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Help! – Released Aug. 6, 1965
Another movie, another soundtrack album. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why The Beatles felt they had hit a rut at this point. A certain type of song was expected of them, and they delivered (and delivered well), but it was indeed a formula — no surprises, for them or for the listener. However, as escapist fare to accompany an escapist movie, the songs work well enough. Happily, the Fabs were not to stay in this familiar mode much longer.
Help!: Hardly anyone — John Lennon included — has ever noticed that he wrote one of his most emotional, heartfelt songs for one of his most frivolous movies. At the time, it was just more Beatle fodder (it even became filler for their Hollywood Bowl song selection), but it shows a songwriter growing beyond simple rhymes and romances. A nice harbinger of future treasures.
The Night Before: More filler for the movie’s soundtrack. A gorgeous melody is wasted on trite how-could-you-string-me-along lyrics. It’s typical of the crossroads at which The Beatles found themselves at this point — the conflict between extending themselves musically and the constant demand to feed the Beatle machine.
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away: At this point in Beatlemania, love probably wasn’t the only thing they wanted to hide away. Nevertheless, John Lennon’s homage to Bob Dylan pays off musically, meshing with his own rapidly developing sense of xenophobia. The Anthology 2 version isn’t hugely different from the final product, though the final flute really seals the deal.
I Need You: Another overlooked George Harrison number, nicely understated and with an early use of the slide guitar that was to become a Harrison favorite.
Another Girl: Another example of an early-Beatles device wearing thin. The junior-high smugness of having another girl on line is parodied in the film in which it’s performed, wherein Paul “strums” a svelte blonde in place of his bass guitar.
You’re Going to Lose That Girl: John explores the same junior-high-romance cliches that Paul did on the previous number. But this one at least has more meat musically, goosed along by John’s vocals (and dig that crazy bongo!).
Ticket to Ride: It’s a minor point, but still, funny how nobody ever noticed this song’s subtle reference to cohabitation. It might be the most daring thing on the entire soundtrack. Otherwise, it’s another middle-period song with more bite melodically than lyrically.
Act Naturally: Definitely the only time that The Beatles’ and Buck Owens’ galaxies crossed paths. Still, with Ringo winning unexpected acclaim for his acting in A Hard Day’s Night, this country tune is only a perfect fit for him. Not-bad guitar-twanging, either.
It’s Only Love: In typical botched fashion, this was released on the Help! album in Britain but held aside by Capitol Records for the American version of Rubber Soul. Yet musically, it sounds more like a Rubber Soul outtake than does any of the other middle-of-the-road stuff from Help!. Here we finally get a taste of John Lennon, the ever-flowering songwriter who can no longer sit still for moon/June lyricism. The twangy background guitar is far removed from any musical esoterica on Help!, too.
You Like Me Too Much: One of George’s early efforts, this one starts out in a Lennon pseudo-posturing mode but has him caving in to humanism at the end. Worth listening to just for the nifty beginning, middle, and end piano riffs.
Tell Me What You See: I see a Beatles for Sale holdover, full of forced cheerfulness. The musical background is far too good for these I-yam-what-I-yam lyrics.
I’ve Just Seen a Face: Like John’s It’s Only Love, this Paul number was recorded for the British version of Help! but held back by those stingy Capitol Records execs for the American version of Rubber Soul. And again, it fits, as these two are two sides of the same coin and are both the musical stand-outs from the middle period. Paul’s jaunty vocals and guitar-playing suggest new musical ground, soon to be beautifully developed.
Yesterday: “For Paul McCartney of Liverpool, England, opportunity knocks!” jeers George mockingly in the Anthology 2 intro to a live version of this song. It’s been noted that this is the first Beatles recording to use strings and to not use the other Beatles in performance, as though that’s a virtue. As with most of Paul’s bathos, it’s unassuming when served in small doses, but strange that the man who complained about strings gone haywire on the final version of The Long and Winding Road was so string-quartet-happy here. Of course, to millions of orgiastic females and a few old-time singers who finally “got” The Beatles, all of this mattered little.
Dizzy Miss Lizzie: The final “cover” version on The Beatles’ official recordings, and it certainly goes out with a bang. Forget the live versions; when John sings this on Help!, he really does seem to be in a fever.
(One final note: It’s well-known that Capitol Records milked their Beatles product for all it was worth, and their version of the Help! soundtrack is a perfect example. Capitol’s Help! used only the Beatles songs that actually appeared in the film, and then they filled up the rest of the record with instrumentals from the movie. But as cynical as that move appears at first glance, I actually like the non-Beatles compositions [by Ken Thorne]. Thorne does some sly variations on old Beatles tunes such as A Hard Day’s Night. The soundtrack also features generous use of the sitar, an instrument that was little-known or -used in pop music at that time and which certainly got George Harrison’s attention.)
What do you think of Help! or any of its individual songs (or the movie, for that matter)? Feel free to share your thoughts in the “Comments” section below. Next up: The turning-point album Rubber Soul.