Friday, 4 July 2008
The Beatles "Help!" (1965) ('Core' Album #3, Revised Edition 2014)
Track Listing: Help!/ The Night Before/ You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away/ I Need You/ Another Girl/ You’re Gonna Lose That Girl/ Ticket To Ride//Act Naturally/ It’s Only Love/ You Like Me Too Much/ Tell Me What You See/ I’ve Just Seen A Face/ Yesterday/ Dizzie Miss Lizzy (UK version. The
version splits these tracks between Beatles VI, Help! The Original Soundtrack and – bizarrely – the heavily altered US version of Rubber Soul!) US
For The Record:
Ones to watch out for: Help!, You’re Going To Lose That Girl, Ticket To Ride, Yesterday
Ones to skip: Act Naturally is good fun, but doesn’t sit that well in the middle of the album and rather breaks up the effortless pop mood of the first half.
The Cover: The Beatles spelling out HELP! in semaphore. Or NUJV as they are actually saying (the letters HEL and P weren’t thought to look right on an album cover). NUJV! doesn’t quite have the same ring to it somehow…
Key lyrics: “When I was younger so much younger than today, I never needed anybody’s help in anyway” “I think I’m gonna be sad, I think its today yeah, the girl that’s driving me mad is going away” “I’ve just seen a face I can’t forget the time or place where we first met, she’s just the girl for me and I want all the world to see we’ve met, di-di-di-da-di da” “Why she had to go I don’t know she wouldn’t say, I said something wrong now I long for yesterday”
Singles: Two number #1s: Help! And Ticket To Ride. Yesterday was only released as a single in
, but naturally that’s another #1 too. America
chart position: #1 (I’m spotting a trend here). UK
Official out-takes: Anthology Two includes early versions of You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, Yesterday and It’s Only Love, two pretty unloved but still interesting out-takes in That Means A Lot (written and sung by McCartney) and If You’ve Got Troubles (written by McCartney and sung by Starr) and a 1965 show in Blackpool that includes live versions of Yesterday, Ticket To Ride and Help!
Availability: Like all Beatles CDs, Help! has never been deleted and is unlikely to be in the foreseeable future. It would be nice if EMI could re-release these albums in better sound, however, as the Beatles CDs are some of the earliest still available, dating back to 1987 when technology was still relatively primitive compared to today (perhaps with bonus tracks or a mono/stereo twofer?!)
This album came between: The previous album was the mildly disappointing (for The Beatles anyway) Beatles For Sale (1964); The follow-up album was Rubber Soul (1965), another certified classic with some truly jaw-dropping stuff (Norwegian Wood and Nowhere Man for two), but its missing the fun of Help! , the depth of a song like Ticket To Ride and the songs don’t run into each other that well either.
Line up: George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (Producer: George Martin)
I really don't understand why 'Help!' isn't a better known album. For a record that contains two number one singles (the title track and 'Ticket To Ride') plus at least one more song that everybody knows ('Yesterday', still the most covered song in existence) 'Help!' seems to have struggled with its profile over the years, surrounded by bigger and noisier Beatles albums to the stage where only true fans seem to remember it nowadays. Despite the high profile of three of its songs, the general opinion has always been that 'Help!' wasn't one of the band's brightest ideas: like the film it soundtracks it's a lot of fun but not that deep; an album to for pop and ballads rather than anything life-changing or rule-breaking. People see 'Help!' as the last tiny fish from a pool that has become increasingly shallow after five albums and most Beatles fans who came to this album later are simply impatient to get to the 'progressive' years. But to dismiss both the Help' film and album as an empty colourful romp is to rather miss the point: 'Help!' isn't the best Beatles film and yet it's still my favourite: the jokes are hilarious, the scenes are almost all memorable and the sheer joy of seeing the band larking about Monkees-style makes for better repeat plays than the cleverness of 'A Hard Day's Night', the weirdness of 'Magical Mystery Tour' and 'Yellow Submarine' or the sadness of 'Let It Be'. At time there's some real emotion and poignancy behind all that silliness and some touching moments that makes the scenes around them all the sharper. The same goes for the soundtrack LP: 'Help!' is only shallow on the surface - the title track is a real cry for help from an increasingly bewildered Lennon and lyrically is his break-through song, setting up a brave new world where he can speak his mind instead of using characters all the time; 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' is among Lennon's tenderest, most sincere ballads; 'Ticket To Ride' is the Beatles' heaviest, weightiest song until 'A Day In The Life' and is in many ways the band's bravest single, outpacing anything around it; yes side two throws a lot of side one's good work away but even that has the breadth and depth of such fascinating B-list numbers as 'I've Just Seen A Face' and 'Yesterday', two songs every other band would kill for.
