Rather than being the first awakening of their broadening horizons, Help! Represents for me the final offering of traditional Beatles fare. It still contains a couple of cover versions. The songs still aim primarily to be commercial, catchy, radio-friendly foot-tapping singalongs. The four lads still had the endearing habit of dressing identically. It was the last time they would lark about to a goofy agenda written and shaped by others. It was the last hurrah of those cheeky, funny, cuddly moptops.
Help! – the song itself – was a superb taster for this new material. Perhaps more than ever before, the voices, drums and guitars dovetailed to near perfection. Superbly descending, crisp, spangly Gretsch guitar from George intertwines with a wonderful lead vocal by John, delivering those loaded lyrics with a perfect measure of angst, hope and desperation. Paul and George provide a truly terrific backing vocal which anticipates the lead – a simple masterstroke. Ringo excels himself; the drumming is nothing short of sensational and both drives and embellishes the whole track (and indeed, much of the album). A dazzling pop song in which each member plays his part to the hilt – the result, as so often with The Beatles – the whole is magically so much more than the sum of its (awesome) parts. Neatly encapsulates the paradoxically lonely claustrophobia and breathless excitement of their goldfish bowl existence in under two and a half fabulous, frenetic minutes.
The Night Before seamlessly continues the party mood. It’s Paul’s track and he confidently bestrides it with a colossal vocal and irresistibly driving bass performance. Love John’s electric piano and his backing vocal support with George. A great number.
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away – a sorrowful, world-weary little song of vulnerability for which I’ve always held a personal soft spot. It’s one of the first ones I clearly remember, my mum used to play it on an old reel to reel tape machine whilst doing the housework. I was just a little lad and I still remember and love that line about being two foot small and John’s lilting “Hey!” ahead of the song’s catchline (here’s the joke – I used to think it was being sung by Harry H. Corbett as Harold Steptoe!). The flute at the end is beautiful and really elevates the song into something curiously special. Lovely acoustic number – Ringo’s tambourine seems such a small touch, yet makes a giant contribution to this track in my opinion.
I Need You – A slight dip in quality for me here. Much as I like it, George’s monotonous vocal and the vibrating pedal guitar give it a slightly droning repetition after a little while. The cowbell gets on my nerves aswell. As usual with the fab four there is a mesmerising quality which keeps you with it, but generally a bit of a turgid plodder for me, compounded by a rather muted, soporific backing from Paul and John.
Another Girl – back to the party and another catchy hit from Paul, who charts the choppy waters of harsh lyrical sentiment more usually navigated by John. In keeping with the unbending stance of the lyrics, Paul serves up an uncompromisingly stern lead vocal at the lower end of his range, emerging darkly from beneath the strident backing vocals. I really like Paul’s lead guitar flourishes too. Another Girl is Another Winner for my money.
You’re Going To Lose That Girl – Like its immediate predecessor and the album’s two opening tracks, here is yet another consummately catchy pop song. As ever, John delivers a redoubtable performance on the meaty lead vocal. Again, George and Paul supply a masterfully pugnacious backing – the cleverly overlapping conversational interplay (“…watch what you do/ Yeah!”) glides along on a wonderful percussive wave courtesy of Ringo (although the relentless bongos get a bit irksome and over the top for me - but there’s enough great momentum to the track to overlook this). Superb ending. A real highlight of the album this one.
Ticket To Ride – well, it’s awesome really isn’t it? Lennon’s vocal and lyrical blend of remorse, possessive anger and yearning weave a path – ably abetted by Paul’s high backing – through the jangling guitars (terrific lead by Paul – again) and cascading drums (Ringo is once again magnificent here) on a truly fabulous trip through the emotional pain of broken romance. The song aches with feeling. John’s wounded “Aaaahhhh….” (2:31) as he tumbles into the title lyric is fabulous. And Ringo’s fills (by turns drilling, stumbling, or finally just a hammerblow full stop) after each “Ri-i-ide” are effortlessly brilliant. A magnificent closer to side one, with – like the opener – ‘number one hit’ written all over it.
So far, so fantastic. Unfortunately, redundant a point as it may seem in this digital age, “Help!” is very much a tale of two halves. Side two represents a nosedive in quality to my mind, and dilutes what, at the half way point, was shaping up as their best album to date.
I dislike Act Naturally, despite Ringo’s manful efforts (and again, awesome percussive display). It gurgles along as a poor man’s ‘Honey Don’t’ and on this occasion I really can’t bear Paul’s high register backing vocal. It somehow doesn’t even sound like the Beatles at all.
It’s Only Love was famously disavowed by John as one of his most embarrassing efforts. Undoubtedly a filler, with trite lyrics and those sugary, spongy guitar layers, it does little for me, though it’s fairly innocuous I suppose. I do like John’s sharp, tongue-in-cheek enunciation of “bright” (sarcastically disparaging the hollowness of his own lyrics here) and his lilting falsetto at the end, but all in all a lazy, throwaway effort.
You Like Me Too Much – this track has the drive and infectious energy so clearly lacking from George’s turgid side one offering. I wish this had been in the film instead of ‘I Need You’. I enjoy the rolling tempo and barrelhouse piano. It’s nice to have a more upbeat original number from George, following the melancholy mood which prevails throughout ‘Don’t Bother Me’ and ‘I Need You’. I love reading tkitna’s reviews but this song was completely overlooked there…. I’m guessing you must regard this one as eminently forgettable eh tkitna?
Tell Me What You See is another makeweight, almost childish in its structure with banal lyrics and an almost nursery rhyme quality buoyed up by that electric piano and bouncy percussion. Despite the tweeness I find it difficult to dislike. I like the hummed ending.
I’ve Just Seen A Face is love at first sight set to music. Another simple song it’s hard to dislike, with a naïve quality and freshness nicely echoed in the breathless, tumbling vocal and descending guitar work. A nice little tune from Paul – too good to be regarded as filler, but lightweight and fairly shallow nonetheless. Guilty pleasure meets hidden gem in a way.
Yesterday – how do I address the elephant in the room? It may be a beautiful song (and it is) but I’m sick to the back teeth of it. It’s not even Beatles proper – Paul stands alone (apart from that string quartet) to deliver the most covered “standard” of all time and cement himself into immortality. It does have an austere, yearning simplicity to it. But it will forever be the most overrated Beatles tune of all time for me I’m afraid. Interesting how each Beatle is (to my mind at least) branded by these one word titles (‘Yesterday’ for Paul, ‘Imagine’ for John, ‘Something’ from George and ‘Photograph’ by Ringo).
Dizzy Miss Lizzy – concludes a weak side two with a dreadful, slapdash mess. One of the worst Beatles recordings ever in my opinion. A boring rock & roll performance by John Lennon would seem to be an oxymoron, yet that is what we end up with in the shape – or rather shapelessness – of this weary, repetitive shambles. The screeching guitar and Lennon’s uncharacteristically unconvincing vocal combine to give us a tiresome track that can’t finish too soon for me. A shame when they recorded the vastly superior ‘Bad Boy’ at the same session.
In conclusion, the first side of the Help! LP was a triumph, sadly tainted by the unconvincingly cobbled together hotchpotch that was side two. They wouldn’t tolerate such a slip in standards again.