The Weirdest Great Album Ever: “Yesterday” … and Today

After an extended leave of absence, our special guest blogger John Walker Ross, returns to SMS! Many of you may recall John as the curator and creator of our favorite music site The Round Place in the Middle !

Today John is back at SMS with his unique take on The Beatles most over looked and under appreciated album! Please join me in welcoming John back to SMS and without any further delay;

Here’s Johnny…

Drive My Car (from UK Rubber Soul)

I’m Only Sleeping (from UK Revolver)

Nowhere Man (from UK Rubber Soul, US Single #3)
Doctor Robert (from UK Revolver)
Yesterday (from UK Help, US Single #1)
Act Naturally (From UK Help!, US Single—B-Side)
And Your Bird Can Sing (from from UK Revolver)
If I Needed Someone (from UK Rubber Soul)
We Can Work It Out (US Single #1)
What Goes On? (UK Rubber Soul, US single—B-side)
Day Tripper (US Single #5)

Many of you will know the story, but for those who don’t I’ll reiterate:

The Beatles’ overwhelming success presented something of a dilemma for their record company (Capitol, not that it mattered). Namely, how to maximize profit on a group that was selling unprecedented numbers of both singles and LPs.

Quick solution: Keep big hit singles off the albums, much as RCA had done with Elvis in the 50’s.

This time around, however, there was an added complication. The Beatles had a two-year backlog due to their success in the UK which hd hardly been noticed in the U.S. until they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February, 1964.

Second quick solution: Chop up the earlier albums, make new albums. The final result was that no Beatles’ LP appeared with the same track listing on both sides of the Atlantic until 1967’s Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

By which time there ws another, albeit retroactive, complication presented by the emergence of a rock intelligentsia which was fueling—and being fueled by–everything from the underground press to FM radio formats. Naturally, this group of fledgling intellectuals and the millions having their own opinions shaped accordingly, prized “authenticity,” which in the case of the Beatles, the band with the broadest reach both above and below ground, meant a geneal preference for their UK LPs, with the original track listing and order presumably chosen by the Fab Four themselves. The muddled-with LPs that stretched from Meet the Beatles to Revolver were often deemed inferior for the simple reason that they were corporate products rather than the true inspiration of Artists.

And if somebody felt that way about say, the US version of Rubber Soul, you can imagine how they felt about “Yesterday”…and Today. Officially the group’s 12th American LP and ninth for Capitol, it was never even released in the UK, being made up of cuts Capitol either already had deleted from U.S. versions of Help and Rubber Soul and would subsequently delete from Revolver, this baby had everything going against it from the start. For those who already saw the Beatles as not only the world’s most popular band, but the Artists of the Age, whose every record, single or album, was now awaited with breathless anticipation, “Yesterday” and Today was the ultimate sacrilege.

This view was evidently shared by The Beatles themselves as they responded to Capitol’s insistence on releasing this abomination with one of the most controversial moves of a career built on pushing social and musical limits. They submitted the famous ‘butcher cover’, with the band members carefully posed with decapitated dolls smeared in fake blood.

Main result? One rarely, if ever, sees “Yesterday” and Today mentioned in the same breath with even the U.S. versions of Rubber Soul or Help, or the UK versions of Help! and Hard Day’s Night, let alone Sergeant Pepper, Abbey Road or the White Album. Product, you see, not Art.

I bought the narrative myself for decades. “Yesterday”…. and Today sat on my shelves for nearly 40 years, just there to complete my Beatles’ collection, not to be listened no past making sure the record store copy didn’t tick or skip. If any let’s-list-my-favorite-albums mood came upon me, the usual six-seven-eight Beatles’ LPs would mke the list…this one was never considered. How could it be? I just didn’t listen to it.

Then, a few months ago, in the midst of a series of personal health crises, down with a further case of the blues, I had taken to sleeping in my bed for the first time in a decade. That had a serious impact on my listening habits because my bedroom is where my record player stays. I had made several attempts to add a turntable to my den, home of everything else (including my record collection itself, 45 years in the making, which, as the saying goes, could hardly fit in my bedroom), and given up after three modern rubber-mat turntable went kablooey on me in three years. Heck, when I’m in the mood for vinyl, I can always go back to the bedroom!

