“Help!” – The Beatles
(Words/music: John Lennon and Paul McCartney, available on Help!, Parlophone / EMI 1965)
Almost four decades after their split, we still talk about the Beatles. This week alone, an all-Beatles installment of Rock Band and an extensive box set of remastered albums hit the marketplace, and rather than decry this as a cash grab (which, to be fair, some are suggesting), it’s become an opportunity to celebrate the band anew. In the upcoming weeks, music geeks will discuss the fidelity of the new reissues, baby boomers will buy these albums yet again, and teenagers will gather to kill Saturday afternoons trying to nail the three part harmonies while mashing plastic buttons. In each of these cases, the Beatles music will be right there at the forefront of the discussion, debate, and diversions. It’s only appropriate, as the Beatles remain an element of pop culture that unites people from all ages and backgrounds. The simple reason for their enduring legacy lies in their songs – no matter what you listen to, you probably listen to the Beatles as well.
“Help!” reminds me of the way their songs continue to inspire wonder. In college, I helped out a friend of mine on his senior music project. As a music student with a concentration with songwriting and recording, his “recital” consisted of performances of a variety of different styles of compositions. One day, while rehearsing one of his songs, he came in excited that he just learned how to play “Help!” the night before. At that point, I knew the song but hadn’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about it. He walked me through the chord progression, marveling not only at the harmonic selections but also the ways they were voiced. I followed along as he played through the intro/chorus and the first verse calling out the chords and their variations, marveling simultaneously at the way each chord fell perfectly into the following chord as well as my friend’s wide-eyed wonder at the whole thing. Here was a composition student (who wrote some very meticulous, very beautiful arrangements for his recital) at the brink of speechlessness over a sub three minute pop song. In retrospect, this was one of those moments that helped shape my appreciation for art – specifically noting the skill and precision in making something extremely difficult look easy. It also helped recontextualize the Beatles, cementing that idea that their catalog contains a lifetime of personal revelations waiting to be unearthed gradually.
“Help!” – The Beatles