‘Yesterday’ earns BMI Million-Air Award

Monday, September 19, 1988

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From Club Sandwich N°50, Autumn 1988:

Paul has a few awards in his time, but his special ‘Million-Air’ award from America’s BMI organization on 19th September still takes beating. The citation reads as follows: “This special citation is presented by Broadcast Music, Inc. to Paul McCartney in recognition of the great national popularity, as measured by over five million broadcast performances, attained by ‘Yesterday.’

It’s the first song to reach the five million mark, covering all versions broadcast on US radio and television. The song first on the Beatles’ Help album in August 1965, some 23 years ago. Yet BMI calculate that five million continuous plays would occupy more than 28 years! So at any given moment since its release, there’s a good chance that more than one radio or TV station has been playing a version of ‘Yesterday’.

But who are these nice BMI people and how do they keep track of these things? BMI was founded almost 50 years ago as an alternative to ASCAP. the American Society of Songwriters, Composers and Publishers, whose strict membership requirements excluded many writers of regional, ethnic and other minority musics. Thus BMI became the natural home for exponents of blues, jazz, country music and. eventually, rock ‘n’ roll, who rely on BMI to ensure that all royalties due are paid to the copyright holders.

Prior to BMI’s existence, performance (as opposed to sales) royalties were restricted to live evening performances on network radio: recorded performances and those on independent stations didn’t count. Now half a million hours of network and local radio and six million hours of ditto TV are logged annually to provide a basis for calculation. The average number of plays on a certain type of outlet is multiplied by the total number of outlets in that field.

Back to ‘Yesterday’. Apart from the huge number of cover versions. reckoned at over 2,500 by the Guinness Book of World Records, the song has several other points of interest. It was the first Beatles recording to feature a string quartet and the only one of their A-sides to feature just one Beatle, though Mark Lewisohn’s new book reveals that George Harrison originally sang harmony. In America it became a single in October 1965, reaching number one. Released belatedly as a British single in March 1976, it reached number eight, no mean feat when you consider how many already owned the song.

To get the five million plays in proportion, let’s look at BMI’s other big spinners. Among others reaching landmarks in 1987 were ‘Here Comes The Sun’ (G. Harrison) and ‘Imagine’ (J. Lennon), both passing the two million mark. Ringo’s ‘Photograph’ (written with George) also passed the million mark some time ago. The 1987 Television Music Award went to John and Paul for The Wonder Years, featuring Joe Cocker’s version of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. The PRS (Performing Right Society) is Britain’s equivalent of BMI: the PRS songs after ‘Yesterday’ in the all-time US list are ‘More’ by Norman Newell (four million plays), ‘Michelle’ by Lennon and McCartney and ‘Something’ by George Harrison (both three million plays). Together and solo, nine Beatle songs have passed two million; 20 more have passed one million, as has ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’ by Liverpool’s Gerard Marsden, better known as Gerry of the Pacemakers.

Besides his framed citation, Paul also received a Steuben glass bowl with a suitable inscription. He would be wise not to make trifle in it, for Steuben glass is not any old glass. Founded in 1903, in New York State, the company soon became noted for its engraving and produced various series of pieces based on specially commissioned designs and even poems. But perhaps most notable is the series of unique pieces created for every US President from Harry Truman on. What’s that, Paul? Well, I suppose banana custard would be OK.

Last updated on March 21, 2020

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