Friday, October 09, 2009
Help! Is On The Way
Happy Birthday to John Lennon, who would have been 69 today were he still alive. Yesterday, we paid tribute to Paul McCartney's rocking B-side "I'm Down"; today, let's pause to consider and celebrate the A-side, one of John's most heartfelt tunes, "Help!"
When Britney Spears shaved her head a couple years ago, it was considered a cry for help. When John Lennon was suffocating under the pressures of fame, booze and pills and money (what he called his "Fat Elvis period"), his cry for help was literally a cry of "Help!" It was one of Lennon's first tracks to venture away from the universal ("Eight Days a Week" for example) to the personal.
It was easy to miss Lennon's desperation, given "Help!"'s upbeat rhythms and clever harmonies, and the fact that it was the title track of their latest madcap cinematic adventure, originally titled Eight Arms to Hold You:
But in his legendary 1971 Rolling Stone interview, John named "Help!" as one of his very best songs:
JL: I always liked “Walrus,” “Strawberry Fields,” “Help,” “In My Life,” those are some favorites.
RS: Why “Help”?
JL: Because I meant it — it’s real. The lyric is as good now as it was then. It is no different, and it makes me feel secure to know that I was that aware of myself then. It was just me singing “Help” and I meant it. I don’t like the recording that much; we did it too fast trying to becommercial.
Someone else who thought the song was too fast, or who at least read the Rolling Stone interview, was U2. They played a memorable, slow version of the song during the 1986 Conspiracy of Hope tour for Amnesty International.
The Help! soundtrack featured several other Lennon classics, including the quietly Dylanesque "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and the huge-sounding "Ticket to Ride." Amazingly, it's considered one of The Beatles' weaker albums, despite the fact that it also contains the most recorded song in the history of mankind, "Yesterday." Such is the burden of Beatledom. Happy Birthday RIP & TCB, John.