The Beatles composed countless classic tracks. It was a skill that came remarkably natural to them. Whether it be ‘Please Please Me’ or ‘Here Comes the Sun’, the Liverpool quartet were the masters of modern popular songwriting, and without their contributions, the diverse landscape that is contemporary culture would be completely different.
Whilst the discussion of the band’s greatest songs is always a fairly heated one, there is one song that invariably comes up, as it is one of their most pithy. ‘Help!’, the title track of the band’s 1965 fifth album and film of the same name, has been one of their most enduring moments since its release. The track is one of the best examples of the potency of the John Lennon and Paul McCartney songwriting partnership. Prior to cuts such as ‘Help!’, the group had been somewhat dismissed as a boyband. However, after this song arrived, all misconceptions were dropped, and The Beatles affirmed themselves as the best songwriters on the planet.
During an interview in 1970, Lennon went as far as to describe the song as one of his favourites by the band. Explaining his position, he said: “Because I meant it, it’s real. The lyric is as good now as it was then, it’s no different, you know. It makes me feel secure to know that I was that sensible or whatever – well, not sensible, but aware of myself. That’s with no acid, no nothing… well, pot or whatever.” Lennon clarified his point, “It was just me singing ‘help’ and I meant it, you know. I don’t like the recording that much, the song I like. We did it too fast to try and be commercial.”
Later, when speaking to Playboy, Lennon discussed its provenance: “The whole Beatles thing was just beyond comprehension. I was subconsciously crying out for help”. One of the most honest moments in Lennon’s Beatles career, it has since become an anthem for everybody looking for help, regardless of what it might be, in what is a glowing testament to Lennon and the band’s ability to write songs that have a universal appeal.
‘Help!’ is one of the finest songs ever written, and understandably, it has been covered many times by a diverse array of artists, as everyone can find solace in its message. Duly, we’ve listed the five best. Be prepared to see some familiar faces, and be astounded by what they did with the raw materials.
The five best covers of The Beatles song ‘Help!’
A refreshing take on the original, this languid, psychedelic redux was one of the earliest examples of the brilliance of Deep Purple. Taken from their 1968 debut Shades of Deep Purple, it comes complete with an airy opening passage, as well as a crunching middle section where the band’s resident guitar hero, Ritchie Blackmore, stomps on his distortion pedal and delivers a biting solo that sounds not similar to the era’s most prominent guitar hero, Jimi Hendrix.
As far as covers go, this entry is right up there, utilising real imagination yet delivering a song that not only tries to oust the original but does so with admiration and appreciation.
The B-side to English punks The Damned’s influential 1976 single ‘New Rose’, their cover of ‘Help!’ shouldn’t work, but it does. Taking the track to unprecedented places by ramping up the pace and energy, it starts with the customary ‘1-2-3-4′ that you’d expect from a first wave punk track, and it couldn’t be further away from the sugary lament of The Beatles’ original.
Bassist Captain Sensible’s bass carries the track with unrelenting energy, and his pulsating work links up with Rat Scabies’ drums to really make the track their own, veering into what would become known as hardcore punk over the following decade. Although the band managed to turn the heat up on the track, it doesn’t lose its power, and is still as catchy as can be.
There are many reasons to love the Carpenters, and one of them is the sweet sound of their cover of ‘Help!’. Featuring all of the brother and sister duo’s classic hallmarks, including Karen Carpenter’s timeless lead vocals, her customary drum fills, as well as emotive instrumental work, such as the keyboard solo, it takes the subject material and shakes it up, with Karen and Richard Carpenter making their mark on the song that had for long been ostensibly John Lennon’s.
If you thought the duo’s second album, 1970’s Close to You, could not get any better thanks to cuts such as the title track and ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, think again, as ‘Help!’ really is a welcome surprise.
Yes, you can criticise U2 for many reasons, but their 1986 cover of ‘Help!’ is not one of them. Delivered on June 15th, 1986, at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey, this was when the band were at their pomp and only a matter of months from releasing their March 1987 masterpiece, The Joshua Tree.
Staying somewhat faithful to the original, the band dial down the energy, making it more of a ballad, as Bono’s vocals really shine, aided by the crowd for the chorus, and the minimalist guitar work of The Edge, whose delay-drenched guitar fills in the space left by the rest of the band. Normally we’d cringe at something like this, but it works well, and Bono’s vocals add a raw edge to the song, echoing the honesty of Lennon’s words.
There was no way we weren’t going to include the legendary Roy Orbison’s cover of ‘Help!’ from the 1985 TV documentary, Everyman: John Lennon ‘Journey in the Life’. It’s slow in pace, and in the wake of John Lennon’s murder in 1980, there’s a real pathos that carries this cover, as Orbison and the listener look back on Lennon’s life – and his original cry for help in 1965 – as fame was starting to take its toll. If we didn’t know it was a Beatles song, it could quite easily have been taken as an Orbison original, as his moving voice brings us to our knees.