The Beatles Finally Join iTunes (And May Possible Save ECM Recording in the Process); On “Yesterday” – The Fab Four vs. Donny Hathaway

With the hoopla surrounding the Beatles joining the iTunes library (belatedly), I decided to come up with a musical “Demolition derby” (inspired by this) pitting the Fab Four against their re-interpreters – some of whom outshine the original versions the former made famous.

Nearly every singer worth mentioning has a Beatles song in their repertoire – meaning my list will only scratch the surface of the innumerable matches that could take place. Sorry, B.O.B. but your amazing sample of “Eleanor Rigby“for “Lonely People” will not be included for one reason: I don’t like the original. So, any remake – even improvements – will not make the shortlist of match-ups.

The following series of posts will consist of all the Beatles song and their remakes that I currently have on my iPod.

Let the matchups begin:

Round 1: “Yesterday”

A lilting guitar opens the song as a young Paul McCartney plaintively sings “Yesterday…/All my troubles seemed far away…” The original version – a McCartney solo – has him acting as a guitar-strumming storyteller, talking instead of singing to an invisible audience about his break-up with a girl who “wouldn’t say why she went away.”

The prominent violin strokes near the end raises the nostalgia factor to a higher notch. But the song feels incomplete to me. McCartney’s phrasing is hurried, placing no emphasis on any word for emotional impact. The song winds up sound more like a studio outtake instead of a final version ready for release. (Revolver – EMI Records, 1966)

Classic Rating Scale (1 out of 10): 9.6

One of the best CDs – the modern-day sibling of vinyl records – I bought when I was 14-years-old (alter-nativa/Flickr)

The late-great Hathaway’s rendition is my personal favorite of the “most recorded pop standard of the 20th century.” He doesn’t over-sing the song as some other lesser singers have approached the song. But Hh doesn’t under-sing this tale of a lost love like McCartney did either. His sonorous voice buoys the song, caressing every syllable of a word with warmth of emotion totally absent from the original.

And then there’s the dreamy ’70s Rhodes keyboard and the crowd’s response – altering from awed silence to exclamatory shouts of “How does he do it?” The bigger question listeners ought to ask themselves: How did Atlantic allow such a gem to be unreleased until 2004? (These Songs For You, Live! – Atlantic Records, 2004)

Yesterday – Donny Hathaway

Classic Rating Scale: 10

Winner: Donny Hathaway

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