Sunday, February 17, 2008

162. The Beatles: Help! (1965)

Now we continue our journey through the back catalog of a little-known '60s band I've recently discovered.

Boy these guys were prolific! In modern times it takes a band a good 15 years to release 5 albums. The Beatles issued record #5 in their third year of recording. Creating music at such a breakneck pace, no one would blame them for running out of quality material.

But, believe it or not The Beatles got better, which makes it even more strange that they never got the critical or public acclaim they deserved.

The story on Help! is the growing challenge to John Lennon's singing and songwriting dominance. Not only was McCartney rapidly catching up to his partner, but lead guitarist George Harrison also reveals himself as a promising talent.

Let's start with John, whose songs were becoming increasingly complex. This is most evident in the title track, with its defiance of normal pop song structure (the chorus serves as the intro, and the background vocalists announce some lines before the lead singer sings them). Ticket To Ride (which I had previously mistaken for a Carpenters original) forgoes the traditional verse-chorus-bridge-etc with extra-long verses, two bridges and a distinct outro. Lennon also ventures into ballad territory with an unaccompanied number called You've Got To Hide Your Love Away. Its simplicity is especially effective in light of his other contributions.

Paul McCartney counters with a mix of rock, country and (of course) balladry. The Night Before is a spirited rocker about how feelings can change in the light of day. Paul also adopts the two bridge structure from Ticket To Ride (or did John borrow it from him)? I've Just Seen A Face is a shuffling, harmony-rich charmer. The showstopper is Yesterday, a rueful ballad with a twist. It's not really The Beatles, just Paul and a guitar, with some strings. I'm surprised no other artists have tried to cover this! I think that would turn out well.

Both John and Paul offer lighter fare in the form of Another Girl, McCartney's country foray and You're Going To Lose That Girl, an R & B workout from Lennon. They also collaborate closely on Tell Me What You See, which showcases a great instrumental performance from all involved.

In addition to this friendly rivalry, George Harrison also shows promise in two original songs. You Like Me Too Much sounds a little bit like The Monkees; it could have been a huge hit with Davy Jones singing it! I Need You is a great love song that satisfies a person's need for more cowbell. Maybe, just maybe, Harrison was becoming a third threat within the band!

The talent show is rounded out by a delightful Ringo Starr turn on the Buck Owens-popularized Act Naturally, about a burgeoning movie star. And it was appropriate because apparently, The Beatles made a film version of Help! I haven't seen it, but by all accounts it is a very introspective and experimental movie which absolutely tanked at the box office.

Despite that failure, one might mark this album as a bright ending to the first phase of this little band's career.

Grade: A
Fave Song: Help!

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