As was frequently the case in the 1960s, if a Rolling Stones album came out, you had to know the Beatles wouldn’t be far behind. “Help!”, their fifth album and soundtrack to their second movie, was released in August of 1965. It is rated as album number 266 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Even with a band I have followed as closely as the Beatles, it is great that I continue to learn new facts as I study each of these albums. I never previously realized that with “Help!” as well as with “A Hard Day’s Night”, the songs from the film are featured on side one, with the second side allotted for other music they had recorded during that time. This is probably due to the fact that I have never devoted as much attention to the films as I have the music they produced. The title track “Help!” and “Ticket to Ride”, both Lennon leads, continued their unprecedented string of #1 singles. Ringo sings the Buck Owens country hit “act Naturally”, which is one of my favorite Ringo Starr leads as a Beatle, and George Harrison has two of his own compositions on the album, “I Need You” and “You Like Me Too Much”. Neither of those tracks really stand out, as John bluntly once said about George’s early songwriting days with the band, “George’s songs weren’t quite up to snuff”. Of course, that would be proven inaccurate as time passed and Harrison evolved with the band.
There are three songs on this album that represent to me, not only some of the Beatles best work, but a notable advancement in sound and style. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, performed and written by John, is probably the most timeless and impactful song on the album. He was never shy about acknowledging this was him trying to do Bob Dylan, and as can be the case, he may have done Dylan better than Dylan. The Beatles hadn’t fully moved away from their pop expertise, but this song was a major step ahead of “She Loves You” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.
Equally compelling to me on the second side, is a two-song sequence of McCartney songs, “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Yesterday”. As I listened to these songs side by side, I realized this was the real breakthrough for Paul as the most legendary living performing artist I have ever personally seen. Like the rest of the band, you can hear him maturing and escaping the early “Little Richard-esque” baby-faced beginning with these songs. With these acoustic performances, the Beatles were notably expanding their catalog, and with “Yesterday”, this became the first song recorded by just a single member of the band, a trend that increased over time, for good and for bad.
“Help!” was a massively successful album and project, and in many ways, represented the end of the Beatles as a pop culture phenomenon first, fully delivering an album of depth, creativity, and enduring quality.