'Help!' often gets tagged on to the end of The Beatles' 'early years' lists, perhaps because it's the soundtrack to perhaps the most commercially-knowing film the Beatles ever made; perhaps because it's sandwiched between the shambolic pop fun of Beatles For Sale and the sudden growth spurt that was Rubber Soul in the band’s discography. In many ways it's the missing link between the mop-tops of 1962-65 and the ground-breakers of 1965 onwards, the point where the band truly mesh both their past and their future. However, unlike some reviewers who see it as the end of an era of innocence, I feel that this record really belongs at the beginning of part two and that this is the beginnings of a trilogy that ends in 'Revolver'. Whisper it quietly, but against popular convention I'd even add that there's less filler and more progression here than on the all-singing all-dancing 'Rubber Soul'. After all, the band don't know it themselves yet but their sound is changing for one very good reason: 'Help!' is the first Beatles album recorded after the band were introduced to drugs (or at least John, George and Ringo were, with a dentist friend of theirs later caricatured in 'Dr Robert' slipping some LSD into the first two's tea without their knowledge). For now the most obvious effect this has is that everything is a little bit faster and more out of control: for instance, closer 'Dizzy Miss Lizzy' should sound like 'Twist and Shout', but the carefully judged control and space of that song has been replaced by chaos (it's the difference between a cat pouncing on a mouse on the ground or in a washing machine). Although it's the ballads everyone tends to think of on this album, there's higher-than-average tempos across this album, from the tripping-over-it's-own-feet 'I've Just Seen A Face' to the sudden bursts of adrenalin in 'Tell Me What You See'.
For now, the main writer it's affecting is Lennon. Despite his brash nature, John was a natural at long rambling interviews and gave more in this period than the other three put together (in part because he was promoting his books separately to the music). His old friend Maureen Cleave, who'll coax out of him the statement that 'The Beatles are bigger than Jesus' during the year, once challenged him as to why his books and his songs were so different: why pop music was made up of characters while his book was clearly more about himself. While knocked away in typical Lennon style, the question clearly unsettled him and turns up again and again in the interviews he gave in his solo years. 'Help!' is the first album written after that question was first put to him and - along with the soft drugs helping him connect with his psyche - sets Lennon on a course of 'honest writing' where he writes less with his audience in mind and more for himself. Building on the touches of 'realness' in some of his earlier songs ('Not A Second Time' 'I'm A Loser'), Lennon goes into confessional mode in 1965, using his songs to probe why he still feels empty and unfulfilled despite having what many people would assume to be the best job on the planet.
That's interesting because 'Help!' has also gone down in history as The Beatles' 'Dylan' album. Turned on to the writer by McCartney (who'd just bought a copy of his 'Bringing It All Home' album), Lennon was the one who became infatuated with his 'confessional' style and for a time even walked around wearing the 'peaked' cap Bob was famous for wearing. For Lennon, Dylan's songs offered a groundedness and realism he hadn't yet been able to put forward in song (with 'I'm A Loser' from the previous album the first flowerings of this fascination). However, while everyone talks about the inspiration (and while it's undoubtedly there) the only Lennon song from this album that sounds like Dylan could have written it is 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away', and even that has a very Lennon-ish chorus (Dylan would never have been as outspoken as 'Help!' or as depressed as 'Ticket To Ride' and would have added something about a farm or a rolling stone to make 'Yes It Is' more his style). Dylan, meanwhile, had just been turned on to The Beatles and the freedom and carefree joy their records expressed and Bob will be inspired to go electric on his next album 'Bringing It All Back Home' (although again there's nothing on that album you can imagine Lennon or McCartney writing per se, although a Beatle-ish 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' would have been fun!)
