Composer(s) : Lennon and McCartney
Year : 1965
Notes on "Yesterday" (Y)
KEY F Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge ->
Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Outro
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- This song is so well established in the pop-cultural subconscious that
it's difficult to relate to it objectively, no less say something new
and insightful about it, but we'll try.
- As is often the case with the over-exposed war horses of any artsy
genre, whether or not you "like" this song, there's some good reason
*why* it became so over-exposed in the first place. (hint) It's a fine
piece of work with something going for it in virtually every department:
the unique arrangement, an attractive tune, even some asymmetrical
phrasing and a couple of offbeat chord progressions.
- By the same token, one should not be fooled by whatever unique and
interesting factors surround the song's history and production into
thinking of it as more unique and different than it is. Especially if
you can step around the self-pitying lyrics for a moment (Paul possibly
taking a lesson from George, for a change) you'll find this song to
actually lie along the same compositional and moody lines of the other
hymn or anthem-like ballads which so vividly characterize some of
Paul's highest achievements, especially in the post-Pepper period.
- Just for the record, the form here is the shorter two bridge model.
And the tempo is uncharacteristically slow.
Melody and Harmony
- The melodic phrases are consistently arch shaped and shot through
with sentimentally expressive appoggiaturas; very dangerously close
to being too much so. Ultimately, I believe it's the free-verse,
non-four-square scanning of the words that saves it.
- The overall home key is F Major but the music demonstrates a curious
tendency to repeatedly veer off toward the relative minor key of d.
This device subtly sets a mood for the song in which all attempts
at putting on a positive face are betrayed by pervasive melancholy;
shades of "beneath this mask I am wearing a frown." Interestingly,
Paul had used a similar harmonic trick (actually the same basic idea
but in reverse) in his very similar earlier offering of
"And I Love Her."
- By funny coincidence, we find here the same harmonic cross-relation
between G and B-flat chords as we saw last time in "It's Only Love."
Granted, the order of the two chords is reversed here, and the
semantic meaning of the progression is changed by the difference
in home key between the two songs. It's an uncanny parallel,
- The instrumental backing consists entirely of acoustic guitar and
a string quartet (2 violins, viola, and cello), with the two elements
mixed 100% apart from each other onto separate stereo channels and
the vocal split down the middle. Paul is single tracked virtually all
the way through except for a short patch of double tracking to reinforce
the high notes at the end of the first bridge. To my ears (especially
when isolating the "right" channel with acoustic guitar, it sounds like
there was some intermittent reverb applied to the vocal track.
- Even without the usual electric guitars and drums, some standard
tricks still apply; to wit, the layered effect of holding back on
the bowed strings until the second verse, and the manner in which
the quartet never plays the same section exactly the same way more
than once. Regarding the latter effect, note for example the ominous
interjection by the viola (or cello ?) in the second bridge, and the
sustained high note in the first violin during the final verse, the
latter, a terrific anticipation of the similar effect created for
the second half of "Hey Jude."
- As with those other hymns of Paul's, the bassline of this one is played
with special emphasis, whether in those slappingly hard-picked notes
on the low strings of the guitar or reinforced by the cello.
- The intro consists of just two measures of guitar vamping on an
open-fifth drone-like scoring of the I chord, minus the third scale
degree whose presence would otherwise make explicit whether we're
dealing with a Major or minor key. This seemingly small detail
starts the proceedings off on a suspenseful, ambiguous note.
- The verse is an unusual seven measure in length and divides up into
three phrases which form a 3+2+2 poetic meter:
|F |e dim. A |d |B-flat C |
F: I ii-of-vi V-of-vi vi IV V
|F |d G |B-flat F |
I vi V-of-V IV I
- As mentioned above, the music harmonically retreats off to relative
minor key of d even before the Major home key of F has been
properly established. The arrival on the d minor chord in the third
measure is, indeed, the first instant in the song in which you feel
a sense of being harmonically grounded, the opening F chord at this
stage of the game still not at all clear to you, even in retrospect,
as the chord of the home key.
- The chord progression in which V-of-V is followed by IV, with its
concommitant cross-relation and implied ethos of deferred gratification
makes a somewhat surprising appearance here at the end of the verse.
This progression was always very popular with both Lennon and McCartney,
but we're used to finding it in the faster and harder driving likes of
"She Loves You", "Eight Days A Week", and the title cut of "Sgt.
