This song appeared in the 1933 Broadway hit Roberta, which was made into a popular film and released in 1935. Many believe this musical was a continuation of the evolution in Kern's Broadway style toward a more operatic approach. With lyrics by longtime collaborator Otto Harbach, Yesterdays has been cited by many as being among Kern's finest efforts. Does it divulge a certain operatic character? Some may hear it that way because of its greater sense for drama, but the song does not actually break with the composer's Broadway musical persona, even if it exhibits a more serious manner and an almost Rachmaninovian lyricism.
The main theme is melancholy, but soars in its nocturnal, intimate beauty. On its first appearance, its sweet sadness comes across in mostly descending phrases, and when it is given the second time a new phrase is added, one that falls gently and beautifully, and with a resolute sorrowful sense. The music perfectly matches the lyrics, which tell of youthful romance and past loves, of better times than the sad ones of the present. Without a doubt, this song features one of Kern's finest and perhaps deepest melodic creations.