Monday, January 09, 2012

HELP! - an appreciation

I always had a prejudice against the Beatles' HELP! album. For a few of reasons - first because it was the soundtrack for the movie HELP! which isn't a very good movie, especially compared to A HARD DAY'S NIGHT. And second because the American version has a line-up that is not as good as the British version.

Luckily the version you get now via download, etc, is the British version. Here is the lineup:

1.      Help! 
2.      The Night Before
3.      You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
4.      I Need You
5.      Another Girl     
6.      You're Going to Lose That Girl
7.      Ticket to Ride 
8.      Act Naturally
9.      It's Only Love   
10.    You Like Me Too Much
11.    Tell Me What You See  
12.    I've Just Seen a Face
13.    Yesterday
14.    Dizzy Miss Lizzy

This brief review says it pretty well:  "Help! may not be their greatest album, but it contains some of their greatest early songs."

This is the best line from the review: "Their sonic range is expanding as they start to get comfortable in the studio, Harrison riding a volume pedal on his pleading I Need You and in the drone of riffing, proto-heavy-rock song Ticket to Ride driven by Ringo’s heavy tom tom beat."

Bonus for mentioning "I Need You," more about which in a moment.

Another problem with this album is that I've heard the better songs a million times so it's hard to appreciate them, and the lesser songs, well, let's deal with them first:

2.      The Night Before
5.      Another Girl     
8.      Act Naturally
9.      It's Only Love   
10.    You Like Me Too Much
11.    Tell Me What You See

That's six out of 14, not good odds for a Beatles record.

Also I'm not getting into You Make Me Dizzy Miss Lizzy - not a Beatles song, although Lennon's singing is typically great.

The Night Before/Another Girl - both McCartney tunes, but mediocre although I do appreciate them because McCartney sounds sexier than usual in both and also he looked very nice in the Another Girl sequence in Help! in a tight black t-shirt and jeans. There are surprisingly few pictures of the Fabs in t-shirts and jeans.

Act Naturally - not a Lennon/McCartney tune, it's corny and it's the obligatory Ringo song. I listened to it all the way through once. That was enough.

It's Only Love - this actually has an excellent guitar riff going on, and Lennon's high note for the finale is great. Also the way he rolls his R when he goes "very bright."


But the lyrics are awkward, especially the opening, so, no.

Tell Me What You See - again, awkward opening lyrics. And the refrain "Tellll meeee whaaat yoou seeeahhh!" just doesn't work. And even the singing isn't good. A definite lesser Lennon/McCartney.

You Like Me Too Much - a lesser Harrison song, and I don't have a high opinion - but with some very notable exceptions - of Harrison's oevre. The singing is typical Harrison just-OK, and the lyrics are awkward and in that weird minor-key ambivalent Harrison mode.

However, I love I Need You. The review I quoted nails why it's so good - the awesome echoey guitar work that might have been a first in rock and roll, an early harbinger of the guitar pyrotechnics of the hard rock era. Listen:

The video clip is the "I Need You" sequence  from Help! They are being protected from the bad guys, led by Leo McKern (#2 in two episodes of The Prisoner!) because Ringo was sent this ring and... nevermind.

Also points for judicious use of cowbell, and great guitar reverb to finish off.

Yeah, I don't like most of Harrison's songs, not even the ones everybody loves like "Something" (zzzzzz!) and "Here Comes the Sun" but when I love them, I love them alot - his "It's All Too Much" is an underrated gem and one of the Beatles' best, in my opinion.

Harrison must have been pretty proud of "I Need You" - he gives it a shout-out, twice, during the wacky credits of Help!

You're Gonna Lose that Girl - this is right on the border between lesser and greater Beatles. The subject matter is strictly old-school Beatles, with nothing new or innovative. But on the other hand, it's the old school Beatles musicality - Lennon's singing and the call-and-response harmonies - that make it really good. I love the way Lennon bites into the opening line. And his high notes on loooooose that girl.

Here's the sequence from Help!

Damn, Ringo, you sure like to smoke. But bonus points for the bongo playing.

Actually, there's one thing that's not old-school Beatles: Harrison's unique, eccentric lead guitar. You can hear it at minute 1:16 and it repeats.  It goes perfectly with the song, which is why you don't realize it's so out there until you focus on it.

Ticket to Ride/Yesterday - these songs have almost nothing in common - the first is apparently a rare 50/50 Lennon and McCartney effort, the second all McCartney - except a. both are great songs (although I prefer Ticket) and I've heard both of them so many times I can't hear them any more. They've both just worn completely out for me.

If you want to learn about why they are special songs check out the Beatles Bible:
Ticket to Ride

Although the movie "Help!" was very impersonal, the opposite of "A Hard Day's Night," Lennon has said that the song Help! was very personal:
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.

Help! still retains its power for me, somehow.  Perhaps it's the singing, perhaps the melody, possibly the drumming.


You've Got to Hide Your Love Away was also a personal one for Lennon:
...It's one of those that you sing a bit sadly to yourself, 'Here I stand, head in hand...' I'd started thinking about my own emotions. I don't know when exactly it started, like I'm A Loser or Hide Your Love Away, 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 my books. I think it was Dylan who helped me realise that - not by any discussion or anything, but by hearing his work.
This is the best music sequence from the movie. Pretty song, pretty Beatles, a little Harrison/McCartney sexual rivalry and the best, pinkest pants suit in the entire world - WITH matching pink hat and boots. What's not to like?

Even though I discovered the Beatles via Paul McCartney's solo career, and have always been a defender of McCartney in Lennon vs. McCartney arguments, it's a fact that I've always preferred Lennon's songs. Except for "It's All Too Much" my favorite Beatles songs include "And Your Bird Can Sing", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey", "Mean Mr. Mustard/Polytheme Pam", "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Rain", "Bungalow Bill,"  "Ballad of John and Yoko, " "A Day in the Life," and "I Am the Walrus." I actually might prefer McCartney's solo songs (Band on the Run, Jet, My Love) to his Beatles songs.

However, Yellow Submarine is in a class by itself.

And it must be said that every song on Sgt. Peppers owes its existence to McCartney making everybody else get into the studio to do it. Word is McCartney wanted to get it done by April 1967 so he could be with Jane Asher, who was touring in a play in the US, to meet up with her in time for her birthday.

But one of the best, maybe THE best song ever recorded by the Beatles, is McCartney's I've Just Seen a Face. I blogged about the song last October. It's one of McCartney's own favorites, and deservedly so.