100 Greatest Beatles Songs

From 'Helter Skelter' to 'Sgt. Pepper's,' ranking of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison's output

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15. 'Help!'

Main Writer: Lennon
Recorded: April 13, 1965
Released: July 19, 1965
13 weeks; no. 1

"Help!" was written to be the title track to the Fab Four's second movie — a madcap action comedy originally conceived for Peter Sellers. But the note of desperation in the song was real. "I meant it," Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970 (particularly lines like "And now my life has changed in oh-so-many ways/My independence seems to vanish in the haze"). "The whole Beatle thing was just beyond comprehension."

By 1965, Lennon was exhausted from the Beatles' nonstop touring, recording and filming schedule. Off the road, Lennon felt trapped at his estate outside London with his wife, Cynthia, and young son, Julian. "Cynthia wanted to settle John down, pipe and slippers," said McCartney. "The minute she said that to me, I thought, 'Kiss of death.' I know my mate, and that is not what he wants." Lennon also was feeling "paranoid," according to Harrison, about how he looked. "It was my Fat Elvis period," Lennon said. "I was eating and drinking like a pig. I was depressed, and I was crying out for help."

McCartney, in contrast, was taking full advantage of Swinging London, dating Jane Asher — a beautiful young actress from a prominent family who introduced him to high society — and seeing other girls on the side. John "was well jealous of [me] because he couldn't do that," said McCartney years later. "There were cracks appearing [in Lennon's life with Cynthia], but he could only paste them over by staying at home and getting wrecked."

Lennon wrote most of "Help!" by himself at his estate and then summoned McCartney to help him complete it, which they did in a couple of hours at one of their regular songwriting sessions in Lennon's upstairs music room. Lennon originally wrote "Help!" as a midtempo ballad, but the Beatles decided to amp up the arrangement in the studio, with Harrison's surf-guitar licks, Starr's thundering tom-toms and the reverse call-and-response vocals that would become the song's trademark. "I don't like the recording that much," Lennon confessed. "We did it too fast trying to be commercial."

Making movies wasn't as fun as it used to be either. "The movie was out of our control," Lennon told Playboy. "With A Hard Day's Night, we had a lot of input, and it was semirealistic. But with Help! [director] Dick Lester didn't tell us what it was all about."

The Beatles all admitted that it probably wasn't the director's fault that the band had so little input. "A hell of a lot of pot was being smoked while we were making the film," Starr said. "If you look at pictures of us, you can see a lot of red-eyed shots; they were red from the dope we were smoking."

"We were smoking marijuana for breakfast during that period," Lennon said. "Nobody could communicate with us. It was all glazed eyes and giggling all the time. In our own world."

Appears On: Help!

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