We all have a tendency to look at the past as having been a wondrous time to be alive, especially when we compare it with the present, which flaws are more immediately visible. The result can often be flowery generalities like “the 1960s were the best years for music.” I’ve personally never enjoyed taking part in throwing around words like “best” and “greatest” when discussing an art medium that involves such diverse and continually evolving forms of expression. At the same time, however, the year of 1965 featured some gems that are more than worthy of remembrance for their technical brilliance, timeless popularity, and cultural effect. As such, this series will revisit and examine the many unforgettable albums released during a year that, five decades later, still exists as a vault for some truly beautiful music.
On the plate today for recognition is an album that still resonates with many today: Help! by The Beatles. The fifth album from rock music’s most iconic band marked their second that doubled as a soundtrack for a feature film of the same name. The film itself was a comedy that is now remembered more for being a drug-induced experiment than anything else. But, like A Hard Day’s Night, the album does not bear much association with the movie in popular memory today.
The songs on the album are nothing short of Beatles essentials. It’s worth noting that the structures of the songs on the album aren’t much of a deviation from the four predecessors of Help!, though this is much more excusable when one considers that the debut album by the four-piece, Please Please Me, had released only two years earlier (the usual interval between two albums by a popular music artist today, but an eternity in the context of the timeline of The Beatles). But while the group’s first two efforts are notably uniform in having to do with love, Help! is wholly much more complex, with a more mature outlook of the fleetingness of love and youth.
There have been thousands of words written in adoration of the composition of “Yesterday,” but it stands as one of the more poignant pieces of music I can remember hearing. The rest of the album can best be described as “complete.” By the time John Lennon’s scratchily screams “Come on, come on, come on!” on the album-closing “Dizzy, Miss Lizzy” (likely a throwback to “Twist and Shout” from Please Please Me), Help! has secured a likeness to a Beatles best-of album. Every track seems like the best example of each of the styles that The Beatles had spent their previous four albums trying to perfect. “I’ve Just Seen a Face” reminds one of the country-like soulfulness of “‘Till There Was You” from With the Beatles, but the track seems to thoroughly expand on the heart-stringing emotion of the latter track. “You’re Gonna Lose that Girl” sounds strikingly similar to “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me,” but the former pushes the lead-vocal-crooning-background-vocals-repeating strategy to the apex of The Beatles’ ability to sound like a group of young men all unified in a chorus love. “Help!” opens the album with the same note of wholesome excitement that “A Hard Day’s Night” did for the album of the same name, but I’ll go a step further and say that “Help!” takes the cake as a more entertaining song. The way in which Lennon begs for some help builds the tension of the rocking chorus, until the tremendous “Please!” sung in perfect falsetto reminds one that a listening experience of true perfection has just begun to unfold.
This ’65 Revisited series of articles will try not to simply review timeless albums like this one, but will instead be a way to remember and commemorate a piece of art that has been around long enough to become normalized, almost blasé. Yet, fifty years later, it might be time to dust off some of these incredible records that have influenced much of the music of the past half-century and give them another spin.