In 1965 and 1966, the Beatles and Roger Miller were two of the biggest music acts on the planet. In that two-year period, while the Fab Four dominated the pop charts, Miller was all over the country charts and crossing into the pop world with hits including “Engine Engine #9,” “England Swings” and, of course, “King of the Road.” In October 1965 while Miller was weeks away from releasing his quaint, touristy observations of the Beatles’ homeland, the Liverpool lads were at the top of the U.S. chart with Paul McCartney’s melancholic “Yesterday,” a single backed by Ringo Starr’s vocal version of “Act Naturally,” a Johnny Russell-penned tune known to country fans as a 1963 hit for Buck Owens.
Miller’s increasing popularity, his singular wit and the quality of his songwriting not only earned him an astounding 11 Grammys in that fertile two-year stretch of time, he also became a regular on a number of network TV variety series, and hosted his own NBC special in January 1966, the first in the network’s history to be broadcast in “living color” on the Peacock network.
Later that year, just weeks after Tree Publishing presented Miller with his first major check as a staff songwriter, earning the tunesmith $160,000, NBC debuted The Roger Miller Show, a musical-variety series that would run for the next four months, and feature guests including Bill Cosby, Peter, Paul & Mary, Liberace, Bobby Darin and Petula Clark.
A highlight of the short-lived series, which lasted just 13 weeks, was the above performance of “Yesterday” by Miller. Months earlier, at the Eighth Annual Grammy Awards, the Beatles’ hit lost out to “King of the Road,” when it snagged the trophy for Best Contemporary Rock & Roll Single, one of the five honors Miller took that night. But in this audio-only clip, Miller imbues his version of the classic with plenty of heartache and a touch of his