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Monday, October 17, 2011

Where do great songs come from?

Yesterday by the Beatles is a song that hits you on so many levels.
Like many great songs, it hits you with the first line "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away"

The lyrics are so simple yet so powerful. The melody is striking, yet not complex. The violins are noticeable, almost classical, yet not over the top or too abstract to lose the listener.

All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they're here to stay
Oh I believe in yesterday
Suddenly, I'm not half the man I use to be
There's a shadow hanging over me
Oh yesterday came suddenly
Why she had to go, I don't know
She wouldn't say
I said something wrong now I long for yesterday
Love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh I believe in yesterday
Why she had to go I don't know
She wouldn't say
I said something wrong
Now I long for yesterday
Love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh I believe in yesterday


The lyrics are simple, yet touch on many themes.

Like all great songs,  the first line catches you and grabs you.

For me, the concept that yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away makes me think right away. The emphasis on "seemed" as the reality always made me ponder.  Generally speaking my opinion is that your troubles are not any greater or lesser at any one time, only that the current troubles seem to be the greater bother. You perceive them as greater, but they are actually the same.

Now it looks as though it's here to stay. Again, that "now" it appears they are here to stay, but in the future, those same troubles will again seem so far away and the new ones will be the focus. if what happened just appeared out of the blue, when the reality is that the problems were always there just ignored until they could not be ignored anymore.

Yesterday,  came suddenly. Again, if you keep looking back at yesterday, then the present will not be in full view and the current problems become sudden.

Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play. Love is not a game..and it is never easy. The main trouble is that the main character is not aware that love is not a game, therefore the troubles seem sudden and hard to grasp. Why she had to go I dont know. The rub is that the character does not know because he is not viewing the game as not a game and misses the point of the interaction.

To me the song has always been about denial and lack of reality. For others they may hear something different.  Sarah McLachlan once said in response to a fan that the song is about whatever you think it is about.

History of the song

The great songwriters of our time can be inspired anywhere at anytime by anything.

 McCartney composed the entire melody in a dream one night in his room at the Wimpole Street home of his then girlfriend Jane Asher and her family. Upon waking, he hurried to a piano and played the tune to avoid forgetting it.

American woman was written along the same lines. Just a rift or melody that came to the songwriter on stage and they played it out until the lyrics came and the melody formed and cemented itself into a viable song. The meaningful lyrics followed later.

 Carole King wrote You've got a friend in twenty minutes. She just sat down and it came out of her. What she wrote that day is basically the complete song.

  Billie Jean was also written in the same manner by Michael Jackson. He was driving down a street in Hollywood and the base melody came to him. All the rest followed later.

According to Daryl Hall, when Jackson was recording “We Are the World,” Jackson approached him and admitted to lifting the bass line for "Billie Jean" from a Hall and Oates song (apparently referring to Hall’s "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)"  "Michael Jackson once said directly to me that he hoped I didn't mind that he copped that groove." Hall says he told Jackson that he had lifted the bass line himself, remarking, "it's something we all do."

Jive Talkin by The Bee Gees also was written this way. Barry Gibb heard a thumping bridge under the tires of his car and the base melody of the song came from that.

McCartney's initial concern was that he had subconsciously plagiarised someone else's work, Upon being convinced that he had not robbed anyone of his melody, McCartney began writing lyrics to suit it. As Lennon and McCartney were known to do at the time, a substitute working lyric, titled "Scrambled Eggs" (the working opening verse was "Scrambled Eggs/Oh, my baby how I love your legs"), was used for the song until something more suitable was written.

During the shooting of Help!, a piano was placed on one of the stages where filming was being conducted and McCartney would take advantage of this opportunity to tinker with the song. 

  Although McCartney has never elaborated his claims, a delay may have been due to a disagreement between McCartney and George Martin regarding the song's arrangement, or the opinion of the other Beatles who felt it did not suit their image.

John Lennon later indicated that the song had been around for a while before:

"The song was around for months and months before we finally completed it. Every time we got together to write songs for a recording session, this one would come up. We almost had it finished. Paul wrote nearly all of it, but we just couldn't find the right title. We called it 'Scrambled Eggs' and it became a joke between us. We made up our minds that only a one-word title would suit, we just couldn't find the right one. Then one morning Paul woke up and the song and the title were both there, completed. I was sorry in a way, we'd had so many laughs about it."

McCartney said the breakthrough with the lyrics came during a trip to Portugal in May 1965:

"I remember mulling over the tune 'Yesterday', and suddenly getting these little one-word openings to the verse. I started to develop the idea ... da-da da, yes-ter-day, sud-den-ly, fun-il-ly, mer-il-ly and Yes-ter-day, that's good. All my troubles seemed so far away. It's easy to rhyme those a's: say, nay, today, away, play, stay, there's a lot of rhymes and those fall in quite easily, so I gradually pieced it together from that journey. Sud-den-ly, and 'b' again, another easy rhyme: e, me, tree, flea, we, and I had the basis of it."

McCartney performed two takes of "Yesterday" on  June 14,1965. Take 2 was deemed better and used as the master take. A string quartet was overdubbed on take 2 and that version was released.

As musicologist Alan Pollack points out, the scoring as "truly inspired", citing it as an example of "[Lennon and McCartney's] flair for creating stylistic hybrids" in particular, he praises the "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 string arrangement reinforces the song's air of sadness, in the groaning cello line that connects the two halves of the bridge.

Shortly before his death in 1980, Lennon explained that he thought the lyrics did not "resolve into any sense... They're good — but if you read the whole song, it doesn't say anything; you don't know what happened. She left and he wishes it were yesterday — that much you get — but it doesn't really resolve. ... Beautiful — and I never wished I'd written it.

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