"YESTERDAY": A MISCELLANY
'Yesterday' by the Beatles finally reached the British singles chart eleven years after it had been recorded. In February 1976 the Beatles' contract with EMI Records expired and the label reissued twenty-three Beatles singles, unleashing a wave of nostalgia. 'Yesterday' was among these. In March 1976 it peaked at number four in the Top 30 chart compiled by Melody Maker, five in the New Musical Express list, and eight in the Top Fifty of the trade paper Music Week. In that year, Paul's new band Wings triumphed in the USA, playing in twenty-one cities. He included 'Yesterday' in his repertoire and it was on the live triple-album that came from that tour in December 1976, Wings Over America.
'Yesterday' became, in 1988, the most performed song on American radio in fifty years, with five million airplays registered by that year. The citation was made by Broadcast Music Incorporated, one of the two major song royalty collection organizations in the USA. The first song in the repertoire of the performing rights organization to reach the 5 million figure, the achievement of 'Yesterday' represented more than 250,000 hours of airplay. If broadcast continuously, the 5 million performances until 1988 would account for more than twenty-eight years of airplay, until the year 2016.
By 1993 the figure had risen to 6 million broadcasts of the song, and Paul was honoured with a presentation at the annual awards dinner in London hosted by Broadcast Music Incorporated and Britain's Performing Right Society. Paul is a member of the latter organization. By 1994, the figure for US broadcasts was 6,480,000. The song is averaging 50,000 plays on American radio every three months.
'Yesterday' is not the only Beatles song to achieve a landmark statistic in American airplay. Paul's song 'Michelle' and George Harrison's 'Something' have each been played 4 million times. Three-million-airplay awards have been made to Paul's compositions 'Let It Be' and 'Hey Jude', with 2 million to 'Here, There and Everywhere', 'Eleanor Rigby', 'Penny Lane' and 'The Long and Winding Road'. John Lennon's 'Imagine', and George Harrison's 'Here Comes the Sun', have passed the 2 million mark.
These figures are provided by Broadcast Music Incorporated, a performing rights organization which represents songwriters and publishers around the world. Since 1940, BMI has accumulated more than l 1/2 million songs in its repertoire. Performance figures are determined from logged reports of approximately 500,000 hours annually submitted by US radio networks plus local outlets, and a census of 6 million hours of television annually in the US.
There are six verses, comprising eighty-four words and twenty-five lines, in the song, including the final 'humming' of the main theme to the tune of 'I believe in yesterday'. In all his post-Beatles recordings and performances of the song, Paul has omitted the last two verses, whose words repeat the second and third verses. T use it as a highspot but try not to milk it dry,' he says of his live shows. 'I realize I only do half of it. I'm so inexact, it's unbelievable! I suddenly realized during one tour that I hadn't been doing it right. I'd cut it short, which is a weird, inexact attitude. But I quite like that. I'm not too fussed, not too precious with it.'
'Yesterday's nearest competitors for the title of the world's most recorded song are both American: 'Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree' (1973) and 'Stardust' (1929). Both have been recorded more than 1,000 times.
Sung by Dawn, featuring Tony Orlando, 'Tie a Yellow Ribbon' topped the British and US charts in the spring of 1973. It was written by Larry Russell Brown and Irwin Levine, and the storyline of the song was based on truth: a man who had served three years in prison was returning home on a bus in Georgia. He had written a letter to his wife saying that he would understand if she had not waited for him, but if she still loved him, her message of confirmation could be a yellow ribbon tied around the old oak tree in the city square of their home town. She did this, and the man saw it as his bus arrived.
Yellow ribbons became symbolic of peace in the US as a result of the song. In 1981 they were displayed nationally to celebrate the release from Iran of hostages after 444 days in captivity; and ribbons reappeared during the 1991 Gulf war.
'Stardust' is, ironically, one of Paul McCartney's favourite compositions. It was written by the legendary Hoagy Carmichael, with lyrics by Mitchell Parish. The song was featured in The Eddy Duchin Story, a biographical movie about the 1930s and 1940s pianist-bandleader. 'Stardust' was first recorded in 1930 by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Band, with Hoagy Carmichael playing piano, ragtime-style.
'Stardust' has for decades been considered by ballad singers and musicians to be one of the most beautiful songs in its genre. Frank Sinatra has described it as also one of the most difficult to sing. Hoagy Carmichael, a pianist who had a unique, hesitant and charming baritone delivery, sang a definitive version. Born in Bloomington, Indiana, on 22 November 1899, he died in Palm Springs, California, on 28 December 1981.
'White Christmas', often thought of as a possible contender for the title, falls far short of either 'Yesterday', 'Stardust' or 'Tie A Yellow Ribbon', with approximately 300 cover versions on record. However, the Bing Crosby record alone of 'White Christmas' has sold more than 25 million copies. Sheet music sales averaged 300,000 annually during the 1950s.
The song was featured in the movies Holiday Inn, Blue Skies and White Christmas. The music and the lyrics were written in 1942 by Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline in Russia on 11 May 1888. He died in New York on September 1989.
Six years after 'Yesterday', Paul wrote and recorded a song called 'Tomorrow' for the Wings debut album, Wild Life. Continuing the theme of time, he wrote 'Backwards Traveller' (on his 1978 album London Town) and 'Here Today', his tribute song to John Lennon (on his 1982 album Tug of War). This latter session was the only time since 'Yesterday' that he again used a string quartet, although he has featured strings on his work many times. Tug of War marked a reunion by Paul with George Martin.
