Inexplicably considered a minor album, I’ve always found Help! to be among the most immediately likeable of all the Beatles’ work — which is saying a lot. As Andrew Hickey has rightly noted:
If any other band in the world had made an album containing Help!, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, Ticket To Ride, I’ve Just Seen A Face and Yesterday it would be regarded as their masterpiece, and talked about in hushed voices for decades. Of course, as it turned out, Help! wasn’t even the best album the Beatles released that year.
And Andrew didn’t even mention some of my favourite tracks. It surely goes without saying that Yesterday is an absolute masterpiece, fully deserving of its Most Covered Song Of All Time title. (The only reason I’ve not sung it at the Folk Club yet is that is seems too obvious.) Yet perhaps even more I enjoy the sequence of good-natured songs that follow the album’s opening salvo. On that opening: despite the ostensibly depressive material of the title track and The Night Before, the Beatles just seem to be having a lot of fun singing them, and even the sparse, mopey Dylan parody/tribute You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away is sung with a barely-suppressed chuckle in the voice that shows John knew exactly what he was doing.
And then those three good-natured songs I alluded to: George Harrison’s I Need You, with its distinctive use of fourths and sevenths; McCartney’s cheerfully callous Another Girl (“I don’t want to say that I’ve been unhappy with you / But as from today, well, I’ve seen somebody that’s new”); and Lennon’s You’re Gonna Lose That Girl (above), in which even the warning “I’ll make a point of taking her away from you” comes across more as brotherly joshing than the stark ultimatum it is. These are usually considered throwaway songs, but I don’t buy that verdict at all: they are perfectly crafted, and the sequence is an infectious delight.
Help!‘s only real weak point comes, unfortunately, at the very end of the album. Rather than ending with track 13, the sublime Yesterday, the sequence continues and finishes with a quite superfluous by-the-numbers rock-and-roll cover, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, which Ian McDonald’s brilliant book Revolution in the Head [amazon.com, amazon.co.uk] rightly describes as “an unprepossessing shambles of ersatz hysteria and jumbled double tracking”. That this was chosen ahead of the Beatles’ far better cover of Bad Boy (recorded at the very same session but used only as a B-side) beggars belief. But simply omitting the closing rocker altogether would have been the right artistic decision.
Why did I listen to Help! so much this year? Sheer randomness. I listen to a lot of Beatles every year. In 2010, it happened that Sergeant Pepper came out on top; next year it might be Revolver.