“Help me if you can, I’m feeling down.” – John Lennon
Active for just ten years, The Beatles lived fast and exploded in a fireball of infighting, creative clashes and legal disputes. Arguably the greatest, most pioneering and innovative band of all time, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr created the blueprints for popular music as we know it today.
With 21 studio albums, five live albums and a remarkable 54 compilation records to their name, Lennon and McCartney worked “eyeball to eyeball” to forge hit song after hit song, never once taking their foot off the gas to enjoy the moment. Of course, this intensity is one of the contributing factors as to why The Beatles eventually went their separate ways, but it is also the reason why we have countless artistic creations to pour over some 50 years later.
Fans of the group have often debated what can be considered as the greatest Beatles moment; Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver, Abbey Road and other classic albums sit right at the very top of the list when trying to dissect when the Fab Four’s ever-developing sound reached the height of its brilliance. With that discussion in mind, those at the eye of the storm only allowed very brief glimpses behind the curtain, an opportunity to see the material from a different point of view, from the opinion of its creator.
Each member of The Beatles had their own judgment when it came to their most-loved periods, and, quite often, it was skewed by their own involvement in the creation. For example, McCartney adored ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ when the rest of the band despised it. George Harrison loved ‘Norwegian Wood’ because he “felt where it was coming from”, and Ringo Starr would name ‘Rain’ as the number one based on his “possessed” drumming style.
For John Lennon, a man responsible for so many of The Beatles’ biggest hits, it was always hard to decipher one song specifically but, when pushed, it was all about the sentimental value: “I always liked ‘[I Am The] Walrus’, ‘Strawberry Fields’, ‘Help’, ‘In My Life’,” Lennon once said in an interview with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner. Trying to drill down further, Wenner interjected, asking: “Why ‘Help!’?” to which Lennon delivers a typically coloured response.
The singer and guitarist replied: “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 clarifies 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.”
‘Help!’, while also making Lennon feel secure, also offered an opportunity to bring a moment of clarity in what was a maddening time for The Beatles. A brilliant song in its own right, ‘Help!’ served as the title track for the 1965 film and the subsequent soundtrack album – a signifier to just how busy the band were during this time as they relentlessly released new creations without taking a breath.
It is ‘Help!’ that John Lennon afforded himself an opportunity to add a little more personality to his music, a chance to speak with sincerity and to show a more human side to himself. During an interview with Playboy in 1980, Lennon said: “The whole Beatles thing was just beyond comprehension. I was subconsciously crying out for help”.