The title track of Help! opens with a startling shout—a cry of desperation that can be heard throughout the rest of Beatles’ fifth studio album. Reeling off their appointment as Members of the British Empire from the Queen, the Beatles were growing tired of the hype of Beatlemania, and yearned to create music with more depth and more experimentation. Released in August 1965, the soundtrack to the band’s second feature-length film is as self-conscious as it is catchy.
The 2009 remaster of Help! includes the 14 tracks from the British release of the soundtrack. The version originally released in the U.S. only compiles the seven original Beatle-songs that appeared in the film; the other seven tracks are from composer Ken Throne’s film score. Those instrumentals, including campy renditions of “A Hard Day’s Night” and “I Should Have Known Better”, were America’s first exposure to the Indian sitar which would eventually become George Harrison’s signature. The film, Help!, is a Technicolor trip that weaves half-hearted lip synching with slapstick parody of Eastern spiritualism and spy movies. The plot is inconsistent and ultimately discomfiting, much like the film’s U.S. soundtrack.
But the original UK album is the definitive article: delivering the expected radio-ready love songs, but which were exhibiting exciting new folk influences, and an awkward sprinkling of wry covers. While “You’re Gonna Lose that Girl”, “The Night Before”, and “Another Girl” play it safe with the familiar bubblegum hooks and puppy love lyrics, the rest of the tracks are tinged with subtle experimentation. “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” are blatant Dylan-nods, and the rumbling bassline and impulsive drum beat make “Ticket to Ride” the Beatles’ heaviest song yet. The dissonant strings on “Yesterday” create a masterful balance with Paul’s unpretentious lyrics. Paul’s uncharacteristic earnestness justifies why the track will eventually become the most covered song in the history of recorded music.
While most of the tracks bear the mark of Lennon/McCartney collaboration, the two “other” Beatles get plenty of opportunity to make their case. George’s songwriting contributions to the album are agreeable as always. The innocent harmonies on “You Like Me Too Much” and “I Need You” maintain the carefree naivety that defined the Beatles’ U.S. tours. Ringo gives his obligatory two-cents in a rendition of the country classic “Act Naturally”. The sarcastic lyrics reveal the Beatles’ resistance to being canonized teen idols. They gonna put me in the movies, /they gonna make a big star outta me. But when the album closed with John’s spastic take on a guttural cover of Larry Williams’ “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, John was reassuring loyal fans that though the Beatles sound was starting to change, they hadn’t forgotten their rock’n’roll roots.
If the critical and box office success of A Hard Day’s Night was the peak of Beatlemania, Help! was the beginning of its end. The boys were growing up; their shags were nearly chin-length, and they’d abandoned the matching suits for turtlenecks and corduroy. The screaming teenage girls were starting to lose their voices. The Beatles were crying help! because they were tired of suppressing artistic energy to follow their own bandwagon of Top 40 gimmicks. Help! was only a sip of the drug-induced ardor we would hear more explicitly from Rubber Soul onwards. But, for now, the Beatles’ creative independence seemed to vanish in the haze.