' evoked a happier time, addressing soldiers away from home in the Second World War.
The colossal success of 'Yesterday' since the 1960s is explained thus by the psychologist: 'People are happy now to look back to what they felt was a more optimistic era: psychedelia, colourful clothes, a feeling of optimism and the new youth culture. A lot of problems we confront now had not appeared: there was not the unemployment, no AIDS, and racial problems and urban riots were not so prevalent.' 'Yesterday"s enduring popularity is locked into memories of what for millions seems to be a halcyon era.
To another observer, Liverpool-born Paul Cooper, 'Yesterday' is a very special song that has marked his life. He was four years old when the song was released by the Beatles; his thirteen-year-old sister Susan wept with joy over McCartney's 'Yesterday' as she plastered her Allerton bedroom with pictures of the Beatles and bought every record upon its release. Today, Paul Cooper sings and plays 'Yesterday' professionally, imitating McCartney as accurately as he can, for that is his role as the bass guitarist in the Bootleg Beatles, the world's most remarkable sound-alike band which has been climbing in international popularity since being formed in 1980.
Cooper has studied every nuance of McCartney's work to arrive at an almost eerie replica of his voice. In packed arenas around the world, from London's Royal Albert Hall and Palladium through to Tokyo's Budokan, all scenes of actual Beatlemania thirty years ago, Cooper and the Bootleg Beatles leave audiences transfixed. For thousands born too late to see the originals, this is the nearest they can experience to the real thing in concert and the Bootlegs deal chronologically with every phase of the Beatles story in music, aided by a backdrop of films that recall the period, from Beatlemania through to the end.
With clarity, Paul Cooper remembers how shocked his parents appeared when 'Yesterday' popped up on the Help! album and on television appearances. 'Until that moment they considered the Beatles long-haired louts. They didn't mind us buying the records, but suddenly with "Yesterday" it was: "Oh, OK then." The criticism suddenly stopped. They had respect. Before they knew what was happening Matt Monro had a hit with it and the game was up. I think it broke through to a whole new generation who until then had regarded them as a rock 'n' roll group.'
It has always struck Paul Cooper as odd that the twenty-two-year-old McCartney could write so introspectively about his young life: 'If s quite appealing when an older man looks back on his life, but the fascinating thing here is that he was a young man and a very successful Beatle at that.' Performing 'Yesterday' around the world, Paul Cooper says: T get more comments about that song than any other. At the end of every show people come up to me to say the person next to them was crying or had their head in their hands, or had goose pimples. It touches people.'
He feels 'incredible pressure' when he steps up to sing it after the group has performed 'Help!' 'It means such a lot as a song both to me and to the audience. Although I am trying to be precise with the tuning, I also want to try to sound like if s very easy. I refer back to Paul McCartney's version often, to check the tempo. He floats it; he sings it a bit faster than I do. His voice is incredibly sweet on "Yesterday". I've found I can add more pathos if I slow it down a fraction.'
As a guitarist, Paul Cooper finds McCartney's tuning arrangements for the singing and playing of 'Yesterday' to be unorthodox and 'fascinating'. 'He sings it in the key of F, but he actually plays it on the guitar in G, so the acoustic guitar has been dropped a tone. He probably did this because the open string sound of the G chord was a better sound, but he wanted his vocal to be in F. So he dropped the acoustic guitar a tone so that he could play G, but he was actually forming a G chord, which I still think is amazing, because if you do play an F, your fingers are all over the fretboard and it doesn't sound so sweet as having the open jangly bit at the end.'
The key of F, Paul Cooper points out, makes it difficult for an audience to sing along to. 'A bit high. But there's another side to performing "Yesterday". The audience wants to see me recreating it precisely like him, and you can hear a pin drop. When I first played it on stage, I thought: I'm either doing this incredibly badly, or everyone's gone home! But when the song was finished, and this still is the case, the volume of applause is unbelievable. It used to be regarded as a ballad by winsome Paul. Now it's an anthem, an even grander song than he could ever have imagined possible.'
Touring with the Bootleg Beatles, and accompanying Paul Cooper on 'Yesterday', is the classically based Duke String Quartet, whose first violinist, Louisa Fuller, observes that the sound of live strings always adds something especially personal to a song. 'If the strings were taken away from the song, it might not be such a powerful performance. The strings don't come in until the second verse and when they do, it's a really beautiful moment. People who listen to the words won't think of that. When he sings "Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be", the strings subconsciously move people more than they realize.