It's hard to believe now that Lennon ever felt insecure or had image problems, but he's on record as saying that 1965 was a tough year: the 'Bigger than Jesus' escapade bothered him more than he let on and his first thoughts on watching the 'Help!' rushes back wasn't 'ooh look at us in the Swiss alps' or 'ha ha Ringo's covered in paint' but 'gosh, I look fat!' (It didn't help that an American reviewer of the film decided to call him 'the fat Beatle' in a review soon after). Deciding that he was losing the realism he'd once prided himself on ('Faking' his own lines in 'Help!' and effectively 'creating' a character like Lennon must have been a galling experience for someone as obsessed with 'truth' as John was), this is the point where The Beatles' leader takes charge, pouring out his doubts and hopes and guilt in a series of songs that stand amongst the most powerful ever written. The title track is the most famous example, but 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' and 'Ticket To Ride' both point towards a 'down' mood too (of Lennon's other songs on the album, 'You're Gonna Lose That Girl' is the last great carefree Beatles pop song and 'It's Only Love' sounds like a spoof of McCartney and the sort of things he feels he 'ought' to be writing; if only 'Ticket's B-side, the gorgeous Lennon ballad 'yes It Is' had made the record we might be talking about its' creators greatest sequence of songs here). Given the times, the first three of these songs are revolutionary: rock songs about fear, depression and denial unheard of for 1965 ('Ticket To Ride' is often quoted as the first 'heavy metal' record; whatever it is it's a long way from simple pop). Most of these songs are smothered by lashings of George's new discovery of a pedal steel guitar.
In many ways, though, this persecuted persona is hiding in such plain sight that it's no wonder people didn't notice. The title track, for instance, wasn't actually Lennon's idea at all - it came about after director Dick Lester requested a title track and after bashing some ideas around John and Paul figured that a song based on the film's working title of 'Eight Arms To Hold You' (a reference to the Ka-ili statue) was near-impossible. The other songs were deliberately written to fill up the soundtrack on a film that was deliberately made colourful and bright, with The Beatles caught somewhere between their cartoon creation selves (The Beatles Cartoons re-use a lot of sequences from the film) and James Bond. Interestingly it's Paul whose most at home writing the sort of sweet, catchy soundtrack songs Dick Lester asked for (the opposite of 'A Hard Day's Night', when his contributions were the dark 'Things We Said Today' and comparatively deep ballad 'And I Love Her'), taking the venom out of Lennon's bites with some of his more auto-pilot songs (eg 'Another Girl'), with only an early sign of the arguments between him and girlfriend Jane Asher getting in the way ('Tell Me What You See' and the sub-consciously written 'Yesterday' - I'd love to know just how close this was written to 'The Night Before', a song about how much she has 'changed' in such a short time as even the titles are similar; sadly most people seem to agree 'Yesterday' was written 'Beatles For Sale' time and certainly by the beginning of the 'Help!' film - Dick Lester must have been cursing the fact it wasn't on the actual film soundtrack but buried away on the album's second side!) The other big development is George's second rush of songs, both written with new wife Patti Boyd in mind, neither of which sound quite like his first song 'Don't Bother Me', but which don't sound quite as natural as his later love songs like 'Something' either (it might be that George was still searching for his own sound and so tried to copy the two songwriters at hand, coming up with an uneasy mix of McCartney's gorgeous but sometimes shallow melody and Lennon's hard-hitting but occasionally awkward song structure). However both of these songs are promising and more than up to the album's standard - you wonder what might have happened if someone (like, say, George Martin) had leant a more supportive ear to his compositions this early on.
Like 'A Hard Day's Night' the first side of 'Help!' was written during a crucial two month period at the beginning of 1965 when 'Beatles For Sale' was finally put to bed when The Beatles had a bit of space and time to themselves. As well as encouraging Lennon to look inside himself, it gave McCartney the chance to spend some quality time with Jane Asher (after an extremely rushed first year together) and gave the band a breathing space before the hectic work schedule showed itself again. By 1965 Beatle standards these seven songs (plus 'Yes It Is') were recorded over a leisurely two months across February and April that year. The second side, however, was recorded in a rush that made even 'Beatles For sale' look planned and controlled: without any better ideas The Beatles turned to a hurried cover song in May, taping a one-take version of Larry Williams' 'Dizzy Miss Lizzy' (after discarding the unreleased-in-the-UK 'Bad Boy' by the same author). Everything else was recorded in a three-day rush in the middle June (cutting it fine , what with the mid-July release date), which included such hilariously 'wrong' decisions as Having Macca belt out 'I'm Down' and get country with 'I've Just Seen A Face' and only then tape the important vocal for the sensitive 'Yesterday', all within a matter of hours on the 14th of June (possibly the band's most productive session of 1965, especially for Paul!) The fact that the band uncharacteristically wasted time on two songs that were abandoned (and unreleased until for 'Anthology Two' in 1996 - 'If You Got Troubles' and 'That Means A Lot') meant that half of this album was an extremely rushed affair, like the bad old days of 'Please Please Me', with engineers pointing to the clock and record executives phoning up in a panic. Unfortunately, as strong as the first side of the album is, only 'Yesterday' on the second matches it, with the struggles behind the making of it all too clear. Perhaps it's that which just prevents 'Help!' from being a 24 carat gold classic and instead makes it merely another really good Beatles LP.
