This is The Beatles making a turn toward more mature songwriting, and taking the world along with them. Help! wasn’t actually that great of an album, what with a lot of it being recorded on commission for the movie soundtrack. But it does mark a transition period between their more conventional early records and the trailblazing work that would soon follow. The Beatles certainly turned the world upside down upon their debut, but at the same time they stuck closely with established pop writing conventions. Their first three albums are entirely about girls, dating, love, and heartbreak – the only accepted song topics throughout the fifties and early sixties. It’s an oft quoted fact that they deliberately tried to be more commercially appealing by stuffing their song titles with as many personal pronouns as they could. That’s not to say that following a pre-structured pop formula is a bad thing – The Beatles did what they were doing far better than anyone else was doing that exact same thing. Nevertheless, it was few years before they began to delve into truly personal songwriting. Rubber Soul found them in full experimental mode, ready to explore anything and everything. Help! was a precursor to that. While some of the tracks are forgettable and forgotten, there’s Yesterday, Ticket To Ride, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away and It’s Only Love to be found. All of which except the first are very distinctly, personally John. Here’s what he had to say about the title track:
When “Help!” came out in ’65, I was actually crying out for help. Most people think it’s just a fast rock-’n'-roll song. I didn’t realize it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help. It was my fat Elvis period. You see the movie: He — I — is very fat, very insecure, and he’s completely lost himself. And I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was. Now I may be very positive — yes, yes — but I also go through deep depressions where I would like to jump out the window, you know. It becomes easier to deal with as I get older; I don’t know whether you learn control or, when you grow up, you calm down a little. Anyway, I was fat and depressed and I was crying out for help.
It’s the emergence of Lennon’s personal songwriting style, which he would carry through the Beatle years and beyond – self-deprecating, bitterly honest and cleverly disguised as a catchy rock tune.