Help!

Help! single - United KingdomWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 13 April 1965
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 23 July 1965 (UK), 19 July 1965 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, tambourine

Available on:
Help!
1
Anthology 2
Love

The title track to The Beatles’ fifth album and second film, Help! was written mainly by John Lennon at his home in Weybridge.

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When Help! came out, I was actually crying out for help. Most people think it’s just a fast rock ‘n’ roll song. I didn’t realise it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help. So it was my fat Elvis period. You see the movie: he – I – is very fat, very insecure, and he’s completely lost himself. And I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The film was originally to be called Eight Arms To Hold You, and was announced to the press as such on 17 March 1965. The title had been mooted for some time, with Eight Days A Week initially considered for the theme tune.

I think we wrote [Eight Days A Week] when we were trying to write the title song for Help! because there was at one time the thought of calling the film Eight Arms To Hold You.
John Lennon
Hit Parader, April 1972

In mid-April the title Help! was settled upon, probably chosen by director Richard Lester. Paul McCartney later described the genesis behind the title and the song of the same name.

I seem to remember Dick Lester, Brian Epstein, Walter Shenson and ourselves sitting around, maybe Victor Spinetti was there, and thinking, What are we going to call this one? Somehow Help! came out. I didn’t suggest it; John might have suggested it or Dick Lester. It was one of them. John went home and thought about it and got the basis of it, then we had a writing session on it. We sat at his house and wrote it, so he obviously didn’t have that much of it. I would have to credit it to John for original inspiration 70-30. My main contribution is the countermelody to John.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Following the song’s completion, Lennon and McCartney performed the song on guitars for Cynthia Lennon and visiting journalist Maureen Cleave, a long-time associate of the group.

Once we’d done our writing session there was nothing left to be done except put the instruments on. That’s what I was there for; to complete it. Had John just been left on his own he might have taken weeks to do it, but just one visit and we would go right in and complete it. So we came down and played the intro, into the verse, descant coming in on the second verse. It was all crafted, it was all there, the final verses and the end. ‘Very nice,’ they said. ‘Like it.’
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Although originally conceived as a ballad, The Beatles performed Help! faster in the studio, as they had done with Please Please Me, to satisfy the group’s commercial instincts.

I remember Maureen Cleave, a writer – the one who did the famous ‘We’re more popular than Jesus‘ story in the Evening Standard – asked me, ‘Why don’t you ever write songs with more than one syllable?’ So in Help! there are two- or three-syllable words and I very proudly showed them to her and she still didn’t like them. I was insecure then, and things like that happened more than once. I never considered it before. So after that I put a few words with three syllables in, but she didn’t think much of them when I played it for her, anyway.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Lennon had been a user of marijuana since August 1964, and within six months was introduced to LSD. Introspection increasingly became a hallmark of his songwriting throughout Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver.

I meant it – it’s real. The lyric is as good now as it was then. It is no different, and it makes me feel secure to know that I was aware of myself then. It was just me singing ‘help’ and I meant it.

I don’t like the recording too much; we did it too fast trying to be commercial… I might do I Want To Hold Your Hand and Help! again, because I like them and I can sing them.

John Lennon
Rolling Stone, 1970

A live version of Help!, recorded for the BBC television show Blackpool Night Out, was included on Anthology 2. The performance took place at the ABC Theatre on 1 August 1965.

In the studio

The Beatles recorded Help! in a single night, on 13 April 1965. The four-hour session took place from 7pm at Abbey Road’s studio two.

Twelve takes of the song were recorded. The first eight were of the rhythm track only, with vocals appearing for the first time on take nine.

Some discussion at the beginning of take four indicates that George Harrison is having a little trouble executing the complicated, fast riffs; he’s also worried about having to play and sing at the same time, though Paul assures him that won’t be necessary, as there are two voice tracks available.
The Unreleased Beatles
Richie Unterberger

The final attempt was the best, and onto this Ringo Starr overdubbed a tambourine, and Harrison added the series of descending Chet Atkins-style guitar notes which close each chorus.

Chart success

Help! was released as a single in the US on 19 July 1965, and in the UK on 23 July 1965, two weeks ahead of the album of the same name. It topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Help! single sold much better than the two before it: I Feel Fine and Ticket To Ride. But there were still a lot of fans who didn’t like Help!. They said, ‘Ah, The Beatles are dropping us. This isn’t as good as A Hard Day’s Night.’ So you can’t win. Trying to please everybody is impossible – if you did that, you’d end up in the middle with nobody liking you. You’ve just got to make the decision about what you think is your best, and do it.

People think of us as machines. They pay 6s 8d for a record and we have to do what they say – like a jack-in-the-box. I don’t like that side of it much. Some people have got it all wrong. We produce something, something great every time. The onus is on the public to decide whether they like it or not. It’s annoying when people turn round and say, ‘But we made you, you ungrateful swines.’ I know they did, in a way, but there’s a limit to what we’re bound to live up to, as if it’s a duty.

John Lennon
Anthology

18 responses on “Help!

  1. David K. Richard

    The 45 version and the LP version of Help use different lead vocals. Why no mention of this in the description of the recording session notes?