There's also an interesting switch at work that passed by more or less un-noticed. As the sessions for June 14th 1965 hint, this is the point where Lennon and McCartney cross over. While John dominates the first side, Paul dominates the second. Lennon is still very much in charge for the album’s first side – his sense of pop dynamics and personal confession masquerading as exuberant fun was never better and he is ably supported by some notably strong guitar-work from George Harrison, whose solos on these first few tracks are some of his best for the group. McCartney, by comparison, is struggling to make his presence heard with only two not generally well renowned songs (although even these are head and shoulders above most other records of 1965). By the second side all that has changed. Lennon is unusually silent, with only one of his least-loved songs (It’s Only Love) and a chaotic vocal on the cover of Dizzy Miss Lizzie to show for the sessions. McCartney, by comparison, proves himself a master of several different styles, with Yesterday the most well known example of his growing musical confidence, but other songs like Tell Me What You See and I’ve Just Seen A Face (plus Help! B-side I’m Down recorded at these sessions) covering a ridiculous amount of ground between them.
Unlike some other albums we've covered (including most Beatles albums) there isn't really a theme here: which is doubly odd given that half of these songs were written to the backdrop of an (admittedly rather skeleton) plot. While 'Help!' the film is about capture and chase, new cultures and people abusing their power who aren't as clever as they think they are (Scotland Yard, the pair of bumbling scientists), 'Help!' the album is more of a love story than Beatles albums have been of late. George and Ringo are by now happily married, John less happily married and Paul beginning to go off the idea of marriage. 'It's Only Love' stands out in Lennon's canon because it comes from left-field: we haven't heard him this gooey-eyed since the days of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' but as the 'Anthology' outtakes reveal, he wasn't exactly taking the song very seriously and probably wrote it to copy McCartney's usual style during an uninspired writing session with the clock ticking. However it's presence here and the sudden rise of Paul and George as songwriters in this period means that in total there are nine songs out of the 14 on the album directly concerned with love as a romantic form ('The Night Before' 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' 'I Need You' 'Another Girl' 'It's Only Love' 'You Like Me Too Much' 'I've Just Seen A Face' 'Dizzy Miss Lizzy', with perhaps 'The Night Before' 'Another Girl' and 'Yesterday' talking about a love that used to be) - compared to seven on 'Beatles For Sale' and eight on 'A Hard Day's Night (and only three bona fide straightforward love songs on 'Rubber Soul' : 'Michelle' 'The Word' and 'If I Needed Someone').
A quick word about the cover, a still taken from the scene of The Beatles in the snow during the 'Ticket To Ride' sequence in the Swiss Alps. Apparently The Beatles were meant to be spelling out semaphore for the word 'help!' but it was realised pretty quickly that those four letters were too similar to each other ('H' is arms to left and diagonal to bottom left, 'E' is down and up-to-the-right, 'L' is direct diagonals bottom left to top right and 'P' is straight left and straight up). As a result, The Beatles are actually spelling out that famous phrase...NJUV!, an acronym that has been much debated down the years ('Now John's Under Valhalla!' 'New Jersey's Under Velcro!' 'Nice Jumpers Umbrellas and Vases!') but was almost certainly chosen because those letters look good on a cover. Like the film and the music, 'Help!' is one of the more striking Beatles LP covers, making full use of the white-against-black shot and the four Beatles' increasingly different personalities.