'It isn't difficult to play because it's quite slow. The only difficult part I have is in the third verse where the violin goes up to a top A, a long-held top note which everyone knows and would recognize. I have to pitch it exactly and, doing it live, I have to pluck it out of the air, coming from low down on the instrument, and then I hold the note for a long time.'
Reflecting on Paul McCartney's diktat at his recording session that the strings should not use vibrato, Louisa Fuller explains why there might have been resistance to Paul's wishes: 'Most people are used to piling vibrato on to everything. Because vibrato slightly masks any tuning problems, if it's not quite bang on, it will still sound great. Take the vibrato away and it is laid bare. To be asked not to do it shocks a string player because vibrato can make a sound very sweet. You can pile on a lot of vibrato and hope for the best. If you take vibrato away, you have to work much, much harder with your bow to get the Beatles sound.'
The device of vibrato ('a vibration caused by wobbling very quickly the finger that touches the string, creating a sound wave') can make the music seem colder, says Louisa Fuller. 'In a string quartet, where you have four people playing close harmony, as on "Yesterday", if you are not using vibrato, the musicians have to hit every note accurately. On the top note of the McCartney record, vibrato is apparent... I don't know if it crept in and Paul McCartney wished it hadn't, but it does sound very nice.'
If rivalry was going to enter the Beatles, then the emergence of 'Yesterday' in 1965 would have been a catalyst. 'One of the great things about the Beatles'; Paul reflects now, 'is that we just weren't an average rock 'n' roll act. If we were required at the London Palladium or say on The Ed Sullivan Show, we could always perform something from our cabaret days. In the earliest days in Liverpool, I remember us asking Brian [Epstein] to get us engagements in cabaret after we'd finished a ballroom gig; we wanted work, any kind, for more money and experience. So we were never just in it for rock 'n' roll. We could pull out "Till There Was You", just as Gerry Marsden (and the Pacemakers) could do "You'll Never Walk Alone".
"We always liked the fact that this gave us a little bit more elbow, a little bit more status. We were able to say: well, look, we're a strong, rocking band: "I'm Down", "Long Tall Sail/', 'Twist and Shout", "Rock and Roll Music" ... but this band's got a lot of other things going. There's always a moment we can turn on the ballad.'
As a group, that coalition worked perfectly. Lennon outwardly adored the whole concept of rock 'n' roll, dismissing most other styles of music until later in his life, when he became a self-confessed romantic, admitting that he enjoyed ballads too. 'John sang the ballad "Up A Lazy River" and played the "Harry Lime" theme on guitar,' Paul remembers, as examples of John's true scope. George Harrison, whose early musical reference points were Lonnie Donegan, Carl Perkins and George Formby, was soon to lead the Beatles into exploration of Indian music forms, with his adoption and learning of the sitar. Ringo Starr admired the jazz drummer Gene Krupa and country and western music.
Paul McCartney was, though, the supreme popular music writer in the Beatles. None of the other three could, or would, have written 'Yesterday'. Whatever their organic talents, it is doubtful if Lennon or Harrison would have even marshalled the patience to nurse a song from the autumn of 1963 until reaching the recording studio in the summer of 1965. McCartney's extraordinary resolution and discipline, even at twenty-two, enabled him to see it through.
The interaction and chemistry between the four Beatles was harmonious at that stage. The roller-coaster of creative triumphs, fame and fortune was a heady mixture, and at the time 'Yesterday' was hitting the world's airwaves they still had a year before they would call a halt to their concert touring days.
But the frisson which Paul must have enjoyed as 'Yesterday' signalled his artistry must have fuelled a little envy or sideways looks, I suggested. 'There may have been resentment, but I'd have been the last to know,' he replied. 'There wasn't any open resentment of its success. I don't think there were any ripples.' American disc jockeys looking for tittle-tattle said that since 'Yesterday' represented the first solo by a Beatle, it might mean something deeper. 'Inevitably!' Paul says. 'We simply said: No, it's not that. It's just one man's solo work. There was nothing deep about it. Certainly not at that stage; the bad times came much later.
'I dunno. This was always one of the dangers, that one of us would step out ... in a photo session once for a publicity shot. I remember showing up once in a grey suit and everyone had dark suits. And they'd take the piss out of me: "Go on, go to the front with your grey suit!" I said: "I didn't know what you were all going to wear." I wasn't consciously aware of any rifts. There were, later, when I had to sue them to save money for all of us. Then it reared again. It was three against one, me, and they said: Oh, here he is again, big-head.
