Eight Arms to Hold You

HELP! is a great mid-period Beatles album, they must have had a lot of free time to work on the songs as they hold up so well. This is Rubber Soul; the Prequel with some terrific songs. This time Lennon didn’t hide his personal problems on the album like he did seven months earlier on Beatles for Sale; his cry for HELP! was the single AND the title of the film. In his own write Lennon produced another single overnight. How many classics like this did he knock off when he wasn’t working? Unfortunately for me back then my family had moved to Germany between the release of the single in July 1965 and the release of the album and film in August, so it took me some months before I heard one and saw the other. My story is about the first time I saw HELP! the movie.

I was 14 and I had to go to an British Army Boarding School in Germany (see story) where my dorm was fairly rough and had no record player. We had just one transistor radio between us and, over the British Forces Broadcasting Service heard the Top Twenty chart once a week. Singles remained the best way of hearing what was still called Pop Music. The only way I heard any albums was through Billy, a lad in my year, who was in another house, in a separate building and who had that all important record player. We were highly regimented at school and kept busy doing loads of stuff, especially sport, so it took time to make friends outside of your house. Billy, like Danny in the story, was a bit of a contrarian, but he loved Dylan, Them and I’m A Loser, the B-side of HELP! Luckily he loved HELP! the album too, as he saw it as Dylan influenced and so could assert his primus inter pares.

The Beatles impact on my interest in music had resulted in a steadily growing obsession in Pop, which in early 65 in the UK was fed by Top of The Pops. Moving to a Boarding School in Germany in the summer of 65 meant music was suddenly hard to find again. In Germany we often found what new singles were released by walking into town (Hamm) and looking at the curiously characteristic self-service machines where singles were stored like sandwiches.  Billy became a music guru because he was the only kid, out of about 300 roughly my age, with a record player. Unlike Tony, who seemed to be open and knowledgeable (and loved the Beatles), Billy seemed to be closed and opionated; with a ready put-down for our taste-crimes even then. The wages of listening to albums in that winter of 65, and we only listened to what he selected, were tongue lashings, Dylan, or both. Fortunately the British charts had got really interesting in 1965, The Rolling Stones started getting big hits, Satisfaction was number one when I arrived, The Kinks, The Hollies, Georgie Fame and The Byrds all had Number Ones that year. My Generation by The Who was the left-field word of mouth sensation in November. Without either a record player or a transistor radio of my own I was dependent on the choice of others for my music-listening pleasure.

So HELP!, the film, was a godsend; “eight arms to hold you” was the working title. We could see a film at school once a week for just 50 pfenning, or free if you were a smart-arse like me; with a “sound system” (one big speaker) it sounded pretty good. And the first half of the album, the soundtrack numbers including the big hit Ticket to Ride, was excellent; Paul’s material on HELP! was really strong too. The band as a whole seem to be comfortable with using a mix of electric and acoustic guitars, and were throwing in electric piano’s when they felt like it. They often had better arrangements and the recordings sounded thoroughly thought through, as the Beatles creativity matured and their musical experiences began to tell.

The album starts off with a typically strong trio of songs, HELP!, The Night Before and You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away. There is a tracklisting on Wikipedia, and allmusic give a positive review. Allmusic see HELP! as setting up the modern classic Rubber Soul. George had started writing again and contributed two good songs, and on his own I Need You is playing guitar through the volume pedal. Ticket To Ride was still played a lot on the radio and was given a mad snow scene video to accompany it in the film. Not quite a centrepiece of the film like Can’t Buy Me Love in Hard Days Night, but a fun accompaniment to Ringo’s thunderous drumming in the school hall.

However in some ways the big story of HELP! the album is McCartney’s “Yesterday”. The first “solo” Beatles track, distinctive due to its use of a string quartet, this was the track we all talked about at the time. First reaction was “is this The Beatles?”, and it sounds like the obvious pre-cursor to Eleanor Rigby. However, to me, it sounds even more like a pre-echo of Sgt Pepper. It extended the Beatles musical palette even more than the adoption of acoustic guitars and electric pianos, and clearly showed that George Martin was the fifth Beatle. Of course the fact that girls loved it stimulated our interest immensely; here comes the slow dance.

Better still we now had Lennon and McCartney as ying and yang, George coming through in his songwriting and his playing, Ringo still drumming inventively, and bossing the group in the States, and with a greater range of musical settings available for their songs. The worlds first self-contained music unit was working interactively again.

There is a YouTube version of this post on A Beatles YouTube Album.

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