Pepper." In the current instance, the effect of the cross-relation
is somewhat blunted by the tracing, in one of the inner voices of
the backing, a Barber Shop Harmony-like descending chromatic line
which also happens to be intrinsic to this chord progression.
- Of course there are extremely juicy appoggiaturas on the first
syllable of the opening word as as well as the words "far", and "here".
- On paper, the bridge is eight measures long and built out of two
four-measure phrases, but it sure as hell doesn't sound that way!
It sounds much more to our ears as each phrase of the bridge begins
on what I've notated as the second measure below, with the first
measure being a wind-up extension of the previous phrase:
--------------------------------- 2X -------------------------------
|e dim. A |d B-flat |g C |F |
ii-of-vi V-of-vi vi VI ii V I
- The phrase endings of this section are the only place in the song
where the home key is clearly established by a clean Dominant-Tonic
(i.e. V-I) cadence. The starting off in this bridge, yet again,
from the harmonic perspective of the relative minor key makes
these phrase endings in F sound almost as much like the end
result of a modulation *away* from the home key rather than
the a true return to it; doubly ironic because of the extent
to which the chords used in this section overlap so heavily
with those of the verse.
- The end of the second bridge features a lovely melodic variation.
In the first iteration of this section Paul sustains the high F
(on the syllable "day .....") with one of the strings playing
a descending counter-melody (F-C-B-flat-A) against him. In the
second bridge, Paul now includes that subordinate phrase as part
of the main line.
- Note too the stepwise descending bassline which spans measures 2-3
of each phrase in this section.
- The outro contains just a single reprise of the final phrase scored
as yet another hum job.
- For just this last time, the descending chromatic inner line is
used to accompany the vocal line minus the supporting bassline
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- The scoring for string quartet and acoustic guitar is truly inspired.
By the time this song appeared, the Beatles had well established their
flair for creating stylistic hybrids from surprisingly diverse
elements; yet this one is more than just another crossover.
- In this case, there is an ironic tension drawn between the schmaltzy
content of what is played by the quartet and the restrained, spare
nature of the medium in which it is played.
- The cross-current set off by this effect adds an engaging level of
depth to the performance. But more importantly, it provides an antidote
in advance for any possibly perceived surfeit of sentiment; a key point
that has so often been overlooked by those who, with the best of
intentions, seek to cover the song, and thereby "ruin it", with
a backing in the mode of The 101 Strings.
Alan (email@example.com *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)
"She'll only reject me in the end and I'll be frustrated." 020193#75
Copyright (c) 1993 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and
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intact and in place.
> Francois Pachet writes:
> I was very surprised to see that yo do not mention a detail that, as far
> as I am concerned, embodies my overall perception of "Yesterday" :
> There is a very strange (and interesting) seventh (E flat in the key of F)
> played by the cello, in the middle of the bridge. I read somewhere that this
> was actually an explicit request of MacCartney to the arranger (G. Martin ?)
> The corresponding cello line is awkward, and I would like to hear your
> opinion about it.
There's virtually no end of the level of detail to which one might go
with the style of analysis used in the Notes. Partly in order to keep
my own pace moving, and partly in consideration of the fact that there
are some who likely find the Notes *already* too long, it's no wonder
a salient point or two worth making sometimes is overlooked.
In this case, I thought I actually *had* makde passing reference to
the "ominous intrusion" of that E flat in the cello part. In any
event, though, let's use the opportunity here to backtrack and add
a couple of footNotes to the original post:
- As a stylistic hybrid, the use of classical and pop elements figures
most heavily in the mix, but there are other elements as well:
For example, that E-flat in the cello is the only occurence in the
entire song of the flat 7th melodic degree and, showing up so late,
lends an isolated, even surprising touch of the blues.
Similarly, the G Major chord used in the verse, aside from the
cross-relation it creates with the B flat chord that follows it,
conjures a folksy Dorian modal tone a la "Parsley, etc." with the
d minor chord that *precedes* it.
I'd even go so far as to suggest that the manner in which the
melodic note A is pitted against the ii-of-vi chord at the
start of the bridge is somewhat jazzy.
- On an entirely different note, there is a deft moment near the
end of the verse where the harmonic rhythm is uniquely syncopated.
This both breaks up what otherwise might have become the monotonous
flowing of the rest of the music and, to the extent that it appears
in every verse as well as the outro, it provides a subtle, non-verbal
hook for the piece.
Alan (firstname.lastname@example.org *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)
Ook op Help!:
Ook op Yesterday and Today:
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