Two key things happened in the run-up to Help! that ultimately defined the second chapter of The Beatles. The first of which was sharing a spliff with Bob Dylan. The Voice of a Generation strolled into the Delmonico Hotel in New York and caused such a stir that Paul McCartney would later exclaim: “He was our idol. It was a great honour to meet him; we had a crazy party that night we met. I thought I had gotten the meaning of life that night.”
It was a meeting akin to something from Greek mythology. The fateful offering of marijuana from Dylan to The Beatles is now ascribed in history as a moment that shaped their back catalogue in the kaleidoscopic hue of psychedelia thereafter. And this is far from a mystic miasma that The Beatles tried to temper, if anything, they mythologised the meeting even further as Paul McCartney once discovered the “meaning of life” in his company, saying: “I could feel myself climbing a spiral walkway as I was talking to Dylan. I felt like I was figuring it all out.”
By the time Help! came around, both the marijuana and the influence of Bob Dylan was being heavily felt. As John Lennon later mentioned, a track that they coaxed out of Dylan’s miasma was ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’. “That’s me in my Dylan period again,” Lennon proclaimed, “I am like a chameleon, influenced by whatever is going on. If Elvis can do it, I can do it. If the Everly Brothers can do it, me and Paul can. Same with Dylan,” Lennon said about the track. Paul McCartney even took the term inspiration a step further in 1984 and claimed it was a direct imitation, stating: “That was John doing a Dylan… heavily influenced by Bob. If you listen, he’s singing it like Bob.”
All in all, it was a coming-of-age record for The Beatles, and it represents a huge moment in their back catalogue. Below we’re looking at the tracks that their first steps towards an introspective approach spawned and sifting the hits from the near-misses.
Help! ranked in order of greatness:
14. ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’
For an album that represented a new chapter for the band, its grand finale was somewhat of a throwback to the rockabilly days of old. The honky-tonk riff might be a bit of a shoulder shaker, but it falls short of the sort of originality that made The Beatles one of the foremost Promethean trailblazers of pop culture.
However, the main reason it sits in last place is that the Larry Williams original from 1958 has an era imbued charm that the Fab Four’s direct imitation lacks. In short, they don’t really bring enough to the original song to make it a worthwhile cover to feature on an album that was all about looking forwards.
13. ‘Act Naturally’
Much the same as the above, ‘Act Naturally’ is a throwback cover that Help! could’ve done without. While it’s a refreshing treat to hear Ringo Starr offer up lead vocals, the country-style solo that breaks up the repeating melody is the sort of hammy shtick that you find at a barn dance.
The Beatles may have fronted the British invasion, but ‘Act Naturally’ is a track that they should never have appropriated. It’s a song steeped in Uncle Sam stylings that clashes with their Liverpudlians ways.
12. ‘Another Girl’
At this stage, it is worth reiterating that this piece is merely a ranking, and while these songs might have been placed in the relegation zone, that doesn’t mean we’re condemning them to the ash heap of history.
‘Another Girl’ is a perfectly fine song, but it’s one of the albums least memorable, particularly considering it’s followed by yet another song about a “Girl” that would fair rather better on most fans lists.
11. ‘Tell Me What You See’
‘Tell Me What You See’ is a fine exhibit of how even when the songwriting duo of Lennon and McCartney missed, they still ended up scoring. By no means is it one of their finest efforts, but the mingling of ideas, which McCartney referred to as “60-40” his for this one, shows how well they craft a composition.
Lyrically they don’t reinvent the wheel, and after a minute or so, the washboard in the background gets tiring, let alone drearily dated, but aside from that, it’s okay. McCartney himself would offer the best verdict on this track: “It’s not awfully memorable.”
10. ‘You Like Me Too Much’
George Harrison takes the songwriting credit for ‘You Like Me Too Much’, but it’s clear that he hadn’t really developed his own confident style just yet and was happy to fall in line with a Lennon-McCartney melody.
As a matter of fact, the track suffers from the fact that it sounds pretty similar to ‘Tell Me What You See’. However, McCartney and George Martin lend Harrison’s effort a richer sound on either end of the same Steinway grand piano. The chord transition from G to flat-III also lends it a note of musical interest, but it’s never destined to set the world alight.
9. ‘I Need You’
Another George Harrison track takes the number nine spot. Penned about Pattie Boyd, there is a rather more personal note to this track that elevates it beyond some of the others.
The song also features the innovative use of a volume pedal that helps create the song’s riff. While this might not seem ground-breaking by any means today, back then, this sort of studio inventiveness is what made the Fab Four so good at pushing the envelope of rock ‘n’ roll.
