Reporter’s Notebook: ‘Yes’ to Katy Perry’s ‘Yesterday’ in Beatles salute

Katy Perry performs "Yesterday" during "The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles" on Jan. 27, 2014, in Los Angeles.
Katy Perry performs “Yesterday” during “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles” on Jan. 27, 2014, in Los Angeles.
(Kevin Winter / Getty Images for NARAS)

Nearly 14 million viewers tuned into Sunday’s CBS tribute special “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles,” which fell far far short of the audience of 73 million that watched the Beatles’ first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” 50 years earlier.

The most divisive performance appears to be Katy Perry’s rendition of Paul McCartney’s modern-day pop standard “Yesterday,” which has generated scores of blog comments -- many negative -- from readers.

“First of all, whoever the clown was that signed off on Katy Perry and [her] overly fake dramatic rendition of ‘Yesterday’ as well as changing the words should strung up by the ear lobes,” reader Fantasy Maker posted in response to a Pop & Hiss post Monday about portions of the live performance that were omitted from the telecast. “Also, if you are going to do a cover of a Beatles song, at least have decency to KNOW the words instead of relying on a teleprompter.”


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“Agree about Perry,” DDM697 posted in reply. “Breathy ill-rehearsed rendition, indeed.”

I’m a lifelong Beatles fan who watched the original Sullivan broadcast and later experienced the song’s debut TV performance by McCartney. I’ve subsequently heard dozens, maybe hundreds of different versions over the last half century, as it turned into what’s widely credited as the most-recorded song in history.

So I was among the biggest skeptics when show producers announced that Perry would be singing the classic ballad, wondering what this pop princess could possibly bring to this exquisitely melancholy song.

That skepticism quickly melted away when I first heard her run through the number while I was covering rehearsals for the show a few hours before it was filmed at the L.A. Convention Center.

Perry’s version was heartfelt, and she avoided the vocal histrionics so many young female pop and R&B singers employ. She delivered the words simply, honestly and with a delivery that felt to me as coming straight from her heart.

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Many viewers complained that she departed from the melody as McCartney wrote it, but any singer worth his or her salt does more than robotically copy the source material. Where McCartney took the line “now I long for yesterday” down then up and back down, Perry delivered it with a single note that brought a different feeling and power to the song that was no less authentic or moving.

For this viewer, it worked beautifully, and it gave me a new insight into and appreciation for her skill as a singer.

It was one of the genuine highlights of a show that clearly had its ups and downs. I also count Stevie Wonder’s vibrantly funky take on “We Can Work it Out” and the Eurythmics’ wistful “Fool on the Hill” as among the high points.

The entire show will have an encore broadcast Feb. 12 at 8:30 p.m., Pacific and Eastern time.

Here’s a video of a performance that’s well worth a second look.


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Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2