Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Beatles, "Help!" & "I'm Down"

John Lennon often lamented that they ruined this song by speeding it up, instead of doing it as a contemplative, Dylan-like ode of self-reflection. Maybe that would have made for a remarkable recording, but it drains away so much of the song's charm and character - that immediacy, that bracing plea. Notably ,that "Help! / I need somebody" bit at the beginning, which does not re-appear, would simply not fit. It's such a visceral way to open a song.

Listen also to the way those guitars sink into lower tones, Bum, bum, buhhhh. There's something remarkable about how poly-syllabic the verses are ("I'm not so self-assured", "My independence seems to vanish in the haze.") These lyrics, these long sentences, are not built for a pop song and yet he delivers them like thy appeared in every pop song ever. I like the song the way it is, because it's articulate, and Lennon rattles off his problems and woes in such a motor-mouthed, panicked way, it adds to the urgency. I don't think this is a song that should be sung seated on the floor.

The other great thing about this song are those backup vocals. Typically, backup vocals sing in response, or in echo, but these ones sing the next line in anticipation - only partially, at their own mini melody. Jeezes. For one thing, where does that come from? How do you get the idea for something like that, what makes you think it will work, and since it does, why don't more songs do that?? It enhances the song so much, teasing the listener's ear, but you never even notice. Then, the more time you spend thinking about it (as I have obviously, perhaps too much) it seems so perfect for this song, because it's almost like the other guys are teasing John, rolling their eyes because they've heard the spiel so many times they can recite it themselves.

The other thing about the "Help!" single is that it features one of the first Beatles b-sides that could be an A-side in its own right. Maybe it doesn't have the artistic value that "Help!" was later revealed to, but it rocks to high holy hell, an effort to recreate those Little Richard tunes Paul was so good at covering. What I alays find is that nobody ever emulates anyone perfectly. The process of the Beatles trying to copy Little Richard resulted in something fairly original in its own right.

This song is great because it shows that at this point, the Beatles are still a working, touring rock band. The progress they made as musicians was not by design so much as it was finding their way through that. At this point in their career they were getting so good at so many things.

No comments:

Post a Comment