Story Behind the Song: 'Yesterday Once More'
The Carpenters' "Yesterday Once More" is about a song's nostalgic power — its ability to transport the listener back to the time and place they first heard it, no matter how long ago.
The song has the same effect on one of its writers — hit songsmith John Bettis. "Yesterday" is one of 38 songs he wrote with and for the duo of Richard and Karen Carpenter, and he "distinctly" remembers the day the 1973 hit came to fruition.
He told its story to Bart Herbison, executive director of Nashville Songwriters Association International.
Bart Herbison with the Nashville Songwriters Association International talks with legendary songwriter John Bettis about one of 38 songs he wrote with Richard and Karen Carpenter
Bart Herbison: It kind of started, you get out of college and you're in a band with a couple people. Let me see, who were they? Karen and Richard Carpenter.
John Bettis: (Laughs) I remember them! The Carpenters were my garage band. ... (Richard and I) got to know each other, and we talked about girls and cars and stuff.
And this school is where?
Cal State at Long Beach. He asked me at one point, he said, "Look, I've got a sister who sings great and plays drums. Let's put a group together, the three of us. We'll get some other people from the music department here and make a band."
I've got to ask you (about) the first time you heard Karen sing a song.
Exactly like you'd (think). It was like a movie. She sang that way when she was 16.
Do you remember the writing of "Yesterday Once More?"
Distinctly. Richard and Karen were on the road a lot. They'd had six No. 1 records or something in a row. We'd had "Goodbye to Love." Richard had no time to find any material, so he was going to do one side of an album as oldies. But he knew he couldn't get away with that without an original song to hang it all together. So he called me and said, "We've really got to have an anthem." This is when "Grease" was getting the Tony (Award). This is when (1973 movie) "American Graffiti" had just been out, so it made some commercial sense. ...
I wrote maybe five pages of (song) titles. There must have been 70 of them, and I got them over to Richard's house. He never said anything to me. I didn't know which one he took, if any. So I went over there, and we had two or three days to write. I showed up in his piano room and saw my sheets of paper all over the floor. I saw a circle, and it was "Yesterday Once More." ... We couldn't figure out how to do the verses. Were we going to do one of those "Rock and Roll Heaven" things, referring to old records and artists like Buddy Holly, or were we not? We wasted four or five hours doing that.
No you didn't because you made the right choice.
Well, that's true. We didn't waste the time. But Karen came in at one point from shopping. She was always checking on us. She wouldn't bother us, but she'd make sure we weren't just fooling around. She came in and said, "What have you got for me?" We said, "Well, it's not done." We played her the chorus and she, of course, loved it. We told her what we were working on in the verses and she said, "No, I hate that." (laughs) That was the only comment she ever made. She didn't want it to be the names of things and stuff.
Well, then you did waste your time, and Karen pulled you back in the right direction.
Well, that's what she always did. ... So we got it finished, and then she came back in and sang it. It was one of those moments you live for, because she was so comfortable with us, and Richard could play so well that you could feel the arrangement. ... The record just kind of bloomed in front of me. It was never any better than that, and the record really wasn't that much different.
— Compiled by Dave Paulson, The Tennessean