Help! I Forgot to Review "Help!"
Everything about the film captured the tension between the old guard and the new that they represented. The Beatles liberated a generation from the war's aftermath much as they freed Americans who were spared the war on the home front, from the heaviness of the Kennedy assassination.
While "A Hard Day's Night" was a fairly serious film that appealed to an audience well beyond the youth demographic, "Help" put the Beatles in an "Abbott and Costello Meet James Bond" kind of setting. It was silly, zany and fun, but leaving the theater after seeing it was not quite as satisfying as after "A Hard Day's Night" and seeing them in color diminished the distance and thus some of the mystery.
Okay, "Magical Mystery Tour" was a television show not a movie but it was truly awful. It screened on PBS last week and watching it was painful. In place of the meticulousness of the previous films and the albums was an unusual sense of aimless slop.
The same can't be said of the album though! The American edition, like the United Artists "A Hard Day's Night" may have been weighed down by more incidental film music, but the UK original was all Beatles and among the best compilations of tunes in the catalog.
The seven soundtrack tunes on side one are uniformly strong and mostly sung by John starting with the opening confessional that while tying into the movie's story line expressed how Lennon apparently felt at the time. I'm not going to run them down one at a time but if there's a better seven song set list in the catalog please tell me what it is!
Side two includes two covers—good ones—while the others are as stellar as side one. Even George's banal sing-along "like song" "You Like Me Too Much" is charming. George eventually lost his romantic lyrical shyness by writing "Something In the Way She Moves," among the best love expressions ever written by anyone.
The Everly Brothers-like harmonies on "Tell Me What You See" are among Paul and John's best vocal collaborations and what am I going to tell you about "Yesterday" that hasn't already been written? I'll tell you one thing though: "I've Just Seen a Face" makes much more sense as a Rubber Soul opener than does "Drive My Car." It kind of gets lost here. Same with "It's Only Love," which is a much better side two opener on the American Rubber Soul. It's difficult to argue with those who think Capitol's tracking for the album works better than Parlophone's.
I can sort of understand why George Martin wanted to remix Rubber Soul. There are audible mixing errors and some of the songs are oddly mixed in terms of vocal placement but why mess with Help!? This is a straightforward 4 track overdubbed recording with lead vocals centered and accompanying vocals often well separated left or right. I've always thought it was a great sounding record.
Unfortunately I think the box set version—sourced from the 16/44.1k remix is another of the set's weakest. The vocal sibilants on John's voice on "Help" are strident, the mix is dimensionally flat, the drums on the left channel sound compressed. In fact the whole thing sounds dynamically compressed and headache inducing. It's supposed to exuberant and it's anything but.
Yes the bottom end is more pronounced throughout but it's thick and lacking in definition and punch and above that is glaze. The tambourine on "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" sounds muted and the distinct sound of the spinnerets and the skin is homogenized. The cowbell on "I Need You" sounds covered in gauze.
It's difficult to believe now given what most of us listen on but I remember discovering those bongos on "You're Going To Lose That Girl" that weren't all that clear on my first system and as it got better the bongos became both more prominent and more "skin-y" sounding. They sound so much more real on the original and in their own space. "Ticket to Ride" for some reason sounds better than the rest on the first side.
"It's Only Love" is a washout: edgy sibilants and flat perspective. "Tell Me What You See" loses the vocal harmony magic the original has in spades. The shaker on "I've Just Seen a Face" is pathetic. "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" is underwater. You can't turn this record up or it assaults you. At lower volume it's better but just okay. Anyway, rock'n'roll isn't about turning the volume down.