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2003-Jul-06: Please Answer Me?

The British papers will filled with stories today about how Sir Paul may have borrowed a melody from Nat King Cole when he awoke from his dream and composed his classic Yesterday.    Musicologists are claiming that Yesterday echoes Nat King Cole's 1953 hit Please Answer Me.  Even the song's lyrics: 

"Yesterday I believed that love  was here  to stay, won't you tell me where I've gone astray...."
  seem quite similar to Sir Paul's:
"Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far  away, now it looks as though they're here to stay."             

Apparently, the similarity was first noted by pop historian, Spencer  Leigh.  He writes about it in his Beatles book, The Walrus was Ringo  :

"McCartney was working with this medley in his   head which  he realized was a cracking tune. He was playing it to people  saying, 'Don't you recognize this?' I wonder what might have happened if somebody had said,   'Isn't it like Answer Me?' He might have forgotten               Yesterday and we would have lost one of the world's great songs."

Mr. Leigh's co-author, Alan Clayson, adds:

"It is not plagiarism. He was worried that he had subconsciously lifted it."

In an interview with National Public Radio, Mr. Leigh went on to explain a bit of the history of Answer Me:

" Answer Me"--it started out  in 1949 as a German song called (German spoken), which was a song about a mother and her son. It was given an English lyric and  it was "Answer Me, My Lord."  But when it came to England, it was actually banned by the BBC because it referred  to  religion in it--"Answer Me, My Lord.  And at the time, that was known as a "God botherer, and they didn't play it on the radio.  And so the manager of the British singer wrote a new lyric to it - he emended the lyric and called it "Answer Me, My Love", and that version was picked up by Nat King Cole."

As for Yesterday, Mr. Leigh claimed in the NPR interview:

"I'm not saying that it's plagiarism at all.   What I'm saying is that the spirit of that song was what inspired Paul McCartney. But I mean, the opening line of the song "Answer Me"--the way that "Yesterday" opens with 'Yesterday'--they're very similar, and the way the word 'sweetheart' in the song rises rather than falls is quite an unusual stylistic touch in Nat King Cole's "Answer Me," and that is actually appearing in "Yesterday" as well. So I think there are quite a number of similarities and I hope that people are going to argue about this, and it'll be very interesting to see what happen."

In his forthcoming book The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles, author Dominic Pedler supports Mr. Leigh's theory:

"There   are  some uncanny similarities: the overlap of lyrics, the multiple rhyming emphasis on words ending with 'ay', the similar scan of the song.  McCartney didn't hijack the song, but he must have been  inspired  by it."

Even the Beatles' official biographer, Hunter Davies, tends to agree:

  "Paul will  remember Answer Me. It was a popular ballad before  rock'n'roll came along.  I have never thought it was similar to Yesterday  , but I can vaguely see it now."

However,  Sir Paul's spokesman, Geoff Baker,  is not  in agreement:

"To me the two songs are about as similar  as Get Back and God Save the Queen!"

(kindly submitted by PLUGGED correspondent Joan M. Hopkins)


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