'No, I'd always tried to play "Yesterday" down. That's why we didn't release it as a single in Britain. If I'd been trying to get out front, I'd have said: "Hey, this is a great song, guys. I gotta have it out; come on!" We all thought it wasn't very good for our image. We were basically a rock 'n' roll band. It seemed good for an album, a nice little filler, a slow tune: "And now for something completely different." No way did we want it out as a single, in Britain especially. America was different; Capitol could do what they liked, and they did. And what happened to "Yesterday" was very nice. But it wasn't planned that way by me.'
At the end of every year, the Beatles recorded a Christmas message to members of their fan club, sent to them on a 45rpm flexi-disc. At the end of 1965 they opened their message by satirizing 'Yesterday', singing it a capella: "Now it looks as if we're here to stay," they sing. It was a typical slice of Beatles buffoonery, an attempt at crossing the sound of a barbershop quartet and doo-wop. Out of tune, sounding rather like four teenagers after a drunken night out, they have a laugh in their voices as they doodle through Paul's song.
Paul McCartney's instinct that 'Yesterday' should not succumb to vaudevillian excess was confirmed by his own delivery. His soft, instantly identifiable voice gives the lyric an air of confidentiality, of being a piece of prose set to music rather than self-conscious construction as a hit song. It's beauty was, and remains, its intimacy, its unblemished innocence, and a very slight air of faltering nervousness. Listening to McCartney's voice, you could be forgiven for feeling that this was a demonstration tape, and he might want to stop the tape and re-start it. He's in your lounge, in your bedroom, in your car, and he's getting through with a rich familiarity. Like all the great standards, from 'Moonlight in Vermont' to 'Stardust', from 'Skylark' to 'Imagination', 'Yesterday' is distinctive with a simplicity and honesty that, as any songwriter will testify, is fiendishly difficult to achieve with any credibility. 'To write that three-minute hit song and come up with something lasting and memorable is what we all strive for,' says Justin Hay-ward. 'It's the challenge that faces us every time we go to write, and it's not often we get it right in every respect.'
The rare achievement of Paul McCartney with 'Yesterday' was that having 'heard' a melody, he marshalled his art as a brilliant communicator, marrying the tune with a message, and words, that will forever touch nerves. As the celebrated writer Alan Jay Lerner said, the best work from a songwriter usually comes when the melody arrives first; that way, he has to compress the lyric into something that already exists, and it acts as a discipline. That happened with 'Yesterday'.
Paul feels that if the string quartet had not been employed on the song, 'Yesterday' would have been 'another "This Boy", or "If I Fell" . . . the Beatles combo doing a slow song, which people were used to.' George Martin's string quartet theory was to lift the song into a different sphere.
McCartney's own performances of his song show a remarkable consistency. The two most hypnotic are on the mono album of Help! which projects a raw, upfront atmosphere in contrast with the more distant stereo version; and on a television documentary screened in Britain in 1973 called James Paul McCartney. Networked by Sir Lew Grade's ATV, this was Paul's first post-Beatles delivery of the song. The tempo is slower than usual, opening with Paul and his acoustic guitar against a taped strings. But it is the fragility of his voice through those lyrics, with an almost knowing wink in his vocals, that clinches this riveting performance. It is McCartney palpably seeking to repossess his eight-year-old song and replenish it with a warmth and an authority that only the song's writer could implant.
And by then, such a reclamation was necessary. On the road to its current status, 'Yesterday' has been caressed, orchestrated lovingly, sung raunchily, mauled, jazzed-up, over-pitched by muscular vocalists, delivered simply at the piano, and punched out conscientiously by balladeers or country singers with a ferocity it never deserved. It speaks volumes for the song that it attracts -and often survives - interpretations from every conceivable strata of artist, popular and classical.
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Elvis Presley, who so feared the ascent of the Beatles, might have been expected to grip the song firmly, but he seems almost bashful with his live-on-stage-in-Las Vegas performance, captured for posterity in 1970. Marred by back-up singers who answer him back (he sings 'Yesterday', they repeat the word chorally), Presley loses the chance to give the lyric the colour and density his voice could often deliver on an emotional ballad. Tammy Wynette turns in a robust, convincing performance and Placido Domingo gives it everything, including majesty and a distant, detached dignity in a serious operatic reading. Tom Jones's unmistakable heavyweight punch is the precise opposite of Paul McCartney's gentle original, Jones grasping every ounce of the lyric firmly round the neck. It's a vintage 1968 performance, demonstrating Tom Jones's spectacular swashbuckling style.
