Help! - The Beatles

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"Help!" - The Beatles (1965)

Recorded in April 1965, the nostalgia of "Help!" emerges from Lennon’s wistful yearnings for a simpler past unburdened by the excesses of Beatlemania. He would later comment: “It’s me singing “help”, and I meant it.”

Lennon wrote it as a midtempo ballad but in the studio it was sped-up adding Harrison’s guitar riffs and the “reverse call-and-response” vocals. The tempo shift worked well as it emphasized the  speaker’s growing desperation. Yet after the tracked was laid down, Lennon thought it was recorded too fast and tried to be too commercial.

It was the first Beatle song where the words were as least as important as the music. It  initiated an entirely new phase in Lennon’s career as a songwriter as from then on, he would, consiously, draw up on the power of his own celebrity for inspiration and expression

Says Musicologist Tim Riley:

"The tempo shift served to further underscore the speaker’s growing desperation as Paul and George anticipate nearly every line Lennon sings in the verse. This helps the listener to identify these voices as being inside the speaker’s head wondering where they will lead the speaker and what consequences these “suggestions” will bring. By the time Lennon sings  “open up the doors,” the voices are completely caught up in the nightmare. The drums drive the verse into the refrain with a determined, agitated fill that is at once constricted and lunging."

As Lennon screams: “Won’t you please, please help me” the whirlpool of paranoia has sucked him in and he chooses this moment to soar into his high register- usually his most poignant range, used here to express devastation. As the band slowly rejoins him for the final refrain, the gears begin to churn again, and he gets caught up in the motion one last time. The forces he’s crying out against are bigger- and more ominous- than even he can ever get a grip on.

Even while you're totally riveted by "Help's" hard driving beat and desperately anxious lyrics, its flat ballad form and prominent part for acoustic rhythm guitar are at work, adding a folksy stylistic cross current.  Ringo’s overdubbed tambourine part, close-miked and placed up front in the mix, differentiates the chorus texture from that of the verse, rhythmically intensifying the accompaniment to Lennon’s desperate plea. Harrison’s guitar stab is a reminder to everyone of just how important it was that The Beatles had a guitarist of his calibre in their band with such a clean, rippling sound.

The song presents the idea that one needs meaningful relationships to manage one’s existence- as an epiphany- a sudden recognition of self-evident facts. The satisfaction gained from contact with others extends beyond the need to fulfill bodily desire; it is required to complete one’s sense of self and derive the confidence to navigate one’s life. 

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