Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Help!

Title: Help!
Artist: The Beatles
Released: August 6, 1965 (UK); August 13, 1965 (US)
Recorded: February 15, - June 17, 1965
Labels: Parlophone, Capitol
Produced by: George Martin
Personnel: John Lennon: lead, harmony and background vocals; rhythm guitar; electric piano; tambourine on "Tell Me What You See;" Paul McCartney: lead, harmony and background vocals; lead and bass guitars; electric and acoustic pianos; George Harrison: harmony and background vocals; lead and rhythm guitars; lead vocals on "I Need You" and "You Like Me Too Much;" guiro on "Tell Me What You See;" Ringo Starr: drums and miscellaneous percussion; claves on "Tell Me What You See;" lead vocals on "Act Naturally"
Additional Musicians: George Martin: piano on "You Like Me Too Much;" John Scott: tenor and alto flutes on "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away;" String quartet on "Yesterday" arranged by Martin in association with Paul McCartney

Help! (AM9) continually fascinates me as much as any LP from the Fabs' catalog. Sandwiched between the fair to middlin' Beatles For Sale (Beatles '65) and the perfect Rubber Soul, Help! is like the awkward adolescent of Beatles' albums. Starting with the title track, the first original Beatles song to have nothing to do with romance or love, Help! is packed with great melodies and a new sort of melancholia never expressed by the band before. "Yesterday", "Help!" and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" all reach a poignancy far removed from the happy-go-lucky days of "Twist and Shout." And it's clear to see John and Paul getting comfortable with the yin and the yang of the songwriter, e.g. "Another Girl" (Paul's bouncy optimism) versus "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" (John's acidic pessimism).

In the context of 1965, the album is an AM10. The issue rating Beatles' albums is that during this transitional phase, every subsequent album was quantum leaps ahead of its predecessor. Into August 1965, I'd rate this as one of the best albums ever released (Think Sinatra's Wee Small Hours of the Morning). Even the weaker tracks knock the socks off anything else released at the time. The hits on the album ("Help!," "Ticket To Ride" and "Yesterday") are absolute classics in every sense of the word and the remainders ("The Night Before," "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "It's Only Love," "I've Just Seen A Face") make for amazing melodies. To think that Help! was released only 3 years after "Love Me Do" is phenomenal. Capitol gladly spared the States from the insipid "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" – how many of you in Britain just hit eject? Aside from this, the maturity of the songs is an apropos paean to 1965.

"Help!" And "Ticket to Ride" are perfect pop songs, and, were I left with just one Lennon song, it would be “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” This is essentially a Lennon album, with McCartney on the side (in the same way that Sgt. Pepper is a Paul LP).

Side One of the British release represents, in the same way that the American pressing of Magical Mystery Tour would in 1967, the OST of the remarkable film (certainly not A Hard Day’s Night, but a fab take on spy films in glorious color and that unforgettable row house shared by The Beatles). The seven songs, starting with "Help!" and ending with "Ticket to Ride" shine as great film music. Side Two is far less remarkable yet completely listenable.  Back in the days of vinyl though, were it not for "Yesterday," most Brits wouldn't have flipped over the LP. Side One was the perfect album side; should someone glue it down to your turntable you'd hardly mind. Nonetheless, I find myself often listening to the American Capitol release which eliminates several songs ("Yesterday" among them) in favor of the film's incidental music by Ken Thorne (a similar format to the red American release of A Hard Days Night). Each is an experience in itself.




And a bit of trivia of course is found in the album covers themselves, with the Beatles attempting to spell out the term HELP in flag semaphore (look it up in your Boy Scout manual). According to cover photographer Robert Freeman, "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." On the British Parlophone release, the letters formed by The Beatles approximate 'NUJV,' whilst the slightly re-arranged U. S. release on Capitol appeared to feature the letters 'NVUJ'. There is some speculation as well that the image was flipped (both Ringo and Paul wear wristwatches on their right hands – although Paul was left-handed, it is far more likely that Paul would switch the usual wristwatch wrist than Ringo. Not the first question I would ask either of them.

Whatever it spells, Help! Is a great album, a perfect OST and a stellar adolescent coming into his own.

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