Yesterday, I wrote about the emotional connection I have with music that I first encountered in my youth. It might have been a poor attempt to justify my continued adoration of The Moody Blues or there could be something in it. I’m now playing “Help!” by The Beatles and it sounds reassuring, comfortable and brilliant.
“Help!” was the first LP I bought. I can’t remember exactly when but I’m guessing it was in September 1965. I must have been saving up for months but I remember giving my sister 6/8 and asking her to go into the record shop in Southgate, on her way home from school to buy “Help!”, the single. I distinctly remember emphasising “the single“. I played both sides all evening and the following day I gave her 32/6 and asked her to buy “Help!”, the album. This wasn’t the first LP I heard – that was probably “With The Beatles” at Christmas 1963 and it wasn’t the first Beatles record I had because I had three or four singles and a couple of EPs by this time, but it was the first LP that was mine (“all mine”) to play as often as I wanted. I was eleven years old and I played those fourteen songs over and over again. If asked, I could sing along to every song, word perfect (but sadly not note perfect).
I no longer have that album because a few years later, I sold it. My Dad, who was an agent for overseas travel companies, went on a trip to Italy at some point. I can’t remember when this was but I would guess it was about a year later. On his return, we were all very pleased to see him and even more pleased to be given presents. My present was very exciting because, as he handed it to me, he said that he had got me a Beatles LP. He then added that he wasn’t sure if I already had it but he didn’t recognise the cover. The excitement was unbearable as I opened the packaging. Maybe it was “Please Please Me” or even “A Hard Day’s Night”, neither of which I had. When I saw the cover, I was astonished and thrilled to find that I had never seen the cover photo before. I told him that I didn’t have it and then opened up the gatefold sleeve to look at the track titles. I knew what albums I didn’t have and I knew what the covers looked like. Maybe The Beatles had released a whole album of new material in Italy and I would be the only person in the country to be able to hear these songs. To use a well worn cliché, “excitement turned to disappointment” when I saw that the album was “Help!”, just with a different cover. This is why the photo at the top of this page is not the normal cover and it’s why the only Italian word I know is “Aiuto” which may come in useful at some point, I guess. I don’t know if I still wish I had kept my LP – the first LP I ever owned – but I’m guessing that I sold my copy and pocketed the cash, possibly to buy “Revolver”, who knows?
The output of The Beatles during 1965 was phenomenal. They released two albums with fourteen tracks on each, along with four tracks from singles (“Yes It Is”, “I’m Down”, “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out”) that weren’t on the albums. They also recorded 3 tracks (“If You’ve Got Trouble”, “That Means A Lot” and “Bad Boy”) that weren’t released that year. In total, the Lennon-McCartney team wrote 28 new songs in the year, George Harrison wrote four and there were three covers. The emotional connection that I have with my twelve year old self means that all I can say is that every one of those songs that I heard that year is brilliant, fantastic, mesmerising, superb, outstanding and incredible. Maybe I lack perspective?
One thing that annoys me about the title track for this album is that John Lennon referred to it as being written in his “fat” period. Blimey. I thought he looked brilliant. If I wanted to see “fat”, I just needed to look in a mirror. More seriously, looking back a few years later, he said that this was a very autobiographical song and he was crying out for help. He was isolated in his house in the stockbroker belt and looking back to his younger days when things were better. In his excellent book, “The Complete Beatles Songs”, Steve Turner provides evidence that the song was written after his first LSD experience and this may have informed the lyrics. Maybe the mind altering drug was causing him to feel that his life and his mind had changed and he needed help to become as grounded as he used to be. It could be that the lyrics contain a reference to the title of Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors Of Perception” which, in turn, borrows from William Blake: “if the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite”. When I was twelve, I just thought this was a song written about the film (which I had seen in the Summer of 1965) where Ringo needs help to remove a ring from a finger.
Maureen Cleeve was the journalist who later wrote the article in which John Lennon stated that, in the UK, Christian faith was declining. A year before she wrote that article, she interviewed John Lennon and asked him why he only ever wrote lyrics consisting of one syllable words. He responded by including the words “self-assured”, “appreciate”, “independence” and “insecure” in “Help!”
“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” is often described as being influenced by Bob Dylan. John Lennon is quoted as saying that “instead of projecting myself into a situation, I would try to express what I felt about myself. I think Dylan helped me realise that.” In this way, the song could be interpreted as one of the very self-confessional songs (“In My Life”, “I’m So Tired”, “Nowhere Man” and “Help!” amongst others) that started to infiltrate into The Beatles’ catalogue and would reach its zenith with his first two solo albums.