Overall, then, I can't lay claim that 'Help!' is a perfect LP, but I am inordinately fond of it: Help! might not have the impressive forward-thinking songs of the albums that came after it or the top-notch innocent fun of many of the albums before it, but it is a good balance of the fab four’s development between the two styles, with the lyrics of the songs getting deeper all the time but at this point featuring on songs that are still instantly accessible and blessed with a large dollop of enthusiastic Beatles magic. The Beatles certainly weren’t immune to problems as the comments above prove, but compared to other albums out that Summer Help! is extraordinary, both in its consistency and the many artistic peaks that are scattered all the way through it. It can even be argued that the Beatles had found their second wind in this period – coming after the Beatles’ most inconsistent and hurried-sounding LP Beatles For Sale the recordings sound bright and energetic, the lyrics offer a much more cohesive mix of dark pessimism and pop songwriting standbys and the melodies are slowly beginning to wander their way out of simple popdom and into something deeper. Thanks partly to the psychedelic sounds beginning to emerge from America, the band’s growing interest in drugs and a slight hysteria caused by too much filming in the hot Bahamas sun, the Beatles suddenly find new inspiration and recreate the effortless enthusiasm of their early records for one last time. I know it's not 'Revolver' (what is?) but even more than that album 'Help!' is a warm aural hug, the best friend who empathises with you, gives you a shoulder to cry on but then tells you a funny joke and makes you laugh. 'Help!' is our ticket to ride to happier times when The Beatles still wrote songs of innocence and joy, but tempered them with a deeper, complex sound that will pay dividends in the years to come...
Interestingly, the band’s deepest material on this album is reserved for the 45s that came out that year: the title track 'Help!' is still breathtaking all these years on, both for Lennon’s first honestly vulnerable lyric and a cooking backing track that veers from a completely separate verse and chorus part with consummate ease. Ringo is the ‘starr’ of this particular record, coming up with some classic Beatlesy drum rolls to half-distract, half empathise with his partner’s emotional pain (Lennon and Ringo get good at developing this bond later – witness the latter’s playing on John’s later tracks like Strawberry Fields, A Day In The Life, She Said She Said and Rain, all Ringo’s finest moments). Working equally well as infectious pop and something darker, the lyrics to Help! have been rather over-exaggerated in post-Beatle years, not least by Lennon himself. Lennon didn’t really remark to anybody at the time that this was a ‘cry for help!’ and indeed might well have been writing to order when he was asked to come up with a song to fit the film title. (Debate still rages over whether the film title or the song came first. The film had the working title ‘Eight Arms To Hold You’ in honour of the eight-armed Kaili statue at the end of the film until very late in the production (indeed the pre-album single Ticket To Ride even has the line ‘taken from the film eight arms to hold you’ written on its centre-piece). When Lennon (and McCartney for that matter) naturally said they didn’t fancy writing a song title around that phrase, a substitute had to be found – but although some remember film director Dick Lester coming up with the name, others say he took one listen to this new Lennon song and re-named the film there and then. Either way, a perfect fit)
Whether Help! really was intended as a ‘serious’ psychological confessional song or not, however, it certainly sounds that way – Lennon’s sub-consciousness seems to be working overtime in the way the song’s un-moving top line (mimicking screaming fans perhaps or possibly the unending Beatles schedule) crashes against the down-shifting chords of the main melody. We feel trapped when listening to the song, which is strange given that it is full of energetic Beatles whoops and a quite bright, busy riff that – even when heard in instrumental form – is impressively exciting. The song’s sudden full-stop for Lennon’s weary repeat of the opening line, sung with such exuberance just moments before, is a masterstroke, representing the exhausted Lennon’s few hours to himself before he has to hurry back off being a Beatle again. An intriguing mix of recognised Beatley sounds and something that feels slightly, well, wrong, Help! is an impressive single that works on many different levels, sounding as doubtful as it does confident and as excited as it does exhausted.
The Night Before has always suffered by comparison, suddenly charging out of the last track’s melancholy full stop. McCartney’s ode to past Beatleisms (musically it recalls The Things We Said Today and thematically seems to tell that song’s story in reverse – imagining the past rather than the future this time round) is chock-a-block full of Beatle trademarks. A melody-line that seems to rise every line or so, a terribly Harrisonesque guitar solo, a trademark Ringo drum-roll going into the simple middle eight and words that never quite go anywhere or even fit the tune (‘love was in your eye-e-e-s’ ‘when I held you ne-ar you were so sincere’). Add in a McCartney vocal that sounds as if he has a heavy cold and you can see why this track is one of its authors least loved works. Yet listen to the song on its own merit and it’s a fantastic distillation of all those wonderful Beatle trademarks, wrapped up with a clever and dignified tune and sporting an impressive group performance to boot. The Night Before might be one of Help!’s more formulaic songs but the Beatles made these trademark sounds their formula for a reason – because they were very very good.
