After a couple of albums where the Beatles seemed to be heading towards a formulaic approach, their fifth saw them include only two cover versions, Lennon and McCartney mature as songwriters and George Harrison start to bloom as one. Bart the Anorak gives it another spin.
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- Help! (Lennon/McCartney)
- The Night Before (McCartney/Lennon)
- You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away (Lennon/McCartney)
- I Need You (George Harrison)
- Another Girl (McCartney/Lennon)
- You’re Going To Lose That Girl (Lennon/McCartney)
- Ticket to Ride (Lennon/McCartney)
- Act Naturally (Morrison/Russell) LEAD VOCAL: Ringo Starr
- It’s Only Love (Lennon/McCartney)
- You Like Me Too Much (George Harrison)
- Tell Me What You See (McCartney/Lennon)
- I’ve Just Seen A Face (McCartney/Lennon)
- Yesterday (McCartney/Lennon)
- Dizzy Miss Lizzy (Larry Williams) LEAD VOCAL: John Lennon
Except where stated, the lead singer/main writer’s name is the first given in the brackets
JOHN LENNON: vocals, rhythm guitar, electric piano on 2 & 10
PAUL MCCARTNEY: vocals, bass, piano, lead guitar on 2, 5 & 7, acoustic guitar on 12 & 13
GEORGE HARRISON: lead guitar, vocals, rhythm guitar on 2, additional rhythm guitar on 5 & 7
RINGO STARR: drums, percussion, lead vocal on 8
JOHNNY SCOTT: flute on 3
GEORGE MARTIN: additional piano on 10, string arrangement on 12
Produced by George Martin
By the start of 1965, the Beatles, still enjoying the success of their fourth album Beatles For Sale and its companion single I Feel Fine, were committed not only to another album but also another feature film following the success of A Hard Day’s Night. As with the earlier film this second one, provisionally titled Eight Arms To Hold You, would divide the ensuing album into one side of songs from the picture and another which still consisted of strong enough material that those not looking at the sleeve (where the legend “Songs from the film Help!” adorned side one) or hadn’t seen the film could still take the album as a cohesive whole.
The first two to make it to tape were Ticket to Ride and Another Girl both of which featured Paul McCartney on lead guitar while George Harrison played additional rhythm. Both proved McCartney to be a pretty mean axeman in his own right not least his outro on the latter.
Ticket to Ride was chosen as the trailer single, its narrative scenario of “the girl that’s driving me mad” purchasing her travel away from Lennon’s wistful protagonist giving it a strength, up to that point shared only by Can’t Buy Me Love and A Hard Day’s Night, in terms of creating a ballad in the word’s true sense of a story in song.
The next song to be recorded was George Harrison’s I Need You, only his second song for the group and pretty lacklustre but for the effective use of a swell-pedal, a trick Harrison repeated for Ticket’s flip-side Yes It Is, a melancholy waltz which continued the death ballad tradition established with Baby’s in Black, Lennon’s gift for emotional overtness going one further than on I’m A Loser. These stronger tracks from the somewhat mediocre Beatles for Sale clearly had been indicative of great things to come.
Two songs from the February sessions were not included in the film and actually made their debut in July on the US collection Beatles VI. You Like Me Too Much, Harrison’s third song for the group and his first truly great one, begins with a deceptive Western saloon style piano duet played by McCartney and George Martin on a Steinway followed by the kind of acoustic rhythm/electric lead interplay that Lennon and Harrison would hone to perfection on Rubber Soul and a lyric mocking the protagonist’s lover’s fickle affection. The other was Tell Me What You See a slight McCartney ballad but featuring some nice electric piano from him. Another two were left off altogether, the Ringo Starr vocal vehicle If You Got Troubles (wisely cast aside) and a 50/50 composition That Means a Lot (wisely passed over to Billy J Kramer).