    1. Andrew Kemp

      Wikipedia (I know, I know) states the following:

      The vocals were re-recorded for the film during a session on 24 May 1965 at CTS Studios, a facility specializing in post-synchronisation.[10] In addition to attempting a better vocal performance, the session might have been done to eliminate the tambourine (which had been on the same track as the vocals) since no tambourine appeared in the film sequence.[11] With the new vocals, a mono mix was created at CTS Studios which was used for the film soundtrack. Mixes for record releases were prepared on 18 June. For the mono version, Martin decided to use a mix of the opening chorus of take 12 edited to the remainder of the CTS film mix.[10] Because all instruments were combined on a single track for the CTS session, it could not be used for a stereo mix, so the stereo mix was made from take 12.[11]

  2. Matt

    I believe it is actually George Harrison playing the tambourine. If you listen to take 9, there is no lead guitar (as it was overdubbed later, as you say), but there are both drums and tambourine.

    1. metzgermeister77

      Replying to myself literally four years later to point out that, yes, there is drum and tambourine… but since they were doing vocal overdubs on take 9 it’s entirely possible that Ringo was playing the tambourine while the other three sang.

  3. Dartos

    One of (if not) the first Beatles’ song with background vocals that differ from the melody. On earlier songs,Paul and John song in unison, usually with John’s more raucous voice the more audible.

    The harmonic vocal on “Help!” show the Beatles’ music really moving forward.

  4. robert

    Very good point Dartos – I remember one the song first came out that the background vocals were different.

    Not only that but on the verses, the background vocals sing first “when I . . ”

    When this stuff first came out people noticed it was new and creative – still is!

  5. Don

    How [not] to interpret a Beatles’ song, Part 1 of 5: Don’t be gullible.
    The lyrics to “Help!” sound like a cry for help from John Lennon – personally: “Help me if you can I’m feeling down.” But if you had given this interpretation in 1965, John would have scoffed: “I didn’t realise it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help.” At the time he wrote it, it just sounded right to his ear: it sounded like a hit single to promote a parody of James Bond films in which peril follows our heroes wherever they go. What John didn’t realize at the time was that his ear was also picking up on something else, something more real and painful.
    Let this be a lesson: even the songwriter himself can miss the meaning of his own song. A songwriter can tell us what he remembers about the inspiration of the song, the process of writing the song, or even what he was trying to say in the song (if anything), but his memory might be faulty, he might just be kidding around, and most importantly, he might be flat out wrong. If a song has a meaning, the meaning is in the song itself – what the writer says about the song can help us to hear things in it we wouldn’t otherwise have heard, but that is the most we can get from a songwriter. The rest comes from listening and enjoying.

    1. iRon 4.3

      Back when I used to have LPs – you know before CDs and iPods and all that, I had an LP of the double album 1962 – 1966. And the track ‘Help’ had an unusual beginning to it…
      The first 10 seconds or so had a musical intro which was like a James Bond soundtrack, then jumped into the well known Help song.
      Has anyone else heard this??
      Does anyone know where this track can be found??

      iRon

      1. Joe Post author

        Yes, it was on the US version of the album. You can get it as part of the Capitol Albums Vol. 2 box set – I’m not sure if they’re still making them, but they’re easy enough to find online.

        I didn’t know that version of Help! was used for the Red album. It wasn’t on my UK copy. Are you based in the US? Perhaps there were alternative pressings in different countries.

  6. Rob

    I was recently talking to a coworker who grew up with this song/album/film and he was telling me about an alternative version of the song (it’s not the alternative vocal or James Bond intro version). From what he was saying, he was watching the film on television one night and at the end of the film, where everyone is fighting and there’s a Help! reprise, he swore that the song repeated the “I need somebody” line several times, whereas in the version we know and love, we hear “I need somebody, not just anybody, you know I need someone”. He claims he recorded it on a little tape recorder and set it in his stereo to be his alarm to wake up in the morning. Any verification on this alternative version?

  7. Riffking

    Funny, I was just listening to Deep Purple’s inaugural album..and maybe it’s just me, but their version of Help is the best take I’ve heard on that tune…other than the Fabs of course. Later brethren and sisters, –Riffking

  8. Eric Curotte-Ryder

    I liked the harmonies of the song. I like to thik of George being more of secondary vocalist rather than a backing vocalist. Because while John is singing his bars, George’s voice is more easily heard in the background. Is that possible or Paul and George are in unison singing in lower vocals than John’s singing voice?

  9. James Ferrell

    In general I think the movie Help is under appreciated. But this song in particular is a real triumph.

    The A-c#min-f#min chord progression with the monotone melody on c#… Brilliant. The same chord sequence shows up (in g) in A Day in the Life and Instant Karma–I think it proved to be a favorite of John’s.

    The countermelodies are unequalled in the Beatles’ oeuvre. And the guitar riff is IMHO, George’s first but not last brilliant contribution to a Beatles’ hit.

    The Beatles released a lot of great songs in 1965, but this one was their best. Runner up: Ticket to Ride.

  10. Roger Best

    Not that it matters much, but I find some of Paul’s remarks about how he contributed to what are mainly John’s songs to be very vague. This is a good example of it.

    “We sat at his house and wrote it, so he obviously didn’t have that much of it.”
    Seems to indicate that the song was co-written, nearly 50-50.

    “I would have to credit it to John for original inspiration 70-30. My main contribution is the countermelody to John.”
    Paul highlighted that his main contribution was the countermelody – but didn’t he also say that they wrote most of the song together? Seems to me John actually had much of it – Paul’s percentages sound more clear and accurate than his words in some cases.

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