Album Review: “Help!” — The Beatles (1965)

beatles_helpHelp! kicks off a period of unparalleled creativity, innovation, songwriting and musicianship in The Beatles’s history. The dark, folksy yearnings of the previous (and wholly underrated) Beatles For Sale lead to more experimentation with Dylanesque folk, country, and balladeering, while not sacrificing the pure pop craftsmanship that has earmarked much of The Beatles sound up to this point.

1965 was in many ways 1964 Part Deux for The Beatles (Two albums! A worldwide tour! A hit movie! Rampaging Beatlemania everywhere!) but there was nothing but progression and evolution in their music. The album opens with the title track, and Help! is one of their classics. And yet, while it’s a great pop number it masks genuine yearning and insecurity on the part of Lennon (and by extension the group as a whole). The throwaway silliness of their last movie title number has given way to something deeper on this one, and it heralds a new driving expression in their music.

The Night Before continues the uptempo vibe with some cool electric keyboards, give-and-take choruses, and Paul’s reverberating lament for a woman who used him for some quick nookie. Not a great song, but a good one.

Much has been said about Lennon’s descent into Dylan territory with You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away. Rather than belabor that point, I will simply say that this is one of his best Beatles songs, period: short, to the point, painful, poetic, beautiful.

This searing ache continues with George’s best song to date, I Need You. Everything about this song works: the processed guitarwork, George’s vocal stylings accompanied by beautiful harmonies from John and Paul, Ringo’s tasteful use of cowbell, the works. An underrated and mostly overlooked cut from this album, it more than deserves another listen from the casual listener.

Another Girl is OK. I like the verses more than the chorus. Good lyrics, finally a break from four songs of woe-is-meism — too bad it’s the weakest song so far! I’m also not a big fan of the rockabilly vibe that drives this tune…. perhaps another arrangement might have improved the song for me, but it’s an acceptable if not particularly memorable album cut.

You’re Gonna Lose That Girl is absolute pop perfection. More give-and-take on the verses and chorus. Everything about this song is perfect; I think I might like the bridge best “I’ll make a point / I’m taking here away from you… (watch what you do) yeah…”. The harmonies provided by John, Paul, and George are perfection at its Beatle finest.

So why not keep it going? Ticket To Ride is another perfect song, sweet harmonious pop with an underlying rock backbone. The 12-string Rick jangle, Ringo’s pulsating beat, and Lennon and McCartney harmonizing like no one else… this is a pop-rock classic. It was often credited as one of the earliest “metal progenitor” songs, believe it or not. I don’t know if I’d go that far with the praise… but this song can’t be praised enough.

And then we get to Act Naturally… oy. Not a bad song, and Ringo brings his A-game to this rockabilly/country cover. On the US vinyl Yesterday… And Today album, this song appears immediately after “Yesterday” and destroyed… no, it absolutely DEMOLISHED that song’s particular afterglow. Oh well. Not my thing, but not a bad song either,

It’s Only Love is Lennon at his balladeering best, with some nice flourishes like the rolling rr’s on the word “bright” in the second verse. I really like this song, another overlooked gem in The Beatles’ catalog. A nice Roy Orbison vibe here. Lennon reportedly hated it, but it remains one of my favorite songs of the era.

You Like Me Too Much is filler… sort of generic-sounding. George sounds more confident in both his vocals and songwriting, but the song has never done much for me.  Thankfully, Tell Me What You See is another overlooked pop nicety, with a breezy acoustic beat that drives simple tune. Not a classic, but a good song regardless. Paul’s dives into a deeper vocal register here, and I like the switch from his usual higher range.

I’ve Just Seen A Face is another example of a pure classic, a folk number with country overtones that Paul just absolutely nails. The song is perfect from soup to nuts: lyrically, musically, sonically, it just delivers on every level. Even George’s straightforward solo is tasteful and wonderfully situated; it doesn’t come crashing into the song clumsily (my only flaw in the otherwise perfect “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party”) and highlights the song’s beautiful driving melody. This song was also use as the album opener on the American Rubber Soul LP, setting the tone for a folksier, more acoustic experience than that given by the corresponding UK album.

Yesterday…. yeah. All I need to say, really. And finally, Dizzy Miss Lizzy is a nice rocker to end the album. Repetitious to a fault, it benefits from Lennon’s assured vocal delivery and a killer rock vibe. A cover, but a really decent one.

There’s so much I love about this album, it easily ranks for me as one of The Beatles’ best LPs. Leading directly into Rubber Soul and RevolverHelp! is the beginning of what I (and many, I’d imagine) consider to be the finest period in The Beatles entire career. It invites repeat listens with its innate hooks, pop craftsmanship, memorable melodies, and unbelievable sustain. The quality never sags, the album never feels bloated, and even if you might not have use for a song or two, another classic cut is waiting just around the corner. This is not just a great album; it’s an essential one.

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