8. ‘The Night Before’
Part of the brilliance of The Beatles is that they were a quintessential four-piece in the truest sense. As Ethan Hawke says in the film Boyhood: “There is no favourite Beatle! That’s what I’m saying, it’s in the balance, and that’s what made them the greatest f—king rock band in the world.”
While ‘The Night Before’ is far from their best work, the call-response chorus and perfectly tight sound showed off perfectly their ability to fine-tune a song. The harmonies on display add a disparate edge to the track that otherwise wouldn’t have amounted to much of it was just McCartney on his own.
7. ‘You’re Going to Lose That Girl’
The Beatles didn’t half like singing about “Girls” in their younger years! If there is a wider criticism to be made of Help! here, it would be that there are about four songs on the record very similar to this track, and no amount of bongos can change that fact.
This song was written a mere three days before the band departed for the Bahamas to film the movie Help! and that hastiness is reflected in the fact that they seem to have fallen back onto their laurels. That being said, they are pretty sturdy laurels to fall back on, and the result is a track that is admittedly very safe but a toe-tapper all the same.
6. ‘It’s Only Love’
Lennon conjures a lovely guitar tone for ‘It’s Only Love’, flourishes it with a pointed lyric, and gets out of there in less than two minutes. There aren’t enough tracks written with this brevity these days. The song declares everything it has and never once lingers.
That acoustic guitar tone in question was once more created by daring studio innovation that saw Lennon and Harrison use a capo on the neck of their instruments to create a taught almost Mandolin-like effect. In the end, Lennon would condemn the track as “lousy”, but while he might have found the lyrics twee, the singalong chorus and textures sound redeem it well beyond his criticism.
5. ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’
As John Lennon remarked, this was one from his Bob Dylan phase. The folk troubadours voice of sand and glue is one that Lennon wears well, albeit imitation has never been the mother of invention.
What the track lacks in originality, it makes up for with the Fab Four’s knack of gilding a chorus out of nowhere that elevates every song with the simple joy of pleasant structure. However, the transfiguring factor in the mix for this tune is the inherent charm that the band possessed; Lennon might have sung “two-foot small” instead of tall by mistake but keeping it in their imbues it with a bucketload of personality.
4. ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’
North American fans might be surprised to see ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ appear on Help! because it missed the pressing on the far side of the pond and ended up on Rubber Soul. However, for everyone else, the opening flamenco-like 12-string solo provided a stirring transition in the mix of the record.
The raucous 4/4 melody creates a sense of acceleration as though McCartney can’t wait to get the words off his chest, and although it might once again be about a “Girl” he’s just seen, this idea of having the melody mimic the mandate is a great symbol of their musical craft.
3. ‘Ticket to Ride’
If Help! represented a more progressive chapter for the band, then no song signified that further than ‘Ticket to Ride’. It’s not quite psychedelia, but there are echoes in the mix of what was to come from them, particularly in the nine-bar bridge and the drone chords that embellish the song with a textured sound.
Bundled up in this pioneering effort is an enigmatic feel. Lyrically, the rest of the album is very straightforward, but they are as obfuscated as the wandering melody in this track. The anthem is a mark of their sonic and spiritual exploration; with it comes a frisson of excitement, but they weren’t out of the atmosphere of the norm just yet. The best of their journey was yet to come.
There aren’t many songs that a fair chunk of music fans could identify before the very first second has elapsed. With ‘Help!’ The Beatles burst their album into brilliance with unmistakable intent.
After that, the iconic anthem never lets up; Ringo quickly chimes in with a little thunderous drum fill and harmonies, instrumental flourishes and chord changes ring out aplenty. Rather than making the song seem busy and messy, these little injections give the anthem vitality and vibrancy as it bristles along and opens up a new fluid chapter in rock ‘n’ roll.
Before I’m butchered for playing it safe, allow me to try and coax some sympathy by taking you back to a time before all of the endless covers, movies and murderings of the song had occurred. And, when you get to that near impossible point, you soon realise that it’s one of those songs that it’s unfathomable to imagine a world without.
Tracks with that seismic impact don’t come along every day, and of all the songs on Help!, many of which are pleasant little ditties or head-bobbing jams, it is ‘Yesterday’ that seems to have been fished from the ether and alchemically charmed into existence.
In truth, it’s not much more than a humble little folk song consisting of a few easy chords, but its brilliance resides in the fact that, in spite of that, it stands as a behemoth of pop culture.