In 1965, John Lennon went through a period of personal turmoil despite the unfathomable success he was achieving with The Beatles. His woes manifested in his glutenous appearance, which Lennon referred to as his “fat Elvis period”.
Although from the outside, it seemed like he was in dreamland as Beatlemania took a grip on the world, instead, it just made Lennon feel intense pressure which grounded him down. He was incredibly stressed by his situation and later admitted, “The whole Beatles thing was just beyond comprehension. I was subconsciously crying out for help.”
It wasn’t until Lennon successfully made his way to the other side that he reflected on that dark moment in his life and solemnly examined how it had subconsciously affected his art. In 1980, Lennon said that ‘Help!’ epitomised this harrowing period and caught him at his darkest hour.
He told Playboy’s David Sheff: “When ‘Help!’ came out, I was actually crying out for help. Most people think it’s just a fast rock ‘n’ roll song. I didn’t realise it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help. So it was my fat Elvis period.”
When Lennon wrote ‘Help!’ he was only 25, but the Beatle felt like a weathered 50-year-old war veteran. He explained: “You see the movie: he – I – is very fat, very insecure, and he’s completely lost himself. And I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was.”
In addition to being in his “fat Elvis Period”, Lennon was also deeply insecure about his songwriting. His doubts worsened when journalist Maureen Cleave questioned why he didn’t write songs with more than one syllable, and her comment stuck in his mind when he penned the lyrics for ‘Help!’
He admitted: “So in ‘Help!’ there are two- or three-syllable words, and I very proudly showed them to her, and she still didn’t like them. I was insecure then, and things like that happened more than once. I never considered it before. So after that, I put a few words with three syllables in, but she didn’t think much of them when I played it for her, anyway.”
Despite being an irreplaceable part of the most successful band on the planet, Lennon still didn’t believe in his talents, and it took him years to accept his position was wholly deserved. Although he struggled with crippling self-doubt and weight issues during this testing time, at least as a consolation, Lennon managed to mine ‘Help!’ from his anguish.