History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Friday, October 3, 2014

Was Lennon really issuing cry for "Help!" in song?

The classic "semaphore" pose of the Fab 4, on "Help!"
The initial rush of "Beatlemania" was past when the group put out "Help!"
The success of "A Hard Day's Night" (with that fascinating Harrison chord on the guitar) meant there would be more cinema. We got the "Help!" movie that was a comedy/adventure. It reflected an odd mix of inspirations. One of them, reportedly, was the Marx Brothers movie "Duck Soup." That never would have occurred to me.
The character of James Bond cast his influence widely. We got "The Man From UNCLE" television series with Robert Vaughn. "Help!" was presented as sort of a satire of the genre.
John Lennon would say several years later that the movie helped set the stage for "Batman" on TV. Yes, that was the campy incarnation of the everlasting character. "Batman" was an odd character because he had no superhuman power. He merely had wile. He was obsessed by the revenge motive. The campy and serious Batman versions seem miles apart. The creative people seem puzzled as to whether we really need "Robin," that lad who does the Sanscrit crossword puzzles.
Anyway, the genius Lennon of the Fab 4 saw "Help!" as a precursor movie of sorts, for Batman and like fare. Lennon had a higher opinion of his movie as the years went by. At first he shrugged and rather dismissed it. He said the group "seemed like extras in our own movie."
Surely there was a more interesting plot in "Help!" than in "A Hard Day's Night." That first movie with its black & white charm captivated us because of how it showed "Beatlemania." Was there any more to its success?
The Beatles had caught lighting in a bottle with how they came on the music scene, remember? To be that successful, everything has to fall in place. And surely it did, for the Fab 4 with their own awesome talent, complemented by all the right resources around them, overwhelmed us. The recording industry in England was quite attuned. Artistic success has a symbiotic relationship with business acumen. England already had the tools in the early '60s. It was no accident. A visiting lecturer at our University of Minnesota-Morris once talked about this.
I remember "Beatlemania" well. I remember those first snippets of video I saw either on the "Today" Show or Jack Paar. Our family only got the NBC network in those days.
We once came upon a street vendor in New York City wearing a Beatles wig ("mop top") that was quite unbefitting him. Everyone got into the act. Kids in Morris collected Beatles trading cards from packs purchased at Stark's Grocery down the hill from the old East Elementary School. There was a Beatles cartoon on TV Saturday mornings. I have to laugh as I recollect how literally the song lyrics were interpreted by the cartoon (e.g. "the head she keeps in the jar by the door," from "Eleanor Rigby"). Trivia: What was the opening theme song from the cartoon? Answer: "Can't Buy Me Love," and we saw a re-creation of a scene from "A Hard Day's Night": the four running down a fire escape.
 
Mid-'60s magic for Fab 4
On came the year 1965. Sometimes I use baseball as a frame of reference for a particular album or tune. Our Minnesota Twins went to spring training on the threshold of their first pennant season. Lennon wrote the song "Help!" in that spring. It became the title track to the Beatles" fifth album and second feature film.
Lennon was rather tired of the whole early Beatles phenomenon. Historians say he was in his "fat Elvis" period. Unhappy? Indeed, what does it take to find happiness? Don't all musicians aspire to the kind of success as demonstrated by the Fab 4?
Artists are brooding and often ruminate. They just can't make it from cradle to grave without having some kind of breakdown. So-called artistic talent is perhaps a reflection of brain dysfunction. In this age when science purports to explain everything, no one can state on scientific terms why some songs are more popular than others. Why do certain melodic patterns captivate us? If there were truly rhyme or reason, a scientifically-based approach would be used to create it. Instead it springs from people who seem off the beaten path, who tap into a well that only they seem conscious of.
Lennon was surely such a soul. The song "Help!" has been described as Lennon venting his discontent. "Autobiographical confession?" In reality, Lennon was given the song title to work from. The movie was already deep into production. The director informed Lennon that "Help!" was to be the title. John wanted to beat Paul McCartney in getting the song written. Paul visited John to hopefully join in a collaboration. It was like their teen years in which they worked on music at each other's homes.
John was nearly done with "Help!" when Paul arrived. John would say it was a fast creation. Paul wasn't about to just shrug and acknowledge this was John's creation. That "initial lead sheet" is often just a starting point. Paul had noticeable value to add, and this he did with the "second vocal" on "Help!" It was sort of a counter-melody. The approach draws us in for wanting to truly understand all the words. It's a turning point song in the Fab 4's history. The words or lyrics were truly coming to the forefront.
The Beatles stood for nothing if not evolution. "Beatlemania" seemed like a fossil by the time their later stuff came out. The lyrics were no longer like candy. The Beatles were now in the footsteps of Bob Dylan.
Lennon at first wanted the song "Help!" to be slower. However, this song was going to open the movie. The song had to have commercial pizazz. Thus the accelerated tempo. Lennon later said he regretted that? Really? Were we to take the Beatles seriously when they criticized their own work? Most musicians would give their right arm to have this kind of commercial success with work they have reservations about.
Did Lennon really hate "It's Only Love?" Legend has it, yes.
"You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" seems a rather cumbersome song title. Less is usually more in pop music. You can't beat the song "Help!" for this.
 
