It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes it does: a single edit of a song definitively is the wrong way to hear the song: "Yesterday Once More" is perfectly okay in its gosh-how-nice-to-hear-the-old-songs-on-the-radio way, but the full effect and meaning of the song come through in the album version, from The Carpenters' Now & Then from 1973. Sure enough, the Carpenters did this song as they themselves liked hearing old songs, but the oldies medley - "Fun, Fun, Fun," "The End Of The World," "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Deadman's Curve," "Johnny Angel," "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes," "Our Day Will Come" and "One Fine Day." With scarily accurate Tony Peluso-imitates-a-DJ segues, it is more than a little eerie, especially if you grew up in Los Angeles, as Richard and Karen Carpenter did, as I did, on and off. When Richard writes of their delight in hearing the old songs, I can't help but feel that as Baby Boomers they were part of a massive wave that was able to sit back and look at their youth fondly; but I can't also help but notice that there were plenty of reasons to look back. The songs here are all from the early 60s, a time of optimism and youth and opportunity - a time before responsibility, before the draft, before the living room war, before anyone was assassinated, and certainly before Nixon and Watergate and this new thing, the oil crisis. This is music from an idealized/idealizing time (American Graffiti was one of the biggest movies in the US in '73) and that nostalgia was shared in the UK, though for different reasons.
From what I can tell, the liberation of the 60s didn't hit the UK until the 70s, but then so did the various burdens as well. A lot of you, dear readers, experienced these things firsthand, and as the UK drifted into The Fog, various forces of that situation have to be picked apart, which is hard - as it is such an ugly time that walking into it is kind of scary, even now. Now- there's an interesting word - starts to suffer as The Fog approaches, and nostalgia - a preference for the past, takes a certain hold. This song is about preferring the past to the present ("And the good times that I had/Makes today seem rather sad, so much has changed") and about how the narrator would rather sing along/cry along to old songs, relive them as closely as possible, almost turn the radio into a time machine - than deal with the present.
Perhaps it's just my own youth, but when I remember listening to the radio - something I did an awful lot of in the late 70s/80s, I cannot say that I want to relive those times, as such. (A lot of the songs I remember fondly either don't get played, or the full version doesn't get played, or invariably I remember the 12" single that also doesn't get played, etc.) The idea of being nostalgic for the 70s or 80s is a lamentable one to me, seeing as how miserable most of it was - not for me personally, but on a worldwide-global-nuclear-war-any-day-now way, which filtered down into a lot of anxiety and almost not taking music on too personally. The songs The Carpenters have are all either good-natured or kind of creepy by turn, inherently early 60s in their sense of public fun and danger, the whole Cold War thing being turned into paranoia of a thousand eyes in the night, the broken heart being the real end of the world. In a way it suggests that in previous apocalyptic times, the radio was the refuge; the safe place, before everything went wrong - or should I say, got much much worse - sadder, really.
Here Karen* sings of songs that were hits when she was just eleven or twelve, and her alto voice of longing wishes to bring back those times, as bad as she knows they were, as they were at least preferable to now; and as far as I can tell so did many other Baby Boomers just hitting their 20s, faced with the unpleasant fact that the go-go 60s were definitely over and this new...thing called the 70s was unfortunately here to stay, and seemed to be getting worse every time you looked around. So why not look back? It's easy, it's comforting, and - I can't emphasize this enough - an awful lot of other people the same age were doing the exact same thing, making it a kind of rite of passage, if you will. This song marks that time, a time when nostalgia was not quite yet being commodified (Happy Days was just around the corner though) and the thought of anyone ever being fashionably retro in an early 70s way would have seemed absurd** to say the least. The Fog that overtakes the UK charts starts to form here, in a time when people spent way too much time looking back - not the Glam kids, no, but those a bit older, who remembered what once was and were feeling sadder, powerless even, the snap and joy of the 60s gone, replaced by a world that seemed colder, meaner, and so on. Nostalgia always does well in times like those; it is thanks to the squeaky-clean oddness of The Carpenters that they forgive this sentiment and also, with the long medley, show how incrementally strange and gone the past really is, never to return.
Next up: why look back when you can dance?
*How odd is it to note that Karen Carpenter and Suzi Quatro were about the same age?
**I can appreciate the term "retromania" but that implies a kind of joyous intensity that nostalgia, which verges on a listless, vague moroseness, suits this song much better.