Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Rockist Revisits: Help!

In part inspired -- yet again -- by Noel Murray's Popless column on the AV Club (wherein he refuses to listen to new music for a year and instead revisits the back pages of his personal collection, reassessing as he goes), I thought it could be cool to listen to some of the less discussed Beatles' albums over and over and see how I felt about them a couple decades after hearing them for the first time.

I started with Help!, partially because it was the only one I had loaded on to my new iPod and partially because the companion film was on a few weeks ago and I had the chance to watch it for the first time in a long time. It's no A Hard Day's Night -- about as flawless a ninety-minute romp as you could ask for -- but the movie has plenty of sweet musical interludes and some funny bits (John: "Hey Ringo, whatcha doin' on the floor?" Ringo: "I'm tired") to spice up the overwhelming self-referential goofiness. The soundtrack though is unsurprisingly superb and maybe even more consistent than Hard Day's Night's.

I had forgotten that it's mostly an acoustic album, with Lennon still working on his Dylan impression and the band's harmonies a little looser and more laid-back. Harrison's songs are hit and miss: "You Like Me Too Much" should've been a Gerry and the Pacemakers hit single, but it sounds lightweight here, yet "I Need You" has a sparse but pleasant Rickenbacker thing going on and cowbell from our boy Ringo while kind of hinting at the tunefulness George would hit later.  As for John's title track, I think I listened to this one for years before I realized how desperate it is -- pretty shocking for a guy as young as John (he wasn't quite 25) and for an album and a movie's lead single.  

As I've been scouring used record stores for the past few weeks in advance of the Christmas holiday, I've noticed that Help! is the probably the most commonly sold-back used Beatles disc.  Kind of sad, really -- Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be are, in my opinion, vastly inferior albums despite some very high points (especially on the former).  So, if you're strapped for cash this holiday season, how about picking up a used copy of this one for the rockologically- challenged on your shopping list?  And if you've already got it, give it another spin.  

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