There was a time when it would have been anathema for Frank Sinatra to cover a Beatles composition; in the early 1960s their styles of music appeared to be polarized, threatened by the thrust of Lennon and McCartney and the bombardment of British rock 'n' roll. American ballad singers over-reacted to the Beatles' long hair and youth. But here is Sinatra endorsing Paul's song with a finesse and an artistry, and that yearning and timelessness that is his hallmark. It's warming to hear a master of his style so at ease on what to him must have seemed refreshing; a newish song. Since he has spoken about the dearth of good contemporary writers, he was quick to recognize a modern gem.
Contrasting with Paul McCartney's definitive, almost pastoral reading, 'Yesterday' proves its greatness as a song by the boundaries it crosses, the unexpected genres of music it can enter with versatility. In a modern jazz setting, the trumpet of Lee Morgan and his band skips deliciously through the melody with an improvisational fire that would never have been expected to yield such a stimulating result. Erroll Garner, the master jazz pianist, flits through it politely. Sarah Vaughan converts it into a jazzy foxtrot. The Newport Male Voice Choir treat it sombrely, rather Sundayish. The Seekers sound far too pure and syrupy, reducing the words to nothing. Lou Rawls beefs it up in a near-jazz treatment. Acker Bilk's clarinet treats it to a gorgeous, limpid lower-register version.
Marianne Faithfull tries too hard to sound genteel, and the cello-laden Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra gives it predictably rich sweep. Dionne Warwick sounds utterly charmed by lyrics she can get inside, delivering an unexpectedly bewitching reading topped at the end by a church bell which sounds absolutely in keeping. Pepe Jaramillo offers a rumba treatment, and Paul's friend the late Alma Cogan, who heard the song in its true infancy, gives it a bolero treatment; her infectious stage vivacity actually comes across on record. Maty Wells, the Tamla Motown singer whom the Beatles admired so much that they invited her on one of their British tours, performs 'Yesterday' gracefully on her album Love Songs to the Beatles.
The country and western contingent has indulged heavily in 'Yesterday': Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson sound comfortably together on it, but Billie Jo Spears's jerky treatment pawns the elegance of the song in favour of gimmickry. Cilia Black, a friend of the Beatles since their Liverpool years, offers a light, airy version that wins through by unaffected simplicity. There's Gladys Knight, soulful and heart-rending with her determination to rip the song apart constructively; by contrast Diana Ross and the Supremes sound strangely robotic, devoid of any emotion. Richard Clayderman's honeyed piano injects a flower)' treatment that Paul was, perhaps, subconsciously fearing when he insisted that the violinists steered away from the vibrato technique. Perry Como, of course, relaxes into the song. The virtuoso jazz-based guitarist Joe Pass delivers a pristine, decorative interpretation showing how much the melody can lend itself to soulful instrumental extemporization.
Among the most astonishing versions of 'Yesterday' are those from Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye. Using his piano instead of a guitar, Charles, in his 1967 version, positively rasps the words, punctuated by telling silences: 'Suddenly . . . there's a shadow hanging over me, yeah,' he announces. ' . . . Love was such an easy game to play . . . yes it was.' Ending with block piano chords, the performance is sheer Ray Charles and it's the strength of the song that is once again proved; if it can be crunched home by Ray Charles, it has a life of its own.
Marvin Gaye, too, dramatizes the song into a mix of Motown and gospel. 'People, now I need a place to hide away . . . now I long, long, long for yesterday . . . Talkin' 'bout yesterday,' he sings. If Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye can take hold of it, as well as disparate artists from fields a million miles apart, then 'Yesterday' has a heart and soul freely available for transplant.
There is a pleasing irony that the most convincing, unpretentious version of 'Yesterday', after McCartney's own, remains the track from the first person to cover it. Matt Monro's immaculate diction, his commanding authority and robustness, still seem perfectly tailored for this simple yet exceptional ballad. deorge Martin's orchestral arrangement for Monro, with neat SUKar figures and light strings, sets it off comfortably and the singer offers a confident, gripping performance in the grand tradition of ballad reading.
Paul says he has heard relatively few of the cover versions but is flattered by the attention the song has merited in thirty years. 'I love it. I'm proud. The song exceeded my dreams.'