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The Beatles begin their transition from up-beat commercial pop

The Beatles

Help!

Released: August 12th, 1965

8.5
Album Review The Beatles

The events we write about at Gaslight Records happened in some form or another 50 years ago to the day. Roll along with us and imagine you are back in 1969.

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Help! occupies an unusual position in the canon of Beatles recordings, marking a transition from the up-beat commercial pop of early Beatlemania to the more introspective, melancholic song writing of Rubber Soul. In some ways, it's a record with an identity crisis - unsure if it is an album in its own right or simply a soundtrack to the film of the same name. The American release left out most of the second side of the British record and, instead, spread instrumentals from the movie throughout the album. It was recorded in three short sessions between February and June of 1965 with a four-track recorder.

The album's lack of critical acclaim - it only registered 331 on Rolling Stone's top 500 - only serves to underline just how good The Beatles really were. Even the "fillers" are full of hooks and rich, harmonized vocals, and there are a least five easily recognizable Beatles classics. The album also boasts the most covered song ever written: Paul McCartney's "Yesterday".

The Beatles begin their transition from up-beat commercial pop

John Lennon wrote the title track "Help" with the film in mind. The breathless upbeat tempo and driving rhythm disguises a set of lyrics penned by a man "not so self assured". Lennon later said that, although he didn’t realise it at the time, he was in his "fat Elvis period" and crying out for help. George Harrison produced some descending Chet Atkins style guitar to close out each chorus and it was recorded in one night. Soon after comes "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away", which sees Lennon even more ambiguous and introspective. By his own admission, he was starting to channel Bob Dylan. It’s a beautiful lyric, sung with more than a hint of Dylan in the chorus. Session musician Johnnie Scott was paid 6 pounds to play tenor flute with an alto flute overdub.

"Ticket to Ride" was the first single release from the album and, again, the lyric is more melancholic than previous Beatles material. It is not hard to hear a crossover with The Byrd's in the jangling guitar arpeggios and McCartney’s added double time coda. "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" has Lennon singing the lead with McCartney and Harrison on backing vocals.

There are signs, too, of the musical inventiveness that would become more pronounced in the latter part of the band’s life. "The Night Before", which was recorded in just two takes, has Lennon and McCartney’s double guitar solo tracked an octave apart. "I Need You" sees Ringo Starr playing a percussive rhythm on the back of a Gibson Jumbo acoustic while Lennon plays snare. "You Like Me Too Much" begins with McCartney and George Martin playing at different ends of a Steinway grand piano. However, the album also contains, arguably, their worst song ever: "It's Only Love". Lennon hated it, later calling the lyrics "abysmal". McCartney composed "Another Girl" in the bathroom of a Tunisian resort and "Act Naturally" has Ringo doing country.

Towards the end of the album comes a rare gem in the form of the gorgeous "I've Just Seen A Face". This is the Beatles, for the first time, completely acoustic with no bass - just Harrison playing low down on his 12-string guitar and Starr softly brushing a snare drum. It’s a fresh, up-beat country shuffle that perfectly captures the rush of new love. McCartney is fresh from composing the song at (then-girlfriend) Jane Asher’s house and the cascading lyric keeps drawing his vocals forward.

Then there is "Yesterday". McCartney claimed that the song came to him in a dream. He went to the piano, found the chords and learned it. He would later play it to people to see if they could recognise it, thinking it might have been someone else's song - perhaps an old jazz tune that his father had introduced him to. It was the first time acoustic guitar and a string quartet was used on a Beatles album. McCartney did not want it released as a single in Britain because he thought it would undermine their status as a rock and roll band. Musically complex and now the most covered song in history, it has never been done more beautifully than McCartney does it here.

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