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away is one of the album’s highlights, another possible confessional song masquerading as catchy pop. Much has been made of Lennon’s sudden inspiration from Bob Dylan in 1965 and this track - acoustic, dramatic and with more emphasis on the lyrics than the tune for almost the first time – is always seized on as an example. However, its probable that Lennon’s influence was actually a journalist friend of his who, reviewing his books of doodles In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works challenged him as to how his wordplay could be so clever and yet his song lyrics sounded so ordinary (he obviously hadn’t heard Not A Second Time or I’ll Be Back!) Away is a giant leap for Lennon’s song-writing and - while still being catchy - its sighing slow tempo and the deep growls the melody-line forces from Lennon’s vocal is far from commercial pop 1965 vintage. Watch it in the context of the film – where the Beatles have just rescued Eleanor Bron and are ‘serenading’ her – and it suddenly seems out-of-place in such a fun-loving film, even more of a Lennon cry from the heart than Help! is.
With lyrics like ‘how can I even try I can never win’ and ‘in the state I’m in’ its nothing short of a sulky depression set to music, a mood enhanced by the surprisingly dry and bare acoustic backing and the rare opportunity to hear a single, non-double tracked Lennon vocal, giving us the feeling that we are listening to a Lost Lennon demo tape rather than a fully-blown Beatle recording. Johnnie Scott, an arranger for EMI who more usually worked with The Hollies, provides the eerie flutes that spring up in the middle where a guitar solo would usually come – pretty much the first time an outside musician was used on a Beatles record. Lennon moves back into commercial mode for the singalong chorus (the ‘hey!’s mimicking the Beatle’s ‘oohs’ at the end of Twist And Shout) and works the sudden change in mood into the piece well, yet the listen is not quite convinced, a tribute to the great pathos in this song.
George’s two songs on the album can’t quite match either his bandmates’ or his own far more detailed song-writing efforts in later years, but they still capture a lovely intimate romantic feel that is ridiculously impressive for a tired Beatle barely aged 22. George is deeply in love with first wife Pattie Boyd in this point at time and for this album has temporarily abandoned his earlier rather dour and grumpy song-writing streak. With a beautiful tune and simple but still fittingly romantic words I Need You is the best of his two songs on Help!, particularly the sudden change of tempo in the middle eight that breaks up the song and George’s own sighing pedal steel part. A moving gentle cry from the heart, especially the narrator’s fear of losing the love of his new bride, George’s muted sensitivity comes as a great contrast to the skudding clouds distracting Lennon and the subconscious-working-overtime questioning of McCartney on this album. Having three songwriters of this calibre in the same group is a rare beast indeed.
McCartney’s Another Girl sounds rather like The Night Before Part Two, sharing that song’s strangely husky vocal, simple 4/4 rhythms and group harmonies, although again even if there is nothing new or pioneering here at least it is old ideas re-created ridiculously well. The song also has a bit more depth than might be revealed on first hearing, when it is the upbeat and very McCartneyesque hook ‘through thick and thin she will always be my friend’ that sticks in your head. Most of this song – the verses particularly – are surprisingly grumpy for a McCartney song and even though he tells the listener that he doesn’t want to say ‘I’ve been unhappy with you’, the suddenly sombre mood and minor-key down-shifting harmonics on the verses make it clear that unhappy is exactly McCartney’s mood here. Sung about an octave lower than future single We Can Work It Out, this song is otherwise a pretty close sister-song, with its simmering unhappy tone and sudden confusion, an unusual response from Macca but common to many of his split-with-Jane-Asher period songs. Another example of Help!’s wolves in poppy sheep’s clothing songs, this track is another perfect mix of the upbeat and the beaten up.
There is one last great moment of pure unbridled innocent pop joy on this album, however, and You’re Going To Lose That Girl is it. Every other band in the history of music would have been proud to name this song among their singles catalogue – for the Beatles its yet another throwaway, not even considered among their growing A-side candidates in 1965. What is there not to love about this song? A hypnotic wide-ranging Lennon vocal is right on top of the track, nagging his friend to treat their girlfriend properly before she leaves him (a subtle twist on the theme of She Loves You or possibly Lennon’s sub-consciousness at work again here, as this is more or less the message Lennon’s friends were giving him during his early troubles with first wife Cynthia). In a pre-cursor of his later admittance to being a ‘jealous guy’ in 1971, here Lennon relishes his jealous part, implying that his friend’s situation is perfect and he should know a good thing when he finds it.
