Writers: John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Original Release: July 19, 1965
Band: The Beatles
The Beatles story is one of a meteoric rise to unprecedented teen idol fame followed by a gradual transformation into something far more meaningful and enduring. It's astonishing to ponder the fact that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" were spawned by the same four young men, just three years apart. 1965 was their cusp year when they shifted from straight up rock 'n' roll to world-changing art rock. Interestingly, many of the best songs from their entire opus emerged during this time: "Yesterday," "In My Life," "Norwegian Wood," "We Can Work It Out," etc. The first signs of teeter-totter over that edge could be seen in the lead single from their second feature film.
It's hard to call "Help!" under-appreciated. Rolling Stone ranked it as the 29th greatest rock song ever in 2011. Only six Beatles songs ranked above it, plus John Lennon's "Imagine." (That's right: eight of the 30 best ever were penned by Beatles. Not exactly surprising but certainly impressive.) But it's still not usually a song that comes up when people discuss the band's masterpieces. To me, there are few if any more perfect pop songs in existence: a beautiful melange of the frenetic energy of the early '60s with the Dylan-esque mellow of the decade's latter half. Have you ever heard the Beatles' Love album, a wonderful collection of remixes created for Cirque de Soleil? Did you notice that "Help!" is the one song that's virtually untouched? They may have messed with some of the levels but there's little doctoring compared to the other tracks. Why? They got that one right the first time.
Lennon described "Help!" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" as his two most honest Beatles songs. His one regret with the former was the tempo. He envisioned it as a slower song. The studio executives wanted it faster. Far be it from me to question the master but I think the marketing types were right in this case.
As with nearly all Beatles songs, there have been numerous covers by top acts. Many seem to think Lennon was right as they have generally employed slower tempos.
Roy Orbison - If you only have time for one of these, don't miss this. It's lovely:
Back up to tempo... Bananarama:
Vitamin String Quartet:
Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?
Enjoy: A Window Above
What are you listening to these days?