It’s a simple concept, well executed: what if no one had heard of the Beatles, and their songs were reintroduced—some 49 years after their breakup in 1970? For any musician given the opportunity, it’s both a fantasy come true and an absurd moral quandary, and that’s the hypothetical terrain that Yesterday explores head-first.
From 0:12 to 0:18 we see a global electrical outage, with the accompanying percussion and flutes vaguely reminiscent of the Beatles’ musical aesthetic. At first, it appears that the original recording of “Yesterday” is playing as we explore the post power down world that the protagonist, Jack, resides in. But at 0:36 it’s revealed that this is in fact Jack’s version, his voice sounding remarkably like Paul McCartney’s, and the performance serves as a sound bridge.
At 0:50 we get a drum beat that, again, sounds much in the vein of something Ringo might have stomped out, but it only lasts until 0:58 as the music stops to Jack’s deadpan realization that, for whatever reason, the Beatles of this universe simply never happened. The music proceeds to start and stop in fits and bursts, much akin to many a comedic trailer before it. Differentiated instrumentation keeps up interest, with stomps, claps, and organ joining the fray.
Interestingly, the next Beatles (or is it Jack?) tune appears to comment on what Jack says immediately prior. As he notes that this is a “really, really, really complicated situation,” “Let it Be” enters (“when I find myself in times of trouble…”). Other tunes like George Harrison’s Something are massively re-contextualized as Jack appears to conjure it out of thin air, “improvised” on James Corden. And yet, as disingenuous as a premise as it is, it encourages one to hear the music again with fresh ears, as if they were songs that will first dominate the airwaves (and streaming services) in 2019.
The remarkable thing is that, with a little suspension of disbelief, it really works. The conceit carries well for a romantic comedy; sometimes, it can be revolutionary to present what’s considered classic music completely unembellished, remixed, trailerized, or otherwise covered.
Yesterday is due to hit theatres in September.
– Curtis Perry