Help!

The songs

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Help! was perhaps the albums on which The Beatles began maturing, beginning a process that would result in the breathtaking creativity of their later 1960s work. The album took in country and western, bluegrass, folk, classical and rock styles, making it their most diverse collection to date.

In 1965 Bob Dylan was a key influence on British music, with folk-rock, numerous covers of his own songs, and various unsubtle pastiches vying for chart space. The folk-rock explosion came shortly after Help! was released, but the album perhaps helped the trend gain momentum.

The Beatles had been introduced to marijuana by Dylan, while on tour in New York on 28 August 1964. The drug became a key influence on Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver. John Lennon and George Harrison also took LSD for the first time sometime between March and July 1965, during the recording period for Help!, although the drug didn’t significantly change The Beatles’ songwriting for another year.

We were smoking marijuana for breakfast during that period. Nobody could communicate with us because it was all glazed eyes and giggling all the time. In our own world.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

While Lennon was exploring depths of his emotions with his lyrics, in 1965 Paul McCartney wrote the most famous song of his lifetime. Yesterday went on to be recorded by more than 3,000 different artists, making it the song with the most cover versions in existence. It was performed an estimated seven million times in the 20th century, and regularly tops polls to find the greatest songs ever written.

It wasn’t really a Beatles record and I discussed this with Brian Epstein: ‘You know, this is Paul’s song… Shall we call it Paul McCartney?’ He said, ‘No, whatever we do we are not splitting up The Beatles.’ So even though none of the others appeared on the record, it was still The Beatles – that was the creed of the day.
George Martin
Anthology

McCartney’s masterpiece was contrasted by the slightly-retitled version of Larry Williams’ Dizzy Miss Lizzie which closed the album. The Beatles may have lacked the boldness to end the album with Yesterday, but they clearly underestimated their audience by thinking a rock ‘n’ roll classic from their Cavern Club days would be more palatable to their audiences.

The other cover version on Help!, Act Naturally, was The Beatles’ last to be recorded until the Let It Be sessions of January 1969. The group had tended to rely on cover versions for their early LPs, but by the mid 1960s had largely abandoned the practice.

I sang Act Naturally in Help! I found it on a Buck Owens record and I said, ‘This is the one I am going to be doing,’ and they said ‘OK’. We were listening to all kinds of things. John sang Dizzy Miss Lizzy. We were all listening to that, too. Paul, of course, had written his Yesterday; the most recorded song in history. What a guy!
Ringo Starr
Anthology

In the studio

Help! was recorded over 12 non-consecutive days in February, April and June 1965, with a number of additional editing and mixing sessions. Work on the album started just before shooting began on the film.

The Beatles began recording Help! on 15 February 1965, in Studio Two at EMI Studios on Abbey Road, London. They worked on the songs Ticket To Ride, Another Girl and I Need You. In June they completed six songs for the soundtrack; the majority of non-soundtrack songs were recorded in June once filming was complete.

Help! involved a new method of recording for The Beatles. Instead of a number of takes being made by the group, from which the best was selected for further work, they began to record the rhythm track first, later adding a series of unnumbered overdubs of vocals and extra instruments. This meant that while it could be claimed that a finished song was recorded in just one or two takes, it often involved numerous hours of work on the various elements.

The Beatles also began taping their studio rehearsals as they worked on songs, and on occasion used these as the basis for a final song. This flexibility meant the group were able to use the most apt recording techniques for the songs, rather than having to record proper takes each time, although it did typically mean the songs required more studio work to complete.

Furthermore, the song Help! was The Beatles’ first to involve a reduction mix, by which the four-track tape was ‘bounced down’ to a subsequent copy, with two vocal tracks combined, to free up a spare track for a guitar overdub. Reduction mixes played a key role in The Beatles’ increasingly elaborate studio work, prior to the availability of eight-track recording in summer 1968.

