“Yesterday Once More” was one of the early songs that got me interested in song lyrics…and, of course, the wonderful voice of Karen Carpenter.
Even though I was only a teenager when I first heard it, I was very attracted by the idea that there was a time and place people could look back on nostalgically, and it might be a feeling I’d be able to enjoy when I grew up too.
But the lyrics also spoke to be because they described exactly how I spent my days…they were both nostalgic and completely current, at least as far as my life was concerned…
When I was young I’d listen to the radio
Waiting for my favourite songs
When they played I’d sing along
It made me smile
At the time, I used to do something that anyone of a certain age will remember…when one of my favourite songs came on the radio, I’d press “record” on my cassette player and keep a copy for myself to play any time I liked.
This was long before Spotify and other pretty affordable streaming services. Music still turned up on vinyl…and just one single was about three week’s pocket money for me back then…so the times I could buy one of those little slivers of black vinyl were few and far between.
Like most teenagers in the mid-1970s, I ended up with boxes of cassette tapes that I recorded in this way. Later on, when I was working and had a more generous budget to work with, I got most of the songs on CD and the cassette tapes went in the bin a few house moves ago.
But when I think back to my teenage years, listening to the radio and waiting for one of my favourite songs to come on was how I spent pretty much all my time when I wasn’t in school. It wasn’t only my “Yesterday Once More”…it was my “today”, back in the 1970s.
I was very attracted to “Yesterday Once More” was Karen Carpenter’s voice, of course, but I particularly noticed the wonderful control and phrasing of her vocal in that opening verse. With exquisite phrasing delivered by the warmest, smoothest voice I’d ever heard in my life, either then or since, telling the story of my life at the time…you can perhaps see why this was one of the early songs that piqued my interest in music.
Like all great songs, though, “Yesterday Once More” didn’t just tell the story of my life back then. It also tells the story of my life today, but from a different perspective…in fact that switch of perspective particularly intrigued me at the time and that neat lyrical device has played a large part in keeping my interest in this beautiful song over the four decades since it was first released.
Those were such happy times, and not so long ago
How I wondered where they’d gone
But they’re back again, like a long lost friend
All the songs I loved so well
You can probably imagine that, as a teenage boy with just the radio and his interest in music to keep him going, the mid-1970s were not in fact an especially happy time for me…although, looking back, they’re only about mid-table in terms of my life experiences…
But they were happy times from the moment I could put the radio on and hear a song I loved. The music, and lyrics, took me out of my life and transported me somewhere else.
With “Yesterday Once More”, I couldn’t think backwards, because I’d had very few historic life experiences to think about yet. Instead, I imagined myself looking back on the song in years to come…ideally from somewhere a lot warmer and a good deal drier than the Glasgow of my childhood…and being able to reflect on a life well-lived.
It was the second verse of “Yesterday Once More” that gave me the encouragement I needed to create a more positive view of the future in my mind so I could reassure myself that one day I’d look back fondly on the years spent listening to the radio and obsessing about music. “Look how much I’ve changed!”, I imagined I’d be telling myself by the time I got to the age I am now.
Full disclosure…that plan hasn’t entirely worked out. It tends to be Spotify and YouTube these days, rather than the radio, unless I’m in the car…but the basic principle hasn’t changed much over the years.
What I have acquired is a sense that it doesn’t really matter any more. Actually I can look back to those teenage years with affection because they were when songs like “Yesterday Once More” ignited an interest…some might say obsession…that’s been with me my whole life, like a childhood friend who’s stuck with you through the ups and downs of life, always by your side.
When the right song comes along, I really can look back with affection to those times listening to my radio as a teenager, waiting for one of my favourite songs to come along. Hearing those songs are like having an old friend you haven’t seen for some time surprise you by calling round to say hello unexpectedly.
Even though my interest in “Yesterday Once More” was initially piqued by the first verse, as time’s gone on, it’s the second verse that hits home instead.
“Yesterday Once More” was written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis. Richard Carpenter wrote the music, John Bettis the lyrics, as they did for most of the Carpenters’ big hits.
John Bettis would go on to write big hits for other artists after Karen Carpenter’s tragic death brought The Carpenters to an end, including “Crazy For You” for Madonna, “Slow Hand” for The Pointer Sisters and “One Moment In Time” for Whitney Houston.
But the creative partnership between John Bettis, Richard Carpenter and Karen Carpenter would probably be his equivalent of that magical time long ago he reflects on as an older man and says to himself “those were special times”.
They were indeed special times. With three Billboard Number One singles and another five singles reaching Number Two, the 1970s was a time of unparalleled success for Richard and Karen Carpenter, and the songs Richard Carpenter wrote with John Bettis. 40 years later, record sales for the Carpenters are approaching 100 million and their music is indelibly fixed in the minds of anyone who lived through the 1970s.
In a funny way, “Yesterday Once More” has become something of a self-fulfilling prophesy in the years since. Now those of us who remember the song back in the day find the opening lines to “Yesterday Once More”, and Karen Carpenter’s lovely voice, take us back in an instant to the times when we’d hear the song through the tinny speakers of our transistor radios over the airwaves of some crackly AM station.
Those were such happy times…and not so long ago…
Here’s The Carpenters with “Yesterday Once More”…
The video is below, but if you prefer you can listen to the track on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/24Qo0pcx4gjBNQNp1cTOVw
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