The #1 Albums: The Beatles’ “Yesterday and Today” and “Revolver”

Written by Music, The #1 Albums

Detail from the cover of "Revolver" (1966)

One of the many fascinating subtexts in the current season of Mad Men involves the seismic shift in youth culture that began in 1966, the year in which the season is set, and the attempts of Don Draper, age 40, to play catch-up. He thinks the Rolling Stones would be happy to do a spot for pork and beans if he could just talk to them backstage, and he’s unable to differentiate the Beatles from vastly different (and inferior) pop music by others. And “Tomorrow Never Knows,” despite his wife’s recommendation, is incomprehensible to him.

Men Draper’s age and older were running the record business in 1966, and while some may have recognized that the Beatles were making everlasting art, the majority of them were more interested in moving product by any means necessary. In Britain, it was to release Beatles singles without including them on albums released at the same time; in the States, the albums would sell better with the singles included. The timing of movie marketing was a consideration as well. So American Beatles releases were in different configurations than their British counterparts, and often had different titles.

There was no Yesterday and Today in Britain. In America, it was a compilation of songs that had yet to appear on albums over here. It includes “Act Naturally” and “Yesterday” from the previously released British version of Help! and four songs from the British Rubber Soul: “Nowhere Man,” “What Goes On,” “Drive My Car,” and “If I Needed Someone.” Also included, “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out,” both sides of a UK single yet to be released on an album there. To fill out its 27-minute running time, Yesterday and Today even had three songs from the forthcoming Revolver. (It also featured the famous “butcher cover,” which we’ll say nothing about since you can find a ton of information online.)

The Beatles themselves considered the album a mishmash—they programmed and sequenced their British albums for specific reasons, only to see them hacked up for the States. It’s doubtful that their criticism mattered much to the suits at Capitol—you guys sing and leave the business part to us. Just two months later, when Revolver got its American release, it was nevertheless the least-hacked-up of all the American releases to date—“I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Doctor Robert,” which had appeared on Yesterday and Today, were simply removed.

Revolver paid off the creative promise of Rubber Soul, and it made its own further promise, which would be fulfilled in the summer of 1967 by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that nobody would mess with.

Yesterday and Today hit #1 on the Billboard 200 on July 30, 1966, and spent five weeks at the top. After What Now My Love by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass returned to the top for a ninth week on the chart dated September 3, Revolver took over the top spot through the week of October 15th. It would be knocked out by another 60s powerhouse getting its first glimpse of the music world from the top of the album chart. That’s our next installment.