UK, 1965, pop rock
The Beatles – Help!: As everyone knows, the history of the band is a story of two halves, and this album is the transition. We have the Fab Four, known to the world as these zany, lovable lads, turning from their clean-cut image to marijuana. And I mean a lot of it. They smoked constantly during the making of Help!. This transitional phase is the map of the Beatles’ future, marked out not only by a newfound emotional maturity but also a polarization between Lennon and McCartney. The record companies could smell the death of Beatlemania, and producers sensed the end, too. They all wanted more material, wanted to cash in one last time. “Ticket to Ride” spent only a week at the top of the charts, a stunning blow to the Beatlemania machine. The old times were finished, and this shift was ushered in by the arrival of the band’s first drug album, Dylan having introduced the lads to weed the year previous, and Lennon and Harrison having experimented with LSD, having obtained some from George’s dentist.
So what are the positive and negative influences of drugs on Help!? On the upside, the band recorded some of their best tracks, the drugs audibly freeing them from the restraints of contemporary pop music. They explore new sounds, therefore, and new emotional depths, like “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, an exploration of the dark corners of the Beatles’ psyche. “Ticket to Ride” is certainly an emotional ride, too, full of confusion and ambivalence. On the downside, there’s a clear lack of quality control, most likely caused by too much smoking. Pleasant songs like “Another Girl”, “Tell Me What You See”, and “It’s Only Love” (a track Lennon despised, though the first steps toward sitar use can be heard here), are, at the end of the day, merely filler. Some pretty trite lyrics, too, as well as some lackluster songs that made the cut; “Act Naturally”, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, and “You Like Me Too Much”.
The two pivotal tracks of the album come one each, from Lennon and McCartney, and here is planted the seed of a bitter rivalry. John gives us the title track as he emerges from behind the standard love-song metaphors. The song focuses on an overwhelming feeling of desperation, made attractive through a finely-wrought melody, complex harmonies, and Harrison’s fun descending guitar lines. Paul’s track is, of course, “Yesterday”, a song deeply ingrained in pop culture psyche. McCartney had it in his psyche, too, before he ever wrote it, because he says he dreamed the melody. And what a melody it is—it has over 1600 cover versions, the most recorded song in pop music history. McCartney was used to writing hit songs quickly, but he spend a year and a half on “Yesterday”, and he recorded it by himself, a first for a Beatle. Following in the trend of spreading their musical wings, “Yesterday” uses a string quartet, taking chances with non-traditional instruments for pop music. This song divided Lennon and McCartney. Contractually, Lennon is also listed as the songwriter, but he admitted and feared that he would never write a song this popular.