The Beatles also began to explore different sounds on Help!, with Ringo Starr in particular bringing in a range of percussive instruments. Paul McCartney overdubbed lead guitar onto three of the songs; George Harrison utilised a volume/tone guitar pedal onto three others; and electric piano and acoustic 12-string guitars were used elsewhere.

You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away was the first Beatles recording since Love Me Do to feature a session musician. Johnnie Scott was paid a standard £6 fee for his tenor and alto flute parts, which were recorded on 18 February 1965. The tenor flute part was taped while The Beatles recorded the backing track, and the alto part was overdubbed afterwards.

They told me roughly what they wanted, ¾ time, and the best way of fulfilling their needs was to play both tenor flute and alto flute, the second as an overdub. As I recall, all four of them were there and Ringo was full of marital joys; he’d just come back from his honeymoon.
Johnnie Scott
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Of all the Help! sessions, perhaps none was as significant as 14 June 1965, the day The Beatles recorded three Paul McCartney songs: I’ve Just Seen A Face, I’m Down, and Yesterday. The latter was the first Beatles recording to feature just one member of the group, with McCartney’s vocals and acoustic guitar augmented by a string quartet. This was the first time The Beatles had recorded with a string arrangement, although they would continue to work with the instruments right up until their final releases.

Yesterday was a breakthrough: it was recorded by just Paul and a group of other musicians. No other Beatle was on that recording and no other Beatle heard the song until we played it back. John listened to it, and there’s a particular bit where the cello moves into a bluesy note which he thought was terrific, so it was applauded.
George Martin
Anthology

20 responses on “Help!

  1. Roger

    ‘Help’ is a very “overlooked” Beatles album because its half Beatlemania and half “new” Beatles. While there are some great old-style Beatles songs on it, Beatlemania ends on this album…and ‘Rubber Soul’ begins. You get the best of both worlds on ‘Help’. Also, McCartney emerges as a strong song writer on this album for the first time…equal with Lennon. Previously, Lennon was the dominant singer/songwriter. This is probably why the next few years produced some of their finest music. Can’t forget Harrison. He also emerges as a strong song writer on ‘Help’ and continues on throughout his Beatle career.

    ‘Help’, ‘The Night Before’, ‘You’re Gonna Lose That Girl’, Yesterday’ ‘ Another Girl’…good Beatlemania-style songs.

    Then, the “new” Beatles emerge with “I’ve Just Seen A Face”, ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’, ‘It’s Only Love’, ‘Ticket To Ride’…ushering the “Rubber Soul/Revolver” period…and a great Harrison tune, ‘I Need You’.

  2. Julio

    Yesterday, a beatlemania-style song? I actually think that Mccartney does not really arrive as songwriter until Revolver, with the exception of Yesterday. It is interesting that he becomes so prolific and dominating in 1967 but all of the songs that really give the beatles depth and soul belong to John although Paul contributes a lot to John songs. Probably more than John contributed to Paul’s. The masterpieces of 67 include: Strawberry Fields, Mr. Kite,Lucy in the sky w/ Diamonds, Day in the life, I am the Walrus, All you need is love. The only 67 Paul song that is of this caliber is Penny Lane. If you take John’s contribution off of Pepper and George’s Within you and Without you it is a rather light weight record. Don’t get me wrong, I love Paul but John really gets depicted badly in Emmerick’s book. After reading it, you would think that old Geoff fancied Paul.

    1. thomas

      Neither of you guys seems to know what you are talking about. 1) The idea that the Beatles wrote “Beatlemania” songs until a certain point and then suddenly changed it with Rubber Soul/Revolver is nonsense. The hallmark of Lennon-McCartney songwriting was they insisted on writing something new and different from any previous song, exploring new musical territory. Beatlemania was not a song writing genre, but something the press made up to describe fan reaction. Beatlemania “ended” when they decided to stop touring, period. Not only were they tired of it, but reproducing their increasing complex songs (like Rain/Paperback Writer) on stage was difficult and frustrating.