The other Beatles back him up well - the McCartney-Harrison vocals are among the most complex and convincing in the fab four’s back catalogue (unlike other bands on the list like the Hollies, Moody Blues or CSNY the Beats rarely sang in harmony throughout one song like here: This Boy, If I Fell, Yes It Is, Nowhere Man and Because being the other main exceptions, interestingly all of these are Lennon songs, make of that what you will). Also, George’s wild solo is spot-on for the drama in the track and Ringo’s drumming owes less to 1960s pop star conventional playing than to his own experiments and idiosyncrasies. A good half of all Beatles songs have made it into the nation’s sub-consciosuness down the years, including many a loved album track or oft-played B-side, but for some reason this track never has, despite being the most catchy song in the Beatles’ widely-seen second film. Goodness knows why – professional pop songs hardly ever came better packaged than this one and it’s a strong candidate for the Beatles’ strongest performance to boot.
Ticket To Ride is some competition, however. A much less obvious candidate for single material than, say, the last track, it still manages to mix moody head-shrugging with singalong catchyness, representing yet another huge leap in the Lennon-McCartney songbook. The narrator in A Hard Day’s Night might have been dog-tired, the characters in Love Me Do and Please Please Me might have been desperate for attention and the friend in She Loves You might be secretly jealous of his companion’s date, but never before had a Beatles single sounded so, well, depressed. Pinching back the ‘heavy’ styles of late 1964 (nicked by the Kinks and the Who from the Beatles own ‘heavy-ish’ tracks earlier in the year) the Beatles set alight to the pop market here, out-wallowing, out-thundering and above all out-smarting their rivals with this track. However, the Beatles still had their ear on the national pulse of ’65 and dress up the song well, with glorious chiming guitar and a singalong chorus that doesn’t detract from the depth of the lyrics. Lennon’s narrator’s girlfriend has upped and left and his whole world is now playing for him at half-speed in his sorrow; queue Ringo’s only-just-awake bass drum smacks and George’s asleep-on-his-feet guitar parts. Things get lighter for the song’s middle eight, where Lennon’s characteristically annoyed tone comes through in force, but by and large the narrator is apathetic, unable to do anything to stop his girl from leaving except moan about it. The Lennon of old would have hopped into the train station and let the train run over him before he’d let the girl of his dreams walk away but here the singer seems squashed, the victim of a great unjust conspiracy he is too tired to cope with. The sudden breezy jazzy ending is fooling nobody – for this song’s three brief minutes time has stood still, history has been made and jaws are still left-hanging open.
Ringo’s cameo on Act Naturally fits the loveable drummer like a glove, especially given his acting credentials in both A Hard Day’s Night and this film. Indeed, the song would have been a perfect choice for the movie had it not been such a late addition to the project: forced to abandon a McCartney song written especially for Ringo (If You’ve Got Troubles, a poor song by it’s author’s high standards but rescueable had the band had more time to spend on it) the Beatles had to learn this Buck Owens country-and-Western romp at high speed and un-surprisingly it’s one of the most simple things the band ever performed. A welcome breather from the heavier songs slotted round it, Act Naturally’s good-natured plod doesn’t quite transcend the rushed circumstances of its recording and its happy-go-lucky charm sounds slightly out of place.
It’s Only Love is generally seen as the nadir of Lennon’s writing and even its author hated it so much he used to moan about it for hours in interviews during his early solo days (you can also hear him giggle through an early take of the song on Anthology Two, suggesting even at the time he wasn’t taking it that seriously). Compare the song to the ground-breaking Help! and Ticket To Ride and the author has a good point. However, the tune to this song is lovely, using a rather McCartneyesque flowing chord sequence and the sudden rise into the chorus may be one of the loveliest few bars of any Lennon song. However, Love comes unstuck with its throwaway silly lyrics, which try to re-create the romantic atmosphere of And I Love Her but largely fail (‘just the sight of you makes night-time bright – very bright’ is hardly a substitute for ‘she gives me everything – and tenderly’). Lennon often tinkered with his work for months if he had the time and energy – Strawberry Fields and most of his final Double Fantasy LP went through so many different versions its hard to believe that all of the demos, sessions and finished recordings are of the same songs. Given time It’s Only Love had the potential to become another Lennon masterpiece – here its germination is rather cruelly nipped in the bud, sacrificed at the altar of an un-avoidable deadline.