Even then, I didn’t exactly reach for “Yesterday” … and Today. I pulled it one night because I was in a Rubber Soul/Revolver mood and this one happened to be filed between them (I try to keep chronology within the alphabetization). Since I already had it out I figured “Why not?”

It was in that context, lying drowsily in the dark, trying to go to sleep that “Yesterday”’s brilliance–not just as a collection of fine songs but as an album that spoke for itself AS AN ALBUM—finally began to shine through. Big hits like “Yesterday,” “Nowhere Man,” “We Can Work It Out,” and “Day Tripper” (all brilliant) began to segue perfectly into spooky gems like “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “I’m Only Sleeping” and goofs like “Act Naturally,” “What Goes On?” and the alum opener “Drive My Car” (my favorite Beatles’ song that nobody else seems to like). The Beatles’ unique blend of keen observational detail and quasi-philosophical abstraction was never better served than by this hodge-podge mixture. It reinforced my once-vague, now demanding notion that for a few years there in the mid-sixties you could take any set of Beatle songs, string them in any order and, sooner or later, if you listened long enough, the universe’s mysteries would start to reveal themselves.

I haven’t lived with this new recognition of the genius of “Yesterday”…and Today long enough to know whether these seeds of revelation will blossom into a greater understanding, but I’m reminded of what really drew me to this music in the first pace—the belief that if you put on Help, or Rubber Soul or Revolver or Sergeant Pepper or the White Album or the second side of Abbey Road just one more time the world would finally make sense.

I can’t say it ever quite happened, at least for me. But the notion has taken hold again as I listen raptly, over and over, to an album I neglected for decades because it wa put together by a record company out of pure greed.

Hey, and if the secrets of the universe do just happen to be residing therein, wouldn’t that be a kick in the head!~


    ALL really great songs. A grouping of big favorites of mine! I never owned this album. My original collection contained St. Pepper, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour, Abby Road, White Album, Let it Be, Yellow Submarine, Help & Hard Day’s Night.
    Than for the enlightenment….wood

    • A lot of these were on the Red album so I guess I never felt a need to get close to this. But about half of them weren’t available on ANY U.S. LP. I was missing a lot!

  2. I must say, John, I have the US version of Yesterday and Today. I am like you. It’s not the first Beatles vinyl I reach for, but when I do, it is most pleasing. I Love it. I actually had, at one point, the butcher cover. When you picked up Yesterday Today one could see the butcher cover showing through the white part, next to the trunk, they were hanging around. Careful steaming to release glue and slow peeling revealed the butcher cover. The earlier pressings, might have that possibility. You might have one of those. I truly enjoyed your piece and that album is one of my favs. It bridges the gap between the Beatles being a rock and roll club combo and what was to come with Rubber Soul. Thank you for your observations.

    • Thanks for your kind words Curtis….I’ve never owned the butcher cover (though of course I looked when I found out what they were worth). I don’t know why it took me so long to really listen. I knew I liked the music. I guess I had a nascent form of rock-snobbery!


      • has actually morphed into one of my favorite Beatles Albums. Maybe because I don’t listen to it as often as the others, so it always sounds fresh. Also, could be because the cuts on that album are not a frequently played on classic radio or streamed or where ever the hell we listen to music these days. It just sounds like 4 guys making music..a real band. My vinyl Beatles collection is all the US pressings, as i got them when they first come out. My CD’s are the English pressings. But in my mind, the US ones are what chronicles the Beatles for me. I know the Beatles might have been pissed off, but I think Capitol did a pretty good job of putting together those albums. When I listen to the cds I am always thinking, “wow that song was on Revolver” or “That was on Rubber Soul”. It’s pretty wild, first exposure set my frame of reference. Thanks man, any BEatles discussion is always enjoyable.

        • Hey Curtis, your experience mirrors mind almost exactly. You’re right–the way you heard the music initially really shapes you forever. With Rubber Soul and Revolver especially, when I hear the UK versions…they just sound weird! Ha…That’s NOT SUPPOSEDD TO BE THERE! And you’re right. There’s a lot of genius music on Yesterday and Today that list among the few Beatles’ songs that don’t get played on what’s left of the radio. It gives them a spectral, haunting feel like lost treasures being constantly re-discovered.

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