      2) Lennon and McCartney were in fact largely equal co-writers on many of the early songs (From Me To You, She Loves You, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, This Boy, etc.), with McCartney early on revealing a special talent for creating memorable melodies (something Lennon tended to struggle with, especially in later years.) Lennon was a great lyricist and straight rock and roller, and it should be pointed out their first two albums featured lots of rock and roll covers, plus a few great original compositions. Writing-wise, I Saw Her Standing There was largely Paul, as was Love Me Do. All My Loving was all Paul. By A Hard Day’s Night some truly timeless standouts were being written by Paul (And I Love Her, Can’t Buy Me Love, Things We Said Today.) The songs A Hard Day’s Night and I’m Happy Just To Dance With You were co-written, while You Can’t Do That was a classic Lennon rocker (and a personal favorite of mine.) McCartney likewise made considerable contributions to Help. Even excluding Paul’s unmatched Yesterday, McCartney songs like The Night Before are quite notable, as well as his distinctive co-writing on Ticket To Ride (including the unique drum syncopations which were all Paul.)

      So, the ridiculous notion that McCartney didn’t come into his own as a songwriter until Revolver or later is simply misguided fantasy with no basis in fact. Even sillier is the assertion Lennon wrote any/all songs of substance in 1967. Nonsense. Hello Goodbye, yep, B side to Walrus A, went to No. 1 while Walrus tanked (guess the public knew best on that one.) Then there was Fool On The Hill, a remarkably beautiful song Paul composed while at the same time co-writing A Little Help From My Friends with Lennon. Then of course was Sgt. Pepper, a classic rocker featuring one of McCartney’s best vocals ever (plus his lead on guitar.) Not to mention there would be no Day in the Life had not McCartney provided the incredibly symphonic musical depth for the song’s middle. Then again, Lennon later dissed much of his own work on Pepper, saying how dissatisfied he was with it and would like to do it over. I don’t happen to agree, I think Lennon’s Pepper contributions were oustanding. Lennon though could get fairly petty not only about Paul’s work but everything Beatles, which apparently still translates over to some fans who never weary of this silly pissing match…

        1. thomas

          I prefer reading comments by people who actually know something and don’t just make stuff up while ignoring facts (like calling Ringo “clumsy.”) Early on McCartney and Lennon were equal songwriters. That’s why they were a songwriting “team.” Though different in applied talents, one was not more dominant then the other.

          1. Joe Post author

            OK, can I request that you all play nicely? There’s room for opinions without it getting personal, so let’s try to keep this a pleasant place to discuss the songs.

      1. Roger

        WOW! I never thought an observing commentary on the “Help” album could bring such anger from a McCartneyologist. While it’s true that McCartney made Lennon a better songwriter, the same can be said for Lennon for McCartney. However, what I said was a personal opinion that I think the “Help” album was the Beatles saying goodbye to Beatlemania and introducing themselves to the “Rubber Soul” era. Half of “Help” was Beatlemania, the other half was more mature, laid back, more acoustic and McCartney offered us more. I have to take the word of McCartney that he and Lennon wrote eyeball to eyeball (as Lennon also said), but that whoever was the primary writer…sang the song. No doubt also that if the Beatles were made up of only Lennon’s songs, then we’d be bored quickly…vice versa with only McCartney’s songs, if they had no influence on one another. So come on Thomas, lighten up and open up to other opinions…but thanks for the critique and you have some valid points.

        1. metzgermeister77

          I have to disagree with you on Help! being their transitional album. There are still some lingering elements of their earlier years, but in my book the transition really began with the moody Beatles For Sale. As I said over on the comments for No Reply:

          One of my absolute favorites, and, in my mind, the point where the Beatles enter what I think of their “middle period” pre-Revolver (even though the Revolver-Sgt. Pepper-Magical Mystery Tour era straddles the middle of their career, I feel this stretch of albums is kind of a musical adolescence).

          So while Help! is definitely transitioning, I think it had already begun an album earlier. I’d even accept an argument that it started with A Hard Day’s Night, but for me that’s pushing it a bit.

