The Beatles’ fifth official UK album release, Help! was the soundtrack to the group’s second feature film. It contained 14 songs: 10 by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, two more by George Harrison, and a further two cover versions.
The film had an early working title of Beatles II, until Eight Arms To Hold You was suggested. This was used for around three weeks in March and April 1965, and Capitol Records even announced that it would be the title of their first US single of the year.
Eventually the title Help! was settled on and, as for A Hard Day’s Night previously, John Lennon rose to the challenge of composing the theme song.
Lennon’s writing for the Help! LP continued the inward reflection first explored on Beatles For Sale, with the title track speaking of his insecurity during the peak of The Beatles’ fame.
The whole Beatle thing was just beyond comprehension. I was eating and drinking like a pig and I was fat as a pig, dissatisfied with myself, and subconsciously I was crying for help…
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.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Lennon’s other key compositions for the album were ‘Ticket To Ride’, which became The Beatles’ first single of 1965, and ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’, a mostly acoustic recording featuring introspective lyrics inspired by Bob Dylan.
I was in Kenwood and I would just be songwriting. The period would be for songwriting and so every day I would attempt to write a song, and it’s one of those that you sort of sing a bit sadly to yourself, ‘Here I stand, head in hand…’
I started thinking about my own emotions – I don’t know when exactly it started, like ‘I’m A Loser’ or ‘Hide Your Love Away’ or those kind of things – instead of projecting myself into a situation. I would try to express what I felt about myself which I’d done in me books. I think it was Dylan helped me realise that – not by any discussion or anything but just by hearing his work – I had a sort of professional songwriter’s attitude to writing pop songs; he would turn out a certain style of song for a single and we would do a certain style of thing for this and the other thing. I was already a stylized songwriter on the first album. But to express myself I would write Spaniard In The Works or In His Own Write, the personal stories which were expressive of my personal emotions. I’d have a separate songwriting John Lennon who wrote songs for the sort of meat market, and I didn’t consider them – the lyrics or anything – to have any depth at all. They were just a joke. Then I started being me about the songs, not writing them objectively, but subjectively.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
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’.
I had the idea of semaphore spelling out the letters HELP. But when we came to do the shot the arrangement of the arms with those letters didn’t look good. So we decided to improvise and ended up with the best graphic positioning of the arms.