You Like Me Too Much is the album’s second George Harrison number and it’s a rather odd one. Not gloomy in the sense of Don’t Bother Me, nor romantic in the way that I Need You so obviously is, it simply rattles around its basic melody in search of inspiration which it never quite finds. The one bit of the song that works – the couplet ‘you’d never leave me and you know it’s true, because you like me too much and I like you’ – is till goose-pimple stuff though, suddenly righting the song’s un-even lurch and confused, debating lyric with its natural charm (is the narrator haranguing himself or his girlfriend or both in this song? Is he in love with his girlfriend madly, hardly, not at all or wishing she was someone else? Its hard to tell.) Not one of George’s better songs, it’s still nothing like as bad as most bands were playing back in mid-1965.
McCartney’s Tell Me What You See offers a similar mix of inspiration and desperation. Knocked off surprisingly early in the album sessions – on the third day of recording – it could hardly be called one of its author greatest songs, given that it’s narrow melody doesn’t really go anywhere and the simplicity of the lyric is in such contrast to the pain-staking one of Yesterday. The Beatles save a so-so song with their sterling arrangement, however – swirling guitar licks, organ riffs, band harmonies at key junctures, a suddenly shouted title rammed into the otherwise easy-going tune; Tell Me What You See is an ear-catching experiment whose good points outweigh the bad.
The sprightly I’ve Just Seen A Face shows what McCartney can write when he is inspired from first to last and is a joyous folk-rocker that gives this suddenly moody and introspective album the kick it needs to get back in gear. Written as an instrumental long before words were added (it went by the name of ‘Auntie Gin’s Theme’ in honour of one of Paul’s aunts who loved the song), the lyrics are a perfect fit: an out-of-breath jumble of emotions that try to keep pace with the song’s restless energy and express the sudden delight of falling in love. Happy and contented, this is more of Help!’s good time singalong pop fun from one of the best purveyors that brand ever had.
Yesterday is next and it has a funny old history this song. Far from being the international #1 it was everywhere else McCartney, possibly reacting to sarcastic digs from Lennon about the other Beatles’ lack of involvement, chose not to push for this song’s release as a single on these shores (it made #1 in America where the Beatles had no say over what material was put out or they’d have made those US albums infinitely better than they were!) Instead Yesterday is quietly hidden away here as the album’s penultimate track, sandwiched between two very different barn-storming rockers and most casual Beatles fans probably couldn’t have told you which album it came from. The song was also created in the most haphazard of ways – McCartney dreamt the tune in his sleep, quickly went to the piano to write it down and gave it a throwaway lyric of ‘scrambled eggs, oh my honey how I love your legs’ so that he wouldn’t forget how it went in those days before tape recorders. Assuming he’d simply remembered some other existing song, he asked several of his showbizzy friends if they knew it and even offered the song to several other artists who turned it down flat (ballads weren’t very fashionable in 1965 given the mania for ‘heavy’ sounds, even great Beatles ballads like this one).
Help! director Dick Lester, a generally sympathetic collaborator who you’d thought would have demanded a song like this on the film’s real soundtrack, actually told McCartney to stop tinkering with the song as it was driving him nuts every time Paul played it on the film-set’s resident piano! Unloved, then, for the first year of its life, it was only time pressures and lack of other material (and possibly some support from George Martin) that led to Paul offering this song up to record at all. One of the most popular pieces in music history, playing – so we’re told by enthusiastic reporters – somewhere in the world’s radio networks every single minute of the day even now, Yesterday ended up a masterpiece, an inspired regretful lyric snugly fitting its original smooth flowing melody. We’ve probably all heard this song so many times we’ve forgotten, but Yesterday is inspired from first to last and a song that, ironically, will live on forever, played in all the tomorrows where records are still played and musical geniuses praised.
By contrast, the inclusion of Larry Williams’ song Dizzy Miss Lizzie on the LP was a last-minute decision, a song that the Beatles hadn’t played in donkey’s years yet set about recording without properly rehearsing first. Chaotic, messy, unfinished sounding, it still sparks with excitement with Lennon at his vocal best, screaming emotionally to get his feelings for his dear dizzy Lizzie heard above the din of the recording. A poor place to end such a fine album, Lizzie is nevertheless a great last example of the rocking Beatles, a cover version that stands up to their very best, even if it wins by enthusiasm rather than polish.
In all, Help! is an under-estimated LP- well, under-estimated in the sense that most fans seem to forget about it in favour of Rubber Soul and Sgt Peppers – and it has a range of quality and styles that most modern ears might find peculiar and irritating. However, whether the album is dealing in innocent fun, bitter regret or angry protest, its every bit as fun and inviting as it sounds and further proof that whatever pressures and problems the Beatles were going through at the time they still didn’t need anybody’s Help! to make a great record.