  3. Stough

    This is their second weakest album (their first is their worst in my book). Don’t get me wrong, ‘weak’ for the Beatles is still fantastic. But their are only 5 standout tunes on this album. The rest are good, but not fantastic. The sound is very muddy, not crisp at all compared to their other albums. It works on “You’ve got to..” but not on the rest.And the performances are less enthusiastic than any other album, except for possible Let it Be.

  4. BeatleMark

    To me, there is a lot of “filler” songs on this album. Mostly McCartney tunes. But they (the songs) blend in well and follow along quite well. I came across a German pressing lp at a flea market (rummage sale) here in Pensacola, Florida last year. the cover was torn but the vinyl was in great shape. I wish I would have bought it!

  5. Matt Elwood

    Thomas lets be fair, You make a comment like ” Obviously You all don’t know what Your talking about ” People have certain opinions and I respect that, You seem pretty McCartney biased from the long piece You wrote. I guess Im more Lennon biased as He’s my idol and I get that aswell. McCartney is a genius musician that there is no doubt, But I feel in the early days leading up to Revolver, Lennon was the main man he was the one who wrote the better songs, He had the drive which spurred the Beatles on, Look at A Hard Day’s Night for example its basically a Lennon solo album, He was so creative in those early Beatle’s days and yes Lennon was more the rocker of the two and he wrote the more edgier/zingy Beatles tracks but he also had that sensitive side to Him look at Julia, Across The Universe for example, The thing with McCartney was he was too mainstream he wanted to release safe tracks that He knew would be accepted, Lennon was the opposite he was writing songs and searching for a new direction and in the process laying down the foundations for music as We know it now. Both equally brilliant in there own right, Alone they were good, Together they were Stellar! Its just John is My favourite…
    By the way HelloGoodbye is a great track, I Am The Walrus is frighteningly brilliant…

  6. polishrocker93

    I noticed on the US cover that George is standing on the H for Harrison, John on the L for Lennon, and by his first name Paul on the P, but none for ringo, especially because he doesn’t have any of the titles letters in his stage name. Sounds silly, but i like to think that.

  7. GniknuS

    I agree with whoever said that there are five great songs on this album. If you took Help, Hide Your Love Away, Ticket to Ride, I’ve Just Seen a Face and Yesterday they match up with anything the Beatles ever did. The problem is there are too many fillers after that, although most are pretty decent. I can’t stand You Like Me Too Much though, the lyrics are juvenile, and Tell Me What You See and Dizzy Miss Lizzy are average at best. As for the Lennon/McCartney debate, this was really the start of Lennon’s peak, he was just incredible in ’65, whereas I don’t think Paul peaked until about ’68 with his fantastic contributions to the White Album and also Hey Jude. Although maybe he peaked on Revolver, but I’ve always liked his White Album songs better.

  8. King Turtle

    “The front cover was yet another instantly classic design. Featuring the four Beatles standing in a row wearing their ski garb from the Help! film, they spelt out the letters ‘NUJV’ in semaphore. For the US version released by Capitol Records, the order was slightly amended to read ‘NVUJ’” WHY?

  9. James Ferrell

    This was maybe the first British import LP I bought (I’m in the US) and I loved the A side–the movie music. I rarely played the B side even though it had a few stellar cuts (I’ve Just Seen A Face, Yesterday) because the weak songs are pretty darn weak.

    Loved the movie too. A little aimless perhaps, but very funny. (“Are you buzzing?”)

  10. BILLY SHEARS

    As a kid in the mid 60′s and bought a 45 rpm copy of “Ticket to ride” that says on it: “from the United Artists release Eight arms to hold you”. I didn’t think much of of it at the time, but now I’m glad I have it. It’s probably not worth much, not quite like an original “Butcher” LP cover, but it is neat to have one of those “Mistakes”. The US version of the Help LP is a rough listen. I am not much of an instrumental fan. Always thought it was filler and fluff that I really didn’t want to pay for. The UK version is stellar.

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