If I ever watch an unofficial documentary about The Beatles, Tony Bramwell is always interviewed. He was their PR agent for a while, he became Head of Apple Films and joint Head of Apple Music. He certainly knows more about The Beatles than I do but he also looks like someone who has spent the last fifty years milking his involvement with them for all it is worth. I’m probably being unfair. He has said that John Lennon and George Harrison never got on well together and he also said that “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” is a plea from John Lennon to Brian Epstein, urging him to hide his homosexuality. I choose not to believe either of these claims.
The original line in this song described himself as being two foot tall but John Lennon mistakenly sang “two feet small” when demo-ing the song to Paul McCartney; they liked the slip so kept the line in.
In 1965, The Beatles Monthly held a vote on the readers’ favourite song on “Help!”. I voted for “I Need You”. I also voted for it as the best Beatles song ever. I’m not sure I think that now but I still love it. The song was written about Patti Boyd and was finished with the help of John Lennon (Tony Bramwell, take note) on the morning of Ringo Starr’s wedding to Maureen Cox. The song is a rare example of George Harrison writing a traditional boy/girl love song. In the film “Help!”, the song is played on Salisbury Plain and, although the sequence was shot in early May, it was so cold that Ringo Starr is seen to be shivering while miming to the drums.
I nearly voted for “Another Girl” as my favourite track on the album in 1965. As with so many great lead guitar parts on Beatles tracks, Paul McCartney supplants George Harrison. (See also “Taxman” and the title track of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.) It can’t be any wonder that resentment grew between the two of them. In fact, anyone less placid, calm and self-contained than George Harrison would have left The Beatles well before January 1969. The lyrics to this song are very much of their time. Paul McCartney is quoted as saying “I had a girlfriend and I would go with other girls. It was a perfectly open relationship.” Presumably it was a one-way open relationship. Nevertheless, it’s a great song; melodic Paul McCartney at his very best.
I’m never a huge fan of most of Ringo Starr’s contributions to Beatles albums but I utterly adore “Act Naturally”. It’s so dry, sardonic and witty. It also perfectly encapsulates Ringo Starr’s acting career – all he has to do is act naturally. He got great plaudits for the scenes in “A Hard Day’s Night” when he wanders off and kicks an old tyre down a canal path looking sad and mournful. Apparently, he was so hungover from being out late the night before that all he was doing was acting naturally. I can’t really say that his performances in subsequent films displayed any great ability to inhabit another character. The song was originally recorded by Buck Owens whose version topped the US Charts for four weeks. I always liked the words but wondered why, if he was going to be a bit star, he wouldn’t need to get his hair thinned. It was only recently that I discovered that he wouldn’t need “rehearsing”, not “me hair thinned”.
John Lennon hated “It’s Only Love”. “I was always ashamed of that because of the abominable lyrics” he said in 1969. Ian MAcDonald in “Revolution In The Head” calls this “a twee make-weight“. As I said earlier, I lack perspective about this album. I love the distorted guitar effect, I love the quality of John Lennon’s singing and I even love the way he rolls his “r”‘s on the word “bright”. I mean, come on, it’s a two minute Beatles song from 1965. It has to be good, by definition. See what I mean about lack of perspective.
I played “Tell Me What You See” over and over and over at the time and got completely obsessed with it. I’m not sure why. In Steve Turner’s book, he explains that John Lennon explained that some of the lyrics were inspired by a verse that hung on his bedroom wall. “However black the clouds may be/In time they’ll pass away/ Have faith and trust and you will see/God’s light makes bright your day.” John Lennon wrote two books of “nonsense” verse and prose and in “In His Own Write”, he included the following: “However Blackpool tower may be/In time they’ll bass away/Have faith and trump and BBC/Griff’s light make bright your day.” The harmonies on this song are really lovely.
On Monday June 14th 1965, I was celebrating my eleventh birthday. I’m sure there were presents and cake. It was a school day so maybe Mr. Ludlow let me do a bit of printing on his state of the art printing machine. We used to print tickets for school events – it was very exciting. So, a pretty good day for me and I achieved a lot. By contrast, eight and a half miles away in Abbey Road studios, Paul McCartney recorded “I’m Down”, “Yesterday” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” All in one day! I try not to use exclamation points in this blog because the focus should be on the content of the writing, not my tone. Or so it says on some random internet page. But ALL IN ONE DAY!! What a musician he was and still is. Three completely different styles of song all recorded within a few hours of each other. No further overdubs were needed apart from George Martin’s string quartet on “Yesterday”.
Emotional connection. The emotions that I feel listening to this album are as follows: happy, joyful, pleased, contented, glad, cheerful, exultant, comfortable, satisfied, relaxed, youthful. The power of music.
What was the first album you ever owned?