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Help! (album)

Categories: Beatles albums

Beatles Help! U.K. album cover art

Beatles Help! U.S. album cover art
The American cover of Help! differed from the standard U.K. version (above), as did some of the music inside.
HELP! — or NUJV! if you read the semaphore flags literally — was recorded over the course of several months in early-mid '65, straddling the filming of the movie in February and March, and eventually released in August, shortly after the film premiere. Photographer Robert Freeman considered that the actual signals for the word 'help' weren't visually appealing enough.

Though the pressures of Beatledom had by no means diminished, the more relaxed pace of the recording process — in contrast to Beatles For Sale — allowed the band, and George Martin as producer, far more liberty to refine the sound of the songs and the way they were constructed. Nailing the backing track first allowed much more scope for refining the vocal components and adding extra instrumental overdubs. As John Lennon commented, "If you improve that [recording technique] slightly, your sound changes, basically". With Martin pushing the existing studio capabilities to their limit, the resultant sound is far fuller than that on any previous Beatles' release, a glossiness perhaps in keeping with its status as the soundtrack to the 'in color' movie.

None of the four took the film particularly seriously: how could they have been expected to, really, given the storyline?!! Also, by their own admission, they were all too off their heads to even bother learning the script in advance — breakfast at that time comprising of cornflakes and cannabis, and attacks of the giggles following inter-take joints leading to endless re-shoots. As Ringo confirmed, even in the scenes which did make the movie, "There are a lot of red-eyed shots..." Well, they had a lot of fun, anyway, even if the seven a.m. start schedule was something of a chore — and often it's their spontaneous interactions which make for some of the movie's most appealing moments.

The songs, in contrast, clearly demonstrate their continuing professional development and seriousness as composers and musicians. The increasing separation of Lennon and McCartney as writers is very evident, "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" and "Yesterday" probably being the clearest examples. The addition of 'outsider' musicians for the first time similarly marked a significant move forward for the band (I'm not counting Andy White here, I'm talking strings and wind...) Paul got two cracks on lead guitar and, after a two-album break, we find the name 'Harrison' as composer once again — this time on two tracks. There are just two covers, too: the last to appear on any official British release until the inclusion of the traditional "Maggie Mae" on Let It Be.

As with A Hard Day's Night, the UK and US versions were substantially different, the Capitol release including only the songs from the movie (the British 'Side One'), interspersed with extracts from the instrumental score. Having said that, neither of them have the songs in the same order as the film... Not even the title track was left untampered with Stateside, opening with a sitar-tinged snippet of the James Bond theme! Despite all this being entirely out of their hands, The Beatles weren't shy in expressing their frustration at such marketing manipulation:

Paul: "We make an album to be like an album, and to be a complete thing".

John: "We plan it, and they wreck it".

George: "They even changed the photograph and put something daft on". (The flag signals were altered to read 'NVUJ'...)

Chorus: "Won't you please, please help me!"
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