OLD REVIEW DUMP #3: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (5/6)
Yeah, my self-indulgent self-reflection is more or less done.
Here it is, in all its helplessness…
And now my life has changed in oh so many ways
My independence seems to vanish in the haze
But every now and then I feel so insecure
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before
Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being ‘round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me
Help! is a very interesting album historically, though I can’t help but feel like it should be a tad more of an interesting listen. That’s not to say it’s bad, far from it, it’s great. It’s the best Fab Four-era album discounting A Hard Day’s Night (and Rubber Soul if you throw it in that category), but it feels like I’ve heard all this before. As far as maturity goes, it fails to live up to the standards of the best moments on Beatles for Sale, and as pop it fails to live up to most of A Hard Day’s Night, but the two tones provide songs consistent and diverse enough to make it enjoyable.
That’s the music. HISTORICALLY, Help! is one of the most important albums of the Beatle’s career, showcased in its two most famous tracks. The title track was a huge leap forward for John, exemplifying the kind of psychological openness he would revel in for years. “Yesterday” is, of course, one of the most famous songs of all time, and was basically Sergeant Pepper before Sergeant Pepper, EG it made a lot music snobs finally believe that pop and rock music was not just for the lowbrows. Also, the album marks the first of John’s Dylan imitations, paving the way for his snappy psychedelic songs later on, some of which are among the group’s most famous and influential (“Strawberry Fields Forever”, “I Am The Walrus”, even “Come Together”).
But therein lies the rub…Help! is a PROTOTYPE. A blueprint. An early step a marvelous journey that would redefine music, entertainment and popular art in general, as well as producing some of the best compositions known to man. Gone are the days of shallow pop, but still to come are the days of godlike status and sophistication. Help! is in a weird place artistically, and I can’t help but feel a bit dismissive of it as an overall product. Of course, when I actually sit down and listen to it, that dismissiveness disappears. Help! is absolutely great, and contains some of my favorite Beatles moments.
So let’s deal with those troubles before they’re here to stay! The opening song is the title track. Aside from the previously mentioned maturation for John, the song is fantastic. The lyrical content was certainly groundbreaking for a pop rocker of the time, but that aside, it’s still deeply personal and completely heartfelt. Despite being so upbeat and catchy (with a wonderful melody and more hooks then you can shake a ticket at), it’s easy to feel sorry for John, mostly because of his delivery. And listen to how all the instruments combine beautifully to create a distinct, cohesive sound!
Paul is up next with “The Night Before”, and it’s as good as the best of Paul’s Fab Four era work. It’s got a classic melody and honest lyrics, showcasing Paul as still hopeful but realistic. THIS is the Paul that really gets to me.
John’s Bob Dylan tribute “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” is next, and OMIGOSHILOVEITIWANTOHAVEITSBABIESITSSOGOOD. Everything about this song is AMAZING. The clever, resonant lyrics, John’s impression of Bob that can be heard as either funny or moving, the simple melody and instrumentation that add a lot of sound with not very little, the flute part at the end…GAAAAAH! EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! EVERYTHING IS COOL WITH THE BOBSTER AND JOHN! EVERYTHING IS AWESOOOOMMMME…IT’S THE ALBUM’S BEST SONG!
George steps up with “I Need You”, and it’s once again awesome, mostly due to the wonderfully unique sound they get out of the guitar and George’s shy charms. An extremely underrated gem, George’s first great song.
Paul’s “Another Girl” is underwhelming compared to the strong opening lineup, but okay nonetheless, due to a bouncy melody and Paul’s fun vocals, even if the lyrics are a bit…um…A-holey (I don’t swear, sue me). I do wonder if it was intentionally punk-ish, and that carries to the next song, John’s “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl.” To be fair, John seems a bit more self-aware, and the vocal harmonies are catchy and fun.
But stuff like that’s not why John is the star of this album. John is the star of this album because he made songs like “Ticket to Ride.” I’ve already said that “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” is my favorite song on the album, but “Ticket to Ride” is a very, VERY close second. It was the heaviest song they had ever done at that point, getting an echoic, twangy, swinging sound out of both guitar and drums. John does another Dylan-esque thing with his voice, and the lyrics are both relatable and self-aware. So despite the slight dip in the middle, Side one closes on a note ever higher than its opening.
Side two opens with a cover (DON’T WORRY IT’S ONE OF ONLY TWO). Ringo sings “Act Naturally” by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison, and it’s just okay. Ringo is clearly having a good time (but when wasn’t he?) and the light tapping of the percussion is fun and plays off the slower, deeper guitar well. The main issue is that (not that this is their fault of course) the melody just isn’t very dynamic or memorable. If the technical side of things was matched up to a proper Beatles tune, it would be a minor classic. As it stands, it’s a weak opener, but an okay song.
The same cannot be said for John’s “It’s Only Love”, the worst song on the album and one of the worst things (by his own admission) John ever penned. It’s clumsy, awkward, and unimpressive in every way, except that it’s interesting to hear John give a more tender vocal performance.
George gives the album a surprising recovery in the form of “You Like Me Too Much.” It’s another simple pop song with a good melody, charmingly sympathetic lyrics, and nice-sounding piano.
Paul gives us another decent, appealing love song called “Tell Me What You See.” There’s a few electric keyboard parts in there that really spice up the jazzy music, and though it’s no classic it’s definitely underrated.
Speaking of underrated, “I’ve Just Seen A Face” brings Paul’s chops to the realms of folk rock, and it really works! The playing is upbeat, Paul’s singing is warm, and the lyrics, while simple, are still fun.
So. Ummm…“Yesterday.” I probably have some original things to say about it. It’s…uh…well, it’s good. Not “one-of-the-most-famous-songs-of-all-time” good, but Paul’s vocals combined with the strings make for a lovely listening experience. Hmm…uh, the lyrics are really personal and introspective…you know what, screw it, I can’t write about freaking “Yesterday.” You’ve heard it a million times, I’ve heard it a million times, and we’re both tired of it, but it’s still good. There. The end.
At least, IDEALLY that would be the end, but the album has one more song to go. “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, written by Larry Williams is…ugggggghhh. It’s got a great, rockin’ vocal performance by John, but otherwise is just sludge. I mean…this is the note you want to leave the album on? This uninspired, unremarkable dance rocker? I mean, I’m not in a position to question the artistic decisions of the Beatles, but I see no point in including this song, much less ending the album on it.
And that’s the corner of candy and fine dining, musically anyway. This is not a consistent album, but it’s filled with great moments, both overexposed and underexposed. I wouldn’t get it before A Hard Day’s Night, but you should own it regardless.
Listenability: 5/5 If it’s not clear by now, every Beatles album gets a 5/5 in this department.
Themes: 4/5 One point off for a few generic throwaways. The Fab Four are really running with the ideas now.
Lyricism: 4/5 John, Paul and George all have impressive showings here, but some of the filler really hurts.
Diversity: 5/5 Much more experimental then previous Fab Four outings.
Resonance: 5/5 You’ll have fun, you’ll be amused, you’ll probably even be sympathetic.
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10 The good stuff is not only technically impressive but resonant, which more than makes up for the smattering of filler.
Recommended Listening: You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, Ticket To Ride, Help!, I’ve Just Seen A Face, I Need You, Yesterday (you know, if you’ve been living under a rock), Tell Me What You See, You Like Me Too Much, The Night Before