But the rest of the February tracks showed a group really hitting their stride creatively. McCartney came up with The Night Before, a night-out scenario with a morning after twist, in contrast to the earlier optimism of I Saw Her Standing There, and again featuring him on lead guitar while Lennon came out with what coincidentally became the last two songs in the Beatles catalogue alphabetically – You’re Going To Lose That Girl, a brilliantly catchy call-and-response number which beat the girl-group songs they had covered on their first two albums, and You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, another hint at deeper melancholy strummed on an acoustic a la Bob Dylan who had recently been proving that you could sing love songs as well as protest in the folk medium.
The band spent the next two months recording the film in various far-flung parts but returned to the studio in April, by which time the freshly released Ticket to Ride b/w Yes It Is was en route to number one, to record the title song and second single. Neither Lennon nor McCartney fancied turning the Eight Arms To Hold You concept into a lyric so director Richard Lester chose another title – Help! Lennon took up the challenge and came up with another heart-on-sleeve number chronicling loss of self-confidence as childhood recedes. It could have been another slow acoustic number but Lennon reluctantly made it a rocker for commercial purposes though the repeat of the opening verse at the end saw John play unaccompanied and slowly, hinting at what might have been.
Before the album proper could be completed however, there was yet another commercial demand to fulfil. Capitol, the Beatles’ American record label was demanding more material to fill out their next US album release Beatles VI. In May, the band quickly tossed off two covers of songs by Lennon’s hero Larry Williams. Bad Boy was held over for future use but Dizzy Miss Lizzy, bristling with life and positivity, was the perfect choice to close the UK album which had featured some pretty intense subject matter.
Four productive days in June saw the last numbers for side two completed. John’s It’s Only Love was another acoustic/electric gem though he always dismissed it. McCartney meanwhile had been hard at work and brought three songs along. I’ve Just Seen A Face took the acoustic theme further, probably inspired by the romantic Hispanic ballads he would have grown up hearing on the radio. Meanwhile, I’m Down, another call and response featuring Lennon on Hammond organ, was kept for the B-side of the Help! single which seems a pity considering Yesterday made the album instead.
Or does it? Yesterday has been covered to death and let’s face it that string quartet isn’t exactly rock ‘n’ roll but once you get past the rather slight opening verse, the song becomes as psychologically addled as anything – “Suddenly/I’m not half the man I used to be” a powerful reflection on falling back on one’s former and lesser self following a devastating loss, paving the way for the heart-wrenching guilt and confusion that makes up the rest of the lyric. Strings and endless covers have not done it justice but it’s small wonder that young and old alike join in when McCartney plays it live now.
And that only leaves Act Naturally. Well they had to let Ringo do one didn’t they and the goofy Buck Owens country hit was the perfect choice. Opening the second side, it served as a pleasant interlude from all the intensity.
What an album! It proved the Beatles most cohesive and diverse work since their sophomore effort With the Beatles (1963). The way was paved for even more brilliance with Rubber Soul.
SINGLE STATS: Ticket to Ride and Help! were both transatlantic chart-toppers. Yesterday was released as a single in the US. Producer George Martin wanted to credit it to McCartney as a solo artist but the group’s manager Brian Epstein vetoed the idea. It topped Billboard for four weeks between the McCoys’s Hang on Sloopy and the Rolling Stones’ Get Off Of My Cloud.
ALBUM STATS: The album topped the UK charts for a two month period, nestled between two lengthy stints for the soundtrack of The Sound of Music. The two albums alternated at the top of the recently launched Australian album chart, the tussle only broken by the release of Rubber Soul.
US EDITION: In America the seven songs from the film were released with the orchestral soundtrack pieces interspersed. This displaced the U.S. edition of the Rolling Stones’ Out of Our Heads before again being displaced by The Sound of Music.
US ALBUM RELEASES OF SIDE TWO TRACKS:
Act Naturally – Yesterday and Today
It’s Only Love – Rubber Soul (US)
You Like Me Too Much – Beatles VI
Tell Me What You See – Beatles VI
I’ve Just Seen a Face – Rubber Soul (US)
Yesterday – Yesterday and Today
Dizzy Miss Lizzy – Beatles VI