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January 19, 2009

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Help! - The Beatles

This is the soundtrack of my life.


And no, I don't mean anything deep by that statement...lemme explain:

Back in the mid-60s, I was a Beatle fan. For my 4th birthday, I got two Beatle singles. I had two older sisters, so I had no choice but to be a Beatle fan. Which was fine, because I loved them. Especially John. Whenever we "played" Beatles, I was John, strumming on a tennis racquet. My oldest sister was Paul (of course), the other was Ringo. Their friend down the street was George (she actually said her name really was George, but everyone knew her as Nancy. Ahem.)

We also had an uncle who traveled a lot and brought us back the Help! album from England...the REAL Help! album on the Parlophone label, not the US soundtrack version with filler music.

What we didn't have back then was a car with a radio in it. That would cost extra, you see. So when we would take long road trips, there was no music... nothing but the potential for territory wars as the three girls sat in the back seat each fighting for our allotted space on the hot vinyl seats, while Mum, Dad and baby Bobby sat in the front.

How did we cope? We would sing the entire Help! album from beginning to end, with the EXACT amount of space between each song as was on the record. With memory pitch, we started each song on the right note. We did the guitar solos - Dizzy Miss Lizzie was the most fun to do! We sang the harmonies, each one of us choosing a thread and staying with it.

To this day, whenever I hear the last line of the song, "Help!" in that harmonic 6th ending, my ears wait for that rinky-dink electric piano opening to, "The Night Before." When "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" finishes, I twang the Rickenbacher "ner ner ne ne ner, na ner ner ne ne ner..." that opens "Ticket to Ride."

The cool thing about this album, and why it's the soundtrack to my life, is that I've discovered it and rediscovered it in different stages of my life.

The first time was the purest, when I was five or six years old and simply loved each song for what it was: short, catchy and easy to sing along with.

Then when I was in high school, and I could look back at the entire Beatles catalogue as a whole. Help! was the middle album of the three perfect Beatle albums (also includes Hard Days' Night and Rubber Soul, both will be discussed later.) Why perfect? Because they were the ones that went beyond the "teeny-bopper scream your head off like a little girl at the Ed Sullivan Show" and weren't quite as experimental as Revolver, The White Album and Sgt. Pepper.

Now and always, Help! stands out as the perfectest of the perfect. John was evolving into brilliant songwriter, smart, sad and still a little angry. If he'd never written anything else in his life but "Help!", "Hide Your Love Away", and "Ticket To Ride," he would still be in the pantheon of rock and roll artists. And of course there's Paul's, "Yesterday." Oh sure we kinda think of it as sappy and overplayed now, but there may not be a better ballad...ever. Help! really cemented Paul as the best melody writer of his time....hell, of any time!

And the bonus things about Help! that makes it the pefectest of the perfect are:
- the Ringo song, "Act Naturally," is actually great and fun to sing and twang with
- the George songs, "I Need You," and "You Like Me Too Much," aren't throwaways and don't have sitars in them (sorry, George!)
- the rock and roll cover, "Dizzy Miss Lizzie," is every bit as good as "Twist and Shout," in fact, it may be better (it certainly is more fun to sing in the backseat of a Dodge Dart!)

So that's the story of Help! The soundtrack of my life. If I were indeed putting these 100 albums in order, this record would be very near the top if not at the top. Because this list is not just about the music, but about me and life and stuff as well.

Released: 6 August 1965
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, Feb-Jun 1965
Label: Parlophone, Capitol, EMI
Producer: George Martin

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