Monday, 31 May 2010

Help! (2)

Ages ago I mentioned that I’d share with you my rejigged running order for Help! This erroneously suggests that I’d properly finalised it. I’ve been trying to do so for years, in fact. It was prompted, before I’d ever even heard Help!, by the fact that it’s the last Beatles album to contain cover versions. It contains two. The B-sides of the album’s two singles are not present, as they were on A Hard Day’s Night (and indeed Please Please Me). In a sort of obsessive-compulsive way it bugged me that The Beatles hadn’t just stuck those tracks on there, as there was already a precedent for doing so: the discography would look marginally neater if they had.

Then I actually heard the album, and felt even more strongly that this is what they should have done. This isn’t so much because of ‘Act Naturally’, which isn’t going to change anyone’s life but is a decent enough vehicle for Starr in this context. (It may depend how much time you have for country music – I like the Buck Owens original as well.) It’s more because of ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ which is, like all The Beatles’ Larry Williams covers, rubbish. A monotonous performance by a tired and uninspired group, it was recorded at Capitol’s request (along with ‘Bad Boy’) to pad out the latest collection of tracks the label had cribbed from earlier releases, sequenced poorly and put out under a title which had about four seconds’ thought into it, in this case Beatles VI. It doesn’t appear to have been intended for Help!, and was probably a late replacement for ‘That Means A Lot’, McCartney’s fudged attempt to replicate the success of ‘Ticket To Ride’ (just as ‘Act Naturally’ was hastily recorded to replace ‘If You’ve Got Trouble’). They even managed to misspell the title – it should be ‘Lizzie’.

Even more offensively, the flipside of ‘Help!’ (the single) would have made a perfect closing number. The group evidently agreed, closing their Shea Stadium gig with it. Look, here it is.

So let’s resequence Help! as an all-original album. I admit I’m contradicting myself here because I’ve already criticised A Hard Day’s Night for lacking a Ringo track and here I am scrubbing one from the tracklist of Help! Anyway, it’s just a bit of fun. Side One of Help! needs no improvement in terms of sequencing, but Side Two could run as follows:

1.I’ve Just Seen A Face
2.It’s Only Love
3.Tell Me What You See
4.You Like Me Too Much
5.Yes It Is
7.I’m Down

Although I slag off the Capitol albums, I did take inspiration from their placing of ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ as the opening track on Rubber Soul. The only problem I have with this line-up is that it’s a bit lethargic in the middle, which the addition of ‘Yes It Is’ really doesn’t help with. With that in mind, perhaps ‘Yes It Is’ should be omitted in favour of ‘If You’ve Got Trouble’, even if the latter is a bit shit. I don’t think it’s as bad as it’s often been made out to be, even if the performance is half-arsed in places (Lennon’s backing vocal is staggeringly unconvincing) and the decision to pull it in favour of ‘Act Naturally’ entirely justified.

What I think this rejig usefully emphasises is how quickly McCartney kicked into gear during this album. Having taken a back seat to Lennon for much of 1964, his two contributions to the film soundtrack aren’t much to write home about – nice breezy pop tunes, but neither as good as any of Lennon’s four varied and accomplished tracks. ‘Tell Me What You See’ was ready in time for the film but clearly wasn’t up to scratch.

But then, look at what McCartney comes up when the film’s finished and they need to get more tracks in the can: whilst a creatively-spent Lennon offers only the amiable but lightweight ‘It’s Only Love’, McCartney contributes ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘I’m Down’. (There is some confusion about how long McCartney had been mulling over the melody for ‘Yesterday’ - it may have been more than a year – but the lyric only fell into place after filming for Help! had concluded.) The three songs cover an even wider range of tone and style than Lennon had managed in his efforts for the album, and it suddenly becomes apparent that this is what McCartney is really, really good at. You can find earlier examples of McCartney’s versatility, but this is where it emerges as the fuel which will keep him going for the rest of his career: an ability to pick up almost any aspect of music and find a use for it.


  1. Not sure if it's cheating, but 'Wait' was recorded during the 'Help!' sessions so you can always include that one if you like...

  2. Good point. It's always baffled me that they left it off Help! - it's better than half the tracks on Side Two.