Album Review: “Yesterday …and Today” — The Beatles (1966)

I like being born into the last generation that was able to appreciate vinyl LPs in a non-retro, non-ironic manner. I got my first CD player in 1988 and that was just the beginning of the end of vinyl for me (and for vinyl as a whole, which gave up the ghost to CDs soon after), but the year before it also signaled the death-knell for several Beatles albums as they had been known to American fans for nearly 23 years.

Long story short for the uninitiated: in the 60s British and American record labels handled the LP differently, which resulted in sometimes vastly different releases for both countries. British albums always had more tracks but didn’t include singles that were released on 45. Their American counterparts were sequenced differently, with a shorter number of album tracks, sometimes including the singles, and often with different artwork, album titles, and in many cases, different mixes of the songs entirely!

The Beatles were definitely emblematic of this trend: their early albums were vastly differentiated between the two countries in terms of artwork, titles, and content. Certain American tracks were given vastly more echo or distinctly separated stereo in their mixes, or they might have been originated from different takes than their British counterparts. For obsessive Beatle fans like myself, this leads to a madcap scramble to search for and obtain any and every conceivable variant of a Beatle song. From such minutiae as whether you can hear John cough in the mono British mix of one song, or Paul’s voice cracking in the stereo American mix of another, to whole sections missing entirely (like the fade-out and fade-in missing from the mono Helter-Skelter), there’s a whole lot of fascinating differences to discover.

(For more on this subject, make a beeline to The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations. It’s mindblowing to think that most of it was compiled and composed long before file-swapping and instant downloading.)

OK so up until 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, American and British albums were markedly different. The CD revolution of 1987 changed everything by making ALL CD releases conform to the British standard of Beatles albums. These were now considered the definitive releases, and the American albums (released on the Capitol label) were discontinued entirely (although they eventually did see life on CD in 2004 as collectors’ box sets, but they were never individually released).

The one Capitol LP that I hold nearest and dearest to my heart was Yesterday …and Today, not the least of which because it was my first Beatles album. I remember distinctly wanting it because it had both Yesterday and We Can Work It Out on it, which as far as I was concerned meant that two songs I loved to death were gonna get a truckload of playtime.

The original cover. Ick.

The original cover. Ick.

Much has been made about the infamous “butcher” cover, its resulting controversy, recall, and collectibility. It doesn’t bear repeating here, except to say that if The Beatles were making a statement against how they felt their albums were being “butchered” in the United States, perhaps it could have been done in a more… tasteful way? I don’t think dismembered baby dolls or slabs of raw meat really goes over that well… of course, the cover was quickly recalled, and the substituted cover of the band standing around a simple trunk in front of a white background is horribly bland in comparison.

Yesterday … and Today is now viewed as a relic of sorts. Of the Capitol albums, only it and the American Revolver have never been released on CD, individually or as a part of a collection. The Internet being The Internet, needledrops and bootlegs are not entirely difficult to find, both in the mono and stereo versions of the album. Still, Y&T is not without its charms as a collection of songs pulled from the British Help!, Rubber Soul, and Revolver albums. If nothing else, it’s a fine sampler of tunes culled from what I consider to be my favorite era of the band (1965-1966), in which they were evolving beyond their basic pop roots and into an era of creative songwriting, recording, and engineering, in which they were utilizing richer instrumentation and production values along with more sophisticated lyrics and music to really create music that was as mesmerizing as it was timeless.


1. Drive My Car — originally on the British Rubber Soul
2. I’m Only Sleeping — originally on British Revolver 
3. Nowhere ManRubber Soul
4. Dr. RobertRevolver
5. Yesterday — originally on the British Help!
6. Act NaturallyHelp!
7. And Your Bird Can SingRevolver
8. If I Needed SomeoneRubber Soul
9. We Can Work It Out — originally released as British single (October 1965)
10. What Goes OnRubber Soul
11. Day Tripper — British single (B-side to We Can Work it Out, October 1965)

Not a bad batch of tunes, to put it mildly. It opens and closes with Drive My Car and Day Tripper, two of the band’s most memorable signature rock songs from the era. Some John psychedelia from “Revolver” is represented by the backwards-tracking otherworldliness of I’m Only Sleeping and the drug happy Dr. Robert. Ringo flexes his country/western chops with both Act Naturally and What Goes On — two songs I can totally live without, but then again I’m not a big rockabilly fan to begin with. Then there’s the pitch-perfect jangle-pop of And Your Bird Can Sing (a Lennon song that he himself hated, but one I love immensely), If I Needed Someone (a quality George Harrison track, demonstrating his continuing maturation as a songwriter trying to emerge from underneath the Lennon/McCartney shadow) and Nowhere Man (possibly… possibly… my favorite Beatles song), with those killer harmonies and unforgettable hooks. The folksysteady tempo of We Can Work It Out is a quintessential Lennon/McCartney collaboration, the perfect fusion of Lennon’s caustic minor key cynicism with McCartney’s upbeat pop craftsmanship.

And, of course, a twee little number called Yesterday is thrown in the mix; a tender ballad that you might have heard once or twice before. Your mileage may vary.

Nostalgia makes this album holy to me, but I’d never argue that the songs need to be listened to in precisely this sequencing. The British Revolver, Rubber Soul, and Help! albums are pretty much perfection on their own, and don’t need to be cross-pollinated with each other. Still, given the fond memories I have of slipping Yesterday …and Today out of its sleeve, placing it on the turntable, and dropping the needle on the outer groove, it always makes my ear twitch a bit in excitement and anticipation when I expect to hear, say, I’m Only Sleeping after Drive My Car, or the abrupt crassness of Act Naturally disrupt the aura left in Yesterday‘s afterglow.

Even cobbled together from bits and pieces of other albums and singles, Yesterday …and Today still feels complete to my ears, albeit ears utterly colored by nostalgia. But maybe that’s why the album makes me feel so young; and because The Beatles were so damn young when this album was released. We’re talking ages 23 through 26. Mind boggling. The songs sound so energetic, assured, controlled but kinetic. Starting the next year they’d go into the majestic artistry of Sgt. Pepper, the experimentally ambitious Magical Mystery Tour, the eccentric chaos and beauty of The Beatles (“White Album”), the near disintegration of Let It Be and the singular culminating brilliance of Abbey Road. So much great material to come, and yet, they would never sound this young again. None of us will, which makes the album infinitely and wistfully timeless.

One thought on “Album Review: “Yesterday …and Today” — The Beatles (1966)

  1. I also love this album! Great take on it, and yes, And Your Bird Can Sing is a stunning piece of pop rock. What a band.

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