Album Review: Yesterday and Today

Perhaps one of the oddest album releases of all time, the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today was released as an American only release in the summer of 1966. Yesterday and Today contains a hodge-podge of songs that were recorded during sessions in 1965 and 1966 that were placed together by the band’s American label, Capitol Records. While not a part of what is considered to be “official Beatles canon,” Yesterday and Today remains an important release for Beatles fans, despite its compilation-style nature. When Beatlemania crossed the Atlantic and arrived in America in 1963 and 1964, Capitol Records wanted to monetize the output of the band in every way possible for their American fans, most famously by releasing Beatles albums that were significantly different than the ones released in the United Kingdom, allowing the label to release more albums to the public, and generating more revenue. Releases like Something NewBeatles ’65Beatles VI, and even a folk-rock version of Rubber Soul with a significantly altered track list, all became chart toppers and sold incredibly well in the United States. Yesterday and Today would be the last major release that was not standardized by the band themselves, signaling how the band wanted to maintain a much more active role in how their music and their images were perceived by the public on a global scale.

The most memorable part of this album, and the main reason why it remains famous to this day, is because of the infamous “butcher cover.” Tired of doing “another photo session, and anotherBeatles thing,” the band decided to work with Robert Whittaker for a project called “A Somnambulant Adventure,” which featured the four lads from Liverpool dressed in white butcher’s smocks, surrounded by pieces of meat and body parts from plastic dolls. Due to a couple of seemingly incomprehensible oversights, the butcher cover wound up being placed on around 750,000 copies of Yesterday and Today. These copies were recalled by Capital the day after its release, and were either dumped in landfills, or covered up with the much more friendly “trunk cover,” which was much less shocking and much more appropriate for a band with a following as large as the Beatles. At the time, this was seen as the first big public relations mistake that the band had made.

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The Infamous “Butcher Cover” in all its gory glory. “What a great idea!” said no one ever.
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For comparison, here is the revised album artwork (also known as the Trunk Cover) that was glued onto the front of the recalled Butcher Cover LPs. Years later, this cover would be cited as a key piece of evidence in the “Paul is Dead” conspiracy.

Like many items from the band, copies of Yesterday and Today with the infamous Butcher Cover have gone on to be highly coveted pieces of Beatles memorabilia. Collectors use three “states” to describe the rarity of this album, with classifications as follows:

  • First State – The rarest and most valued. These are the LPs that were printed with the Butcher image and then never had the Trunk Cover pasted over it. Most First States are copies of the album that were purchased on the original date of release (June 20th, 1966) before Capitol’s recall. First states have been known to sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Second State – Also known as “pasteovers.” These albums feature the Trunk Cover still in tact, clearly pasted over the Butcher Cover. Second states are increasingly rare because those who owned the pasted over records often try to peel the trunk cover off creating…
  • Third State – The Trunk cover has been peeled off revealing the butcher cover. These are the most common, and their value is determined by how well the Trunk cover was removed.

Beyond the cover – musically, Yesterday and Today features a wide variety of styles that the band were known for in 1965 and 1966. This includes Byrds-style jangle guitar rock (“And Your Bird Can Sing,” “If I Needed Someone”), their forays into the budding folk rock and psychedelic scene (“Drive My Car” and “Nowhere Man,” both of which were held out of the American release of Rubber Soul), their most famous ballad, “Yesterday,” and the first and only album appearance of the double sided single “Day Tripper”/”We Can Work It Out.” The album maintains a relatively even split of songs from the albums released during this period: two tracks from Help!, four from Rubber Soul, and three from the yet-to-be-released Revolver, along with the aforementioned “Day Tripper” release. The same statement cannot be said for some odd choices for what was included on this album, the most baffling of which is that there are two tracks sung by Ringo (“Act Naturally” and “What Goes On”), but only one from George Harrison. These choices ultimately lower the quality of the album as a whole, despite each individual song being from the band’s golden era.

The Beatles would release Revolver only two months after this album, marking a significant change in the band’s sound and how their music was released, leaving Yesterday and Today as nothing more than a very interesting footnote in the band’s thorough history.

[originally published on sputnikmusic.com on June 20th, 2016]

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