Noted by John as one of his favorite Beatles songs, Help! was written, he would later reveal, as a literal cry for help. It was originally composed as a slow, depressing Bob Dylan-type song, but the band recognized its commercial possibilities and jazzed it up a bit, even using it as the title track for their second film. Many of the phrases were deliberate attempts to include multi-syllable lyrics, as suggested by his friend, journalist Maureen Cleave.
The mono version of Help! features a different vocal track from the stereo and does not feature a tambourine. This version was included on the US Rarities LP and the Help! LP included in The Beatles In Mono.
In 1985 Ford’s Lincoln-Mercury division paid $100,000 for the rights to use Help! in an advertisement, making it the first Beatles song to be licensed for this use. George Martin helped create a Beatles-like version of the song by a soundalike group as the license did not include the Beatles recording.
“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. In those days, when the Beatles were depressed, we had this little chant. I would yell out, “Where are we going, fellows?” They would say, “To the top, Johnny,” in pseudo-American voices. And I would say, “Where is that, fellows?” And they would say, “To the toppermost of the poppermost.” It was some dumb expression from a cheap movie – a la “Blackboard Jungle” – about Liverpool. Johnny was the leader of the gang. The Beatles thing had just gone beyond comprehension. We were smoking marijuana for breakfast. We were well into marijuana and nobody could communicate with us, because we were just all glazed eyes, giggling all the time. In our own world. That was the song, “Help!.” I think everything that comes out of a song — even Paul’s songs now, which are apparently about nothing – shows something about yourself.” – John Lennon, Playboy, 1980
- John Lennon – lead vocals, acoustic guitar
- Paul McCartney – bass guitar, backing vocals
- George Harrison – lead guitar, backing vocals
- Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine
- Help! / I’m Down (single) (1965)
- Help! (1965)
- A Collection Of Beatles Oldies (1966)
- 1962-1966 (1973)
- At The Hollywood Bowl (1977) [live at the Hollywood Bowl, 1965]
- Reel Music (1982)
- 20 Greatest Hits (1982)
- Anthology 2 (1996) [live on Blackpool Night Out, 1965]
- 1 (2000)
- Love (2006) [LOVE mix]
- Live At The Hollywood Bowl (2016) [live at the Hollywood Bowl, 1965]
- #1, August 5 – August 25 (3 weeks), Record Retailer (UK)
- #1, September 4 – September 24 (3 weeks), Billboard (US)