'Yesterday' has not won a Grammy Award. It was expected to figure in the 1966 presentations but the Record of the Year title went to 'A Taste of Honey' by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Song of the Year went to 'The Shadow of Your Smile' written by Paul Webster and Johnny Mandel. Best Male Solo Vocal was won by Frank Sinatra for 'It Was a Very Good Year'; and Best Contemporary Single went to 'King of the Road' by Roger Miller. However, in 1967 Paul's 'Michelle' won a Grammy for Best Song, and in the same year he won another Grammy for the Best Contemporary Solo Vocal performance (with 'Eleanor Rigby'). Paul won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 1990.
As a single, 'Yesterday' sold more than 3 million copies internationally. It was number one single in Canada, New Zealand, Finland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Hong Kong. It reached number two in Australia. It was also a hit in Italy, France and Malaysia.
Apart from Paul McCartney's theatrically-released films, 'Yesterday' is thought to have been included in only one feature film, All This and World War Two, released in 1976, which married cover versions of Beatles songs ('Yesterday' was sung here by David Essex) with powerful war images.
'Yesterday' was not performed in concert by the Beatles until the tour which took them to West Germany, Japan, the Philippines and the USA/Canada from 24 June to 29 August 1966. They did not perform the song in concert in 1965.
Since the Beatles, Paul has chosen to perform 'Yesterday' in concert from 1975.
The first tour, 1975/6, visited Britain, Australia, Europe, the USA/Canada, Europe again and Britain again.
The second tour, 1979, was of Britain only.
The third tour (called the World Tour) was 1989/90.
The fourth tour (called the New World Tour) was 1993.
Paul did not perform 'Yesterday' during the Wings 1972 and 1973 concert tours.
In 1966 'Yesterday' was named Outstanding Song of the Year in the prestigious Ivor Novello Awards in Britain. Completing their hat-trick of wins, Lennon and McCartney's 'We Can Work It Out' won an award for the highest certified record sales by a British composition, while 'Help!' was the runner-up in the same category.
'Yesterday' was among the songs sung by Paul in jail, where he spent nine days after marijuana was found in his possession at Tokyo airport on 16 January 1980. With other inmates he had occasional sing-songs, and the tunes they knew were the Al Jolson standards 'Baby Face' and 'When the Red, Red, Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along' ... and 'Yesterday'. Paul sang while they clapped along to the tune.
On 24 October 1979 a tribute to Paul McCartney as 'the most honoured composer and performer in music' was presented by Guinness Superlatives, publishers of the Guinness Book of Records, at a reception at Les Ambassadeurs, London. His awards were:
1. Most successful composer of all time (forty-three songs written between 1962 and 1978 which had each sold more than a million copies).
2. Record number of Gold Discs (forty-two with the Beatles, seventeen with Wings and one with Billy Preston. Total: sixty).
3. World's most successful recording artist. (Estimated record sales by that year of 1979 were 100 million albums and 100 million singles).
McCartney was presented with a unique disc cast of rhodium, one of the world's rarest and most precious metals, twice as valuable as platinum. Norris McWhirter, editor of the Guinness Book of Records, explained: 'Since, in the field of recorded music, gold and platinum discs are standard presentations by recording companies, we felt we should make a fittingly superlative presentation of the first ever rhodium disc with a special label listing Paul McCartney's three achievements.'
Paul told me at the ceremony: 'I'm surprised because I never count how many songs I've written or what they've sold. I'm always on to the next thing when a record's in the charts. This takes a bit of sinking in, what they've set out today.
'I always write what I hope will be commercial stuff. I try to write hits. If you ask me about Gerry Rafferty, I'll talk about 'Baker Street'. That's his big song. That's what I see a songwriter as trying to do: reach the public. But that doesn't make me the best. These awards don't say that. I can't pitch myself against the great classical composers. I'm just representing a different era. The best, not necessarily. The most successful, well, yeah!'
In a BBC television programme broadcast on 26 May 1986 based on the Guinness Book of Records Hall Of Fame, Paul told host David Frost and Norris McWhirter about 'Yesterday': 'I didn't believe I'd written it! I sat at the piano next to my bed . . . after two weeks I realized that I had written it ... you feel as though you haven't really written it, as if this really came through you.'
'Yesterday' was a highlight of the show called An Evening with Paul McCartney and Friends, a charity concert to help London's Royal College of Music, held at St James's Palace on 23 March 1995. An audience of 300 specially invited guests who had paid a minimum ticket price of £250, with the musicians playing for free, raised £75,000 for the college.
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After a solo set from Elvis Costello, Paul went on stage with him to mark their stage debut together, both playing acoustic guitars to perform their collaborative song 'Mistress and the Maid'. Paul then performed three of his best-loved ballads, 'For No One', 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'Yesterday', each with new arrangements, to the accompaniment of the string ensemble the Brodsky Quartet. 'Yesterday' was scheduled to be the show's finale, but Paul added an impromptu 'Lady Madonna' at the piano.
The concert was held in the presence of the Royal College's patron, Prince Charles. At the end of the concert before the pre-show vegetarian dinner, he declared: 'I'm enormously grateful to Paul McCartney for having given up so much time and putting so much into this evening. I hope this evening will enable a great deal more to take place at the Royal College of Music than might otherwise have been the case. This evening reminds one that the music Paul McCartney wrote with John Lennon never fades. That's the test of real music, I think.'
Recognizing 'the remarkable talents of Paul McCartney and all that he has done for music this century, and in particular the Royal College of Music', Prince Charles bestowed on Paul an honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Music, Britain's highest honorary award for a musician.