Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Art of the Album: The Beatles – Help!

beatles-help-722488 What You Need to Know: Help! is The Beatles’ fifth album, and the soundtrack to their second film (also named Help!). Like the Hard Day’s Night album, the first half are songs that appear in the movie and the second half are songs recorded concurrently to fill out the album. Thankfully, only two cover songs make an appearance, and they’re the last covers we’ll ever have to talk about. Hooray!

If Beatles For Sale saw the group edging toward folk music, Help! saw them running off to marry it in Vegas. The acoustic guitar and tambourine are all over the place and featured more prominently in the mixes, and present in many of the songs is a twang that had been creeping into their music since “I’ll Cry Instead” on A Hard Day’s Night – their style had by now definitely changed, and it was only going to keep changing.

The Songs You’ve Heard: Three gigantic, powerhouse singles on this album - “Ticket to Ride” was a worldwide #1 single and even it is dwarfed by the bouncy melancholy of John’s “Help!” and the gentle “Yesterday,” Paul’s best ballad by a good bit.

If you’re familiar with the movie Help! you’ve probably at least heard the rest of the first half – Paul’s “The Night Before” and “Another Girl” are upbeat songs cut from the same cloth. George’s “I Need You” is his first self-penned song on an album since “Don’t Bother Me” on With The Beatles, and he’s showing improvement. John’s vindictive “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl” (about a guy who steals away someone else’s girl) is good, but can’t hold a candle to “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” a Bob Dylan-inspired precursor to Rubber Soul’s “Norwegian Wood.”

The Songs You Haven’t: With the exception of “Yesterday,” the second half of Help! is mostly pleasant filler. The two covers are here – Ringo-led “Act Naturally” was only given to him because the song that Lennon/McCartney originally wrote for him (“If You’ve Got Trouble”) actually sort of sucks, and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” is one last trip to the “let’s close the album with a loud one” well that their earliest albums drew from.

Of the original songs in this category, Paul’s “I’ve Just Seen a Face” is probably the one to beat, though George’s “You Like Me Too Much” isn’t bad. I don’t think much of “It’s Only Love” and neither did John – the song’s working title was “That’s a Nice Hat.”

Why I Like It: I always think I don’t care much for Help!, that album wedged awkwardly between Beatles For Sale and Rubber Soul, soundtrack for a film often passed up in favor of A Hard Day’s Night or Yellow Submarine. Upon listening to it, though, there are a lot of strong songs, and it’s really a necessary album if you’re tracking The Beatles’ artistic progression – the missing link between their early and later career, Help! is, sonically speaking, a closer relative to Rubber Soul than is the druggy, psychedelic Revolver.

It’s too easy to frame this progression as an inevitability with the benefit of hindsight, but the significance of Help! is audible even without knowledge of what was to come later - this album shows a band that is clearly more versatile than the one that released Please Please Me just over two years before.

Desert Island Tracks: “Help!,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away