Classic Music Review: Help! by The Beatles

Originally written December 2012, revised April 2016.

Except for John’s book selection routine and his relentless interrogation of the jeweler, Help! isn’t much of a movie.

Help! isn’t much of an album either. There are some truly great songs but the gap between great and godawful is huge. And contrary to popular critical opinion, Side 2 (the “extra songs”) isn’t that much better than Side 1 (the film songs). I do agree with the critics that some of the tracks display the exit from Beatlemania and the path to Rubber Soul, but only from a musical perspective. The lyrics are uniformly tiresome boy-girl stories.

The Godawful

In this category I place the songs from the film that follow the Beatlemania formula but now sound forced and lifeless: “The Night Before,” “I Need You,” “Another Girl” and “You’re Going to Lose That Girl.” While the boys make a game attempt with a key change here and there and a couple of non-standard chords, these songs signify that the lovable moptops are very, very tired of being the lovable moptops. I also place in this group the two cover songs on Side 2: “Dizzy Miss Lizzie” and the beginning of Ringo’s regrettable love affair with country music, “Act Naturally.” These songs are on the album because Lennon & McCartney were too tired and/or too busy to write more material—in other words, classic album filler.

Before we get to the great songs, there are two originals on Side 2 that are somewhere in-between the extremes: Harrison’s “You Like Me Too Much” and the Lennon-McCartney duet “Tell Me What You See.” I love the slightly dissonant harmonies on “You Like Me Too Much,” and though the gestalt of “Tell Me What You See” reminds me too much of Jay & the Americans’ Latin bent, the dronish quality of the song and John’s low notes are very compelling. I’m a slut for strange sounds when presented in a proper context.

The Great

Although Lennon was full of shit when he reinvented “Help!” as a song that captured the beginnings of the existential crisis that would give the world Yoko Ono, it’s still one of the Beatles’ greatest singles (particularly when paired with the raucous “I’m Down”). John’s vocal is both world-weary and genuinely emotional at the same time, and the boys do a fabulous job on the harmonic crescendos. Equally world-weary but far more detached is John’s vocal in “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” a song the critics have described as “Dylanesque,” forgetting that Dylan was better known during that period for his socially-conscious protest lyrics. Here we have pretty standard “somebody took my baby away and I’m bummed out” lyrics, and there isn’t enough room in this post to list how many of those the Beatles had already done. Even with its lyrical limitations, it’s still a well-constructed piece of music, with subtle dynamic changes that enhance John’s superb vocal.

“Ticket to Ride” is another outstanding single, one of my all-time Beatle favorites, and irrefutable evidence of progress, particularly on the rhythmic front. I’ve always considered the evolution of Ringo’s drumming to be as important to the growth of the Beatles as the advances Lennon & McCartney achieved in songwriting. Try to imagine “Rain,” “A Day in the Life,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” without Ringo 2.0. Impossible. Here the thundering toms and insistent drive make the song terribly compelling, and though rumor has it that McCartney had the idea, Ringo had to execute, and baby, did he ever.

“I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “It’s Only Love” are both great songs that shine more brightly on the American version of Rubber Soul, as noted in my review of that album. And though we’re all sick of “Yesterday” covers, it is still one of the most beautiful melodies in all creation and helped Paul shed his anti-Mantovani aversion to strings that would bear such lovely fruit in “Eleanor Rigby.”

Help! is at the juncture of colliding universes, so it’s completely natural that the experience of listening to it is somewhat unsatisfying. It’s the death of Beatlemania and the birth of something that would have been beyond anyone’s imagination in 1965.

 

6 responses

  1. As a Beatles fiend, check out this article and the last video, the one that’s 13:55 in length. Mindblowing. http://somethingelsereviews.com/2012/12/04/deep-beatles-rain-1966/

    This is actually a better link to it: The text explains what you’re hearing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XJqoGIEzKN4

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    1. Will do! Thanks again!

      Like

  2. I respectfully disagree in regards to this album. I think the whole first side of ‘Help !’ is flawless, with a spirit of energy and great melodies. The second side is pretty damn good too, with only “You Like Me Too Much” and “Tell Me What You See” standing out as weak songs to my ears. And “Dizzy Miss Lizzie” certainly does NOT have a non-committal performance from Lennon — he belts the lead vocal as though he’s back in the Cavern. Overall, I think this is a fine album. 12 out of 14 songs being decent is a pretty darn good batting average.

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  3. Blimey…. this is a real rarity – an ARC review I mostly disagree with! What I do agree with are the covers to pad it out – they had three originals they dumped in the can, “That Means A Lot”, “Wait” and er… “If You’ve Got Troubles” none of which are great songs but I’ll take them over the covers anyday even the infamous “Troubles” since hearing Ringo deliver the immortal line “You think I’m soft in the head” is much more amusing than him bleating “They’rrrrrrre gonna put me in the movies!”

    I do think this is kinda like a lop-sided album. Side Two being a random mish-mash of average songs with the exception of “Yesterday” – yes, over-familiarity has made that unlistenable but respect where it’s due (which you granted) Macca knew he had something special with that melody and I can imagine Lennon thinking “You bastard!” when he heard it knowing he was gonna have a hard time topping that which was the wonderful dynamic of their partnership, challenging each other to do better than the other. The rest of Side Two – covers aside – seems too throwaway and like Lennon, I find “It’s Only Love” a bit embarrassing with some dodgy lazy rhymes – he hated that song and think he may had even apologised for it, but good God, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” is a truly CRAP ending to the album. I don’t even rate Larry Williams’ original – the song just sucks and sounds more like a “Beatles For Sale” outtake. In fact that’s the yardstick for this album – the ultimate sign of how far they’d come as they remind you of what they were finally – and thankfully – banishing to the past.

    The movie songs on Side One on the other hand are excellent… one foot in the past, the other in the future and an excellent resume of how far they’d come as we’re dealing with some rather sophisticated pop music here. True, lyrically some of it is still with the “old” girl/boy formula but bear in mind this was just 2 and a half years after releasing “Love Me Do” and in spite of a punishing 1964, they turned in some engaging stuff. I love “The Night Before” – I’ll take that song over anything on the previous album which despite 2 or 3 gems is a tired affair – it’s bursting with life and charm. Years ago some younger critic described this album as being The Beatles’ “Britpop album” and they had a valid point as despite it’s lows, this was The Beatles at the top of the pop tree… next time round they branched out with spectacular effect so this album is caught in the middle. My Mum can’t stand almost everything before this album, this being the first she enjoys and she loves the remainder except the last two “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” and I’m in agreement over the latter pair! When all is said and done, “Ticket To Ride” is undoubtedly the pinnacle of this era, truly fantastic and another reminder of just how important and unique Ringo was to the band… and by goodness Ringo was to really let loose the following year with “Paperback”, “Rain” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” not forgetting “Day Tripper” en-route.

    The movie itself IS nonsensical yet despite the Fab’s disdain with it, it is still charming and good natured fun. Their over-exaggerated accents (George and Paul’s being the worst) and flippant nature thanks to herbal jazz cigarettes prove they weren’t taking it at all seriously and Dick Lester had some interesting visual ideas. “A Hard Day’s Night” was a gem, yet I find myself enjoying “Help!” more a view most Beatle freaks would find bizarre but that’s just the way it is!

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    1. You are a true original! You’re the first person I’ve met that likes the film songs best! Congratulations!

      Liked by 1 person

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