Half of Help! is composed of songs from the Beatles' second film, while the other half consists of tracks recorded a couple of months later. The album is basically a transitional one, with elements of both the group's raucous past and its experimental future. It is heavily influenced by the then-pervasive folk-rock sound, particularly as embodied by Bob Dylan.
The introspective gilmpses provided by the previous Beatles For Sale grew deeper on Help! According to author John Lennon, the title song is an honest cry for help. "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" invokes a melancholy mood. And while not autobiographical, Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" fits with the album's tamer tone.
UNITED KINGDOM: Released August 6, 1965. It entered the album chart August 11 at No. 1, where it stayed for eleven weeks. Road
UNITED STATES: Released August 13, 1965. The American LP featured only seven Beatles songs from the film and six orchestral cuts from the soundtrack. Road
THE HATED U.S. REPACKAGING
McCartney was frustrated by the group's lack of control over the American repackaging of their British releases. On a trip to California, they came across the U.S. version of Help! Hearing it for the first time, they discovered that parts of Ken Thorne's film score had been added to the album, despite the Beatles' decision to keep it off the British release. RS (July 12, 1979)
HARRISON: ". . . They'd make new packages like Yesterday And Today, just awful packages." Crawdaddy (February 1977)
Despite the repackaging, the U.S. album immediately qualified as a gold record because of advance orders of a million copies - the first time this occurred in the recording industry. Help! reached No. 1 on the album chart on September 11 and stayed there for nine weeks.
In 1982 world sales were estimated to have been 2.3 million. The Long and Winding Road: An Intimate Guide to the Beatles
Most of the songs were recorded during two time periods: February 15 to 19 and June 14 to 17. Exceptions are noted within individual song entries. The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970
McCARTNEY: "Normally John and I would go in the studio, sit down with the guys and say, 'Right, what are we going to do?' I'd say to John, 'Do you want to do that one of yours or shall we do this one of mine? Which shall we play 'em first?' 'Oh, this one, right. We'd like to do this song.' We'd show it to the band over the course of twenty minutes, possibly half an hour. It hardly ever took us that long. Ringo would stand around with a pair of drumsticks which he might tap on a seat or a screen or a packing case. John and I would sit with our two guitars. George would bring his guitar and see what chords we were doing and figure out what he could do. George Martin would sit down with us and then we would separate, go to each instrument and come out ready to fight. And we just did it, and within the next hour, we would have done it. We would have decided how we were going to play this song. If for some reason it needed to be mixed quickly we would go upstairs to the control room, but we often left it to them and just went home. But as things went on we might go up to the control room more often." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
McCARTNEY: "If you talk to George Martin now about whether he knew he were doing drugs, he would say, 'Well, I suspected it, but they kept it out of my face.' Which we generally did. It wasn't like the scenes of debauchery that followed. The least discreet would be that Mal, our road manager, might be over behind the sound screens rolling a joint. It was fairly good-natured, pleasant stuff. I mean, obviously we had to be in such a state as to be able to record. You don't want to do vocals when you're scared to do vocals. So it had to be controlled, and I think it was, but I think the idea that music can be enhanced by marijuana was definitely being researched at the time, so you would smoke a joint and then sit down at the piano and think, 'Oh, this might be a great idea!' I'm not saying that was the only way to work because before that we worked completely straight, completely clean, no alcohol or anything, and had a bunch of very good ideas under those circumstances.
"It was the discipline of EMI. We had a certain attitude towards EMI, that it was a workplace, that was always there underneath it all, although we would often party. There was George Martin himself, who was fairly practical, and the engineers. You didn't want to mess around. Then there was our own controlling factor. We didn't want to be lying around unable to do anything. We knew why we were doing it: it was to enhance the whole thing. I think if we found something wasn't enhancing it, booze for instance, we gave it up. Once or twice we'd try a little wine when people were around, but generally you'd fuck up solos and you couldn't be bothered to think of a little complex musical thing that would have sounded great. You might have wanted to think of a harmony part to something and now it was a bit of a chore and tuning up is a bit of a chore when you're stoned.
"In the early days we recorded 10:30-1:30, then break for lunch. Nobody paid for your lunch, you just had an hour off to go and buy it for yourself. Very EMI. Then 2:30 till 5:30. And that was generally it, just those two sessions, or then, if you were really going crazy, 7:00 till 10:00, an evening session, which was really working late. By the time you'd done that, you wanted to go home or you wanted to go to the pub or something. Then later we heard rumours that people like Sinatra sometimes worked at three in the morning, so as things got a little wilder and a little more into party frame we did try that, and we had the place and we were able to do it. But I'm not sure how productive it was really. I think most of our best stuff was done under reasonably sane circumstances because it's not easy to think up all that stuff, and you've really just got to get the miracle take if you're stoned. It can be done, just sometimes, but it may be one in a hundred." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
During the recording of instrumentals for the movie soundtrack, a twenty-one-string sitar was used to create exotic effects. Harrison was fascinated with the instrument, bought one for himself, and studied Indian music and, later, religion. This had a major effect on the Beatles' music and activities months later. Beatles Forever
McCartney was heard on lead guitar for the first time on this album. He played it on two songs, "Another Girl" and "Ticket To Ride." Beatles Illustrated Record : 3rd Revised Edition
While in the studios on February 18, the Beatles' song publishing company, Northern Songs Ltd., went public. Diary The action, taken for tax reasons, would later prevent Lennon and McCartney from controlling the rights to their songs.
