The Beatles' first four albums were mostly very good and enviably energetic, but rose and fell with the strength of the songs the sound was great, but it was the songs that made With the Beatles an eternal treat while Beatles For Sale came off as much more shoddy thanks to some poorly chosen "rock & roll" covers.
On Help!, the songs, sound, and production finally clicked into place once and for all. It was here that their songcraft shook off the corniness of the early puppy-love anthems and took on a real coolness factor. For the first time, they don't sound so much like they're desperate to please everyone they just do their thing and see if you'll come along.
Which is not to say that these are deep, introspective songs, by any means. Though "I'm a Loser" and "No Reply" on Beatles For Sale had hinted at this direction, it would be another album until they'd start to unbind from the boy-wants/meets/loves/loses-girl theme. John's weary voice on "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" is as deep as it gets here, which is pretty deep, actually, but mostly this is music for the eternally lovelorn.
The unheralded key to this album is, surprisingly, the background vocals. The harmonies are more inventive and irresistable than ever before; virtually every song has harmony lines that cause you to go, "Holy shit! How'd they fucking come up with that?!" Assuming you swear as much as I do.
The tracklist is filler-free; even the clear-cut "album tracks" are quite good. "The Night Before" is Paul at his sweet 'n' lusty best, demonstrating a genuine swagger that hints at how he probably actually was as a Swingin' London bachelor. This was before his amputee fetish set on, I think. Great song; contains the wonderful line "When I held you near/You were so sincere."
John's at the top of his game with the beleaguered "Hide Your Love Away," and "It's Only Love," each as honest as pop songs get. They're the types of love songs that could only have been written by someone who's loved with passion and need someone like Lennon, myself, or Dixie Carter.
John's harder side comes out in "You're Going to Lose That Girl" and a cover of "Dizzy Miss Lizzie," which fortunately closes things out instead of gumming up the flow mid-album. Both good.
George steps boldly forward with "I Need You" and "You Like Me Too Much," a curiously passive-aggressive pairing, but easily his best stuff to that point. His guitar work is stellar on the album overall, too sparkly and confident, with none of those solos where you feel like he's surprised not to be missing any notes.
"Another Girl" and "Tell Me What You See" are the also-rans here, but they're both delightful to hear a couple of good Beatlesongs that simply get forgotten, and thus can be enjoyed anew every time. "Tell Me What You See," in fact, sounds almost like Harrison's influence had wormed its way into Paul's brain, as it's really a prototypical Beatle George song. Fucking excellent drumming by Ringo on this one, and more of that strangely prevalent electric piano that found its way onto most of Help! and For Sale.
"I've Just Seen a Face" (greedily, and/or wisely tacked onto the American Rubber Soul) appears here as track 12, followed by "Yesterday" pretty goddamned audacious considering these are two of Paul's all-time finest compositions. I don't get much out of "Yesterday" since hearing Z-Trip's extraordinarily irreverent remix of it (could only have been funnier with human beatbox instead of breakbeat loop), but "I've Just Seen a Face" always transforms me back into my 7-year-old self, jumping up and down on my bed with giant Tinkertoy® guitar, singing along with a joy I probably have never again experienced. At the time, it seemed to me that Paul was ripping off Mike Nesmith which makes me smile now. A real classic.
Unlike the cover-song padding on Beatles For Sale, the inclusion of Ringo's charming take on Buck Owens's "Act Naturally" and John's "Dizzy Miss Lizzie" seems more like a salutation to the boys' past as they moved on a final wave goodbye to the good ol' Reeperbahn approach. To me, Help! is as strong a place as can be found to witness what the Beatles were all about in their younger years. It's not an album I listen to much anymore, but when it's on, it's on for the whole way through, and anyone interrupting me is bound to get a knot in the head.
Review by Gardyloo Gully