Help! (1965)


Title: Although the name of an upbeat pop song, a joyful LP and a madcap movie, it was actually Lennon’s genuine cry for help – he was in what he later called his ‘fat Elvis’ period, bored of his celebrity life, hooked on marijuana and trapped in a failing marriage.

Cover: The boys in a line, making semaphore signals… which oddly spell out ‘NUJV’ (the photographer didn’t like the armography of ‘HELP’). The image echoes a scene in the film Help! of the band larking about in the Alps.

Best song: Ticket to Ride, which was written largely by John but is a real team effort. The sheer sound of each element – the double-tracked vocals, the harmony vocals, the chiming guitars, the rumbling drums – is so interesting, with detail in every nook and cranny. The combination of those sounds is mind-blowing. Lennon later called it an early heavy metal record, while it can also lay claim to being proto-psychedelic and a massive influence on The (then-just-starting-out) Byrds. It must have sounded thrillingly futuristic in 1965.

Honourable mentions:

* The title track is a masterpiece of a pop song, with some gorgeous preemptive backing vocals and plenty of hooks.

* Paul’s The Night Before has bounce and a tidy double-tracked guitar solo.

* John’s You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away is the group’s first all-acoustic recording and has a tender, heartfelt lead vocal (the lyrics are said to be about Beatles manager Brian Epstein). I really like the mistake they liked so much they left in: Lennon singing “two-foot small” rather than “tall”.

* I’ve Just Seen a Face, by Paul, is a sumptuous folk-rock song with a wonderfully arch intro and a tumbling lyric line winningly sung by McCartney (what a great vocalist he was in his 20s).

* He also wrote Yesterday. The melody came to him in a dream and felt so natural that he assumed he was half-remembering an old show tune. It was only after he’d hawked it round his friends and none of them recognised it that Paul realised he must have written it. He’s the only Beatle on the recording (another first) and it was nearly put out as a McCartney solo single – until Epstein vetoed the idea.

Worst song: The hastily recorded cover of pedestrian Larry Williams hit Dizzy Miss Lizzy (the final cover on a Beatles album until 1970).

Notable outside contributions: John Scott plays the pretty flute part on You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away (a year earlier he was the principle saxophonist on the Goldfinger score, fact fans). Meanwhile, string quartet Tony Gilbert, Sidney Sax, Kenneth Essex and Francisco Gabarro secured a place in posterity: people will be listening to their work on Yesterday in a thousand years’ time.

Review: A superbly entertaining album, clearly made by a group brimming with ideas and confidence. (And it is more of a band now: George Harrison’s written two songs, both good.) In fact, the quality is so high that tracks that would have stood out on earlier albums – John’s gleaming You’re Going to Lose That Girl, for example – get overshadowed here. Even Ringo’s moment in the spotlight, a likeable cover of country-and-western song Act Naturally, isn’t too bad. The lyrics show further development into storytelling or ‘saying something’ (even if there are still six tracks with personal pronouns in their titles), while George Martin’s production gets more and more impressive. The types of sounds, the types of instruments, the arrangements and harmonies… Boundaries are being tested and pushed in every direction. The accompanying movie, which I didn’t specifically rewatch for this, has its moments (and a fun guest cast – Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron, Victor Spinetti, Roy Kinnear). But it lacks the charm of A Hard Day’s Night and is a bit of a mess.

Nine shadows hanging over me out of 10.


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