Is it cool to dump on The Beatles? Is it an age thing, or just a Metal Twitter™ thing? If you were to leave out the context of their music, their place in the evolution of pop and rock both as a sound as well as a cultural zeitgeist…if you were to just sit back and listen to the music how can you not fall into the melodies, the harmonies, the seeming simplicity of the hooks? I have a firm policy of “love what you love” when it comes to music: who am I to judge you when I listen to a number of bands in corpsepaint and fishnets? But if you stand and tell me the exquisite combination of John, Paul, George and Ringo (yes, Ringo) are overrated, quaint, or just plain suck, then sadly a part of me judges you.
You, my friend, need some Help!
A lot of my memories of the songs from the Help! soundtrack come from listening to the songs on cassette in my dad’s car driving to his house on weekends as a kid. It wasn’t until much later that I found out it was a soundtrack – by the time I saw the film in high school I was addicted to the band, thanks to my musician friends who play and explain just why a certain part appealed to me so much – it would go like this:
ME: I love that part.
THEM: Which part?
ME: The part that goes “duh duh doo, duh duh doo, do deee!
THEM: That’s because they’re harmonizing in fourths, with Paul singing a counter melody underneath.
ME: What’s a fourth? What’s a counter melody?
They’d then proceed to play it on whatever instruments were around or sing it. I’ll never be able to emphasize what it was like to have kind of friendship and musical education when I was young, so thanks Dave and Steve.
Anyway, let’s talk about Help! more specifically. My copy is the 2009 stereo remastered CD that came out in the massive 9/9/2009 Beatles explosion where they re-released all the albums. I also happen to have the 2009 mono remaster as well as the original 1965 stereo mix digitally. If we’re talking pure sonics, the 2009 stereo remaster (using the George Martin mixes from the 80s) is a huge improvement from the 1965 stereo version, which feels like the afterthought it was at the time, as most folks had mono equipment, and that was the version the band and Martin focused on.
The 2009 mono remaster is, quite frankly, gorgeous. I have nothing against the new stereo remaster; truth be told it’s really, really good and usually the one I listen to when I’m not at home but when it comes to playing on speakers, loud? The mono takes it. There’s not a lot of significant differences (although the vocals on “Help!” are noticeably different in the mono version), but there’s a warmth that I just connect with.
The songs speak for themselves. I’m a fan of the film, even though it doesn’t remotely reach the heights of A Hard Day’s Night. There’s still a shaggy charm to Help! that’s smoothed over by how strong the songs are. It’s also the way I introduced my son to the Beatles, and one of my favorite things now is sitting down with him to watch this or Yellow Submarine (we haven’t got to A hard Day’s Night yet…but we will). The 1-2-3 of “Help!,” “The Night Before,” and the sublime “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” are the Beatles in a nutshell right before the explosion into the later years that would define their creative peak. And that explosion is foretold in the later songs, particularly “Ticket to Ride” and “It’s Only Love.”
But if we’re going to talk about why I love Help! as much as I do, it’s because of two tracks. “Yesterday” feels like it’s everywhere, and maybe it is, but there are few songs that strike so deeply with so little. It starts with a guitar and Paul’s voice shaping the entire song, a lament for a time where mistakes weren’t made. When George Martin comes in with the orchestration it’s never overwhelming; it’s there to support the structure already put in place in the first verse by Paul and his guitar. Lyrically it’s about a girl (of course), and mistakes Paul made that makes him yearn for yesterday, before everything happened. But the trick is (of course) that it’s not about a girl, it’s about whatever the listener conjures up as the chords swirl and Paul’s voice echoes the loss in your own heart.
I think that’s the ultimate thing I learned being obsessed with music at such a young age: you only get out of it what you put into it. I can’t help but come to a song like “Yesterday” with everything, with the sum total of my life experiences each time. And as I get older and those experiences – good and bad – pile up, the song – ALL songs – take on new meanings and reveal new facets.
And sometimes a song just gets larger and larger, and the feeling and memory it imparts just looms larger, crystalizing something so immense words can never suffice to explain it. Only sounds, resonant frequencies which put together present an entire reality in a pop song.
And that’s why I cry every time I hear “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” and why it’s my favorite Beatles song of all time.