On the cover, the Beatles signal "Help us" in semaphore, but the photo was reverse-printed. Holding it up to a mirror reveals the letters LPUS - "Help us." The Beatles Diary, Volume 1 : From Liverpool to London
The movie Help! was filmed from February 22 to May 12, 1965. February 22 to March 10 was in the Bahamas, March 13 to 22 in Austria, and then at Twickenham afterward until May 12. The Beatles generally didn't like the finished film. McCartney said it was "a bit wrong for us. We were sort of guest stars." Lennon went so far as to call it "crap" and say that director Richard Lester "forgot about who and what we were. And that's why the film didn't work. It was like having clams in a movie about frogs." Beatles Forever
The songs that were included in the film make up the first half of the album, up to and including "Ticket To Ride".
LENNON: "Help was a drag, because we didn't know what was happening. In fact Lester was a bit ahead of his time with the Batman thing, but we were on pot by then and all the best stuff is on the cutting-room floor, with us breaking up and falling about all over the place." Beatles in Their Own Words
Whereas they had worked closely with Alun Owen on A Hard Day's Night, feeding him lines that could be used in dialogue, there was no such collaboration with Marc Behm, who just gave them a series of off-the-peg wisecracks that could have been said by anyone. The group's resentment at even having to mouth these lines can be seen on screen.
McCARTNEY: "It was wrong for us, we were guest stars in our own movie."
Marc Behm's original screenplay, then called Eight Arms To Hold You, was first submitted to Peter Sellers, who turned it down. Dick Lester had Charles Wood rewrite it as a suitable vehicle for the Beatles, bearing in mind that Brian Epstein still wanted them to play themselves, rather than character parts, but with no smoking, drinking or sex. On the other hand, the Beatles themselves did not want to make a standard rock movie in which the group is discovered playing at a high-school dance. It was almost impossible to write an adequate follow-up to A Hard Day's Night; Alun Owen had written the only possible film for the Beatles, which was a thinly disguised version of their own lives. To produce a fictional story with four main leads who have the characters that the fans know and want to see was a very challenging task; but it took Charles Wood just ten days to get the script ready. He opted for a Technicolor romp. "It was just an assignment," he told Lester's biographer Andrew Yule, "I don't think I did a particularly good job." Bud Ornstein was not that keen on it either but was anxious to get another Beatles film in the cinemas as soon as possible so he gave his grudging approval.
McCARTNEY: "They kept offering up scripts. The scripts that were being presented to us weren't that great, nothing was really an inspiration. You do hear actors saying, 'You know, I'd love to get working, love, but I just haven't seen a decent script.' There was a thing called Talent For Loving, by Richard Condon, which was the big hot script everyone liked and thought we ought to do, but we hated it. In the end Charles Wood and Marc Behm wrote Help!, and it was pretty higgledy-piggledy. We'd have meetings but we weren't that interested.
"We just browsed through it, really, rather than taking it very seriously. We didn't bother learning our lines. I'm sure we were reacting against the lousy script. Basically we lost the plot, but I don't think there was much of a plot there to start with. It was this endless, 'The ring must be found! Kali must be appeased.' Maybe that's why we didn't enjoy it. I've always felt we let it down a bit, but we just didn't care and that would fit more readily with a poor script.
"To give them their due, we were saying, 'Can't we go somewhere nice for this film?' And they'd say, 'What d'you mean?' and we'd say, 'Well, I've never been in the Caribbean. Could you work that into the plot?' And we said, 'No one's ever been skiing, could you work that in the plot?' I have a friend who says that's the whole thing about writing screenplays. First imagine where you want to be for a year, then: 'The waves were lapping on the Hawaiian beach . . .'
"By this time we were starting to smoke a bit of pot and we were getting a little bit more sort of laissez faire about the whole thing. We would occasionally get stoned on the way to the film set, which was pretty fatal. My main memory is of being in hysterics, because for all of us, one of the great things about early pot was the sheer hysteria, the laughs. Things could appear very very funny, hilariously so. And nobody quite knew why we were laughing, and of course this made it even funnier. It was like kids giggling at the dinner table, it really was. I remember one of the scenes, it was after lunch and we'd crept off into the bushes and come back a little bit sort of 'Hi there!', pretending we'd had a glass of wine too many or something.
"There was a scene where Patrick Cargill, the police inspector, had a gun on us from behind. So we all had our hands up and we were all looking out the window. Then someone would start giggling - 'Stop it, stop it,' - and after a while you could just see the shoulders heaving, and you could feel people going. It was like all those classic outtakes from Peter Sellers movies, and we were just gone! Then there was this added element of this gun behind us. It was loaded with blanks, but he had to keep letting it off and we were hypersensitive - 'Bang!' 'Oh, oh!' And we'd jump a mile when this thing went off! I don't know how Dick ever put up with us but he somehow had to make a movie under those circumstances." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
Ten thousand fans gathered in Piccadilly Circus outside the London Pavilion on the humid summer evening on July 29, 1965 for the premiere of Help! It was a showbiz evening: the Beatles arrived in a black Rolls-Royce and were presented to Princess Maragaret and Lord Snowdon. There was a party afterwards at the Orchid Room of the Dorchester Hotel. The film was a financial, though not a critical, success.