Sunday, November 11, 2012

Song #296 of 9999 - Help! by The Beatles

Song #296 of 9999 

Title: Help!
Artist: The Beatles
Year: 1965
Album: Help!

It's hard to look at 1965 and not write about The Beatles. Consider this: 1) The Beatles released two albums in 1965, Help! and Rubber Soul; 2) these records included the songs "Help!," "Ticket to Ride," "You're Going to Lose That Girl," "Yesterday," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "Drive My Car," "Norwegian Wood," "Michelle," "Nowhere Man," and "In My Life"; 3) they released their second successful film; and 4) they completed a sold-out 10-city U.S. stadium tour infamous for the noise levels created by hysterical fans. By any standard, this is probably the most prolific year in the life of any pop band ever.

Which makes it really difficult to choose a song to write about unless I want my blog to be monopolized by The Beatles (I don't). "Help!" has always intrigued me because it's a song that seems to turn standard pop song structure on its head a little bit. The song opens with what sounds like the chorus ("Help! I need somebody!"). We get the title and the hook, but it turns out to be little more than an intro because the section never returns. The chorus that's inserted between the verses later in the song is longer and doesn't include the rousing "Help!" shout.

A closer analysis reveals that these two sections have more in common than is obvious just by listening. As it turns out, the intro and the chorus have the exact same chord progression with a different harmonic rhythm (the rate at which the chord changes). The intro gives one full measure to each chord:

Bm (Help! I need some body)
G (Help! Not just anybody)
E7 (Help! You know I need someone)
A (Help!)
 while the chorus gives two:

Bm (Help me if you can I'm feeling...) | Bm (...down/And I...) 
G ( appreciate you being...) | G (...round) 
E7 (Help me get my feet back on the...) |E7 (...ground/Won't you...)
A (...please please help...) | A (

The vocal melody helps to mask this common progression as Lennon emphasizes notes that fall outside the chords for the first two lines of the chorus ("Help me if you can" is sung on E over B Minor, while "do appreciate you" is sung on an E over G Major). During the intro, the melody and vocal harmonies strictly adhere to the notes contained in the chords. 

And of course, these deep-rooted observations ignore some of the really cool surface details of the song, particularly the wonderful descant melody sung by Paul and George during the verses and the descending bass/guitar line that connects the chords in both the intro and chorus. Structurally and harmonically, "Help!" turns out to be much more complex than meets the ear.

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