Do songs really spring from feelings?
"Got to Hide Your Love" - I'm abridging it - supposedly reflected Lennon's self-doubt. A disclaimer: I'm always cynical about such song analysis. A songwriter's mood or hidden demons or whatever are always less important than the simple professional skill of songwriting. Like all skills, it takes time and discipline to develop. A songwriter can take a variety of moods or attitudes and write material that reflects those things. He or she is projecting. Their "real" thoughts may be laughably mundane - the same thoughts as we all drag ourselves through our average day. It's not so dramatic at all. Those in the field talk as though it is, to perhaps make us sense some awe about what they do.
Lennon was given "Help!" as a song title. Immediately the wheels started turning as he crafted lyrics that would spring from such a word. It's really a tremendous skill. (What if the title had been "Yikes?")
The Beatles paid dues for a long time honing the skill. They ended up speaking for a generation, even though they themselves weren't baby boomers. They learned how to reach their audience - the most elementary of artistic skills.
If the Beatles ended up imprisoned by their success, one wonders what kind of alternative they really would have preferred.
Some see paranoia in "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." The psychological analysis probably amused the Beatles.
 
"Yesterday": not even in the movie
McCartney says the song "Yesterday" originated in a dream. Ahem. It's a charming story but one I don't buy. Dreams barely qualify as random patterns of images. I have woken up with certain musical notes in my head but they are meandering and incongruous. We overrate our dreams. We're best off forgetting them.
Perhaps "Yesterday" wasn't written all at once. Perhaps a mere seed was planted initially. Finally the loose ends were worked out. Perhaps a good night's sleep preceded that polishing flourish. Finally McCartney could offer us his restrained gem of a song, a song needing only an acoustic guitar with voice. There's a problem with a woman singing it: "I'm not half the man I used to be."
Do you remember the song "Yesterday" from the movie "Help!"? You don't because it wasn't there. Rather it's on side 2 of the album, just ahead of the wild "Dizzy Miss Lizzy." McCartney wrote the song in January of 1964 but it wasn't recorded until June of '65 (when our Minnesota Twins were headed toward the pennant). The song would have helped the "Beatles for Sale" album, an album I've always thought had a bad rap. Silly rabbit, all those albums had to be good in order to put the Beatles in the pantheon of the great ones. We are notorious for over-analyzing the Beatles' music. They were the quintessential genius professionals. They came to realize that the public expected them to be rather like eccentric philosophers. They "played along."
On their average day, I'm sure they were preoccupied with logistics of life and work that were routine and hardly the stuff of eye-opening biographies. I'm suggesting these guys were more wordsmiths than philosophers.
"Help!" was an essential stepping stone in the Beatles' development. The album far superseded the movie. As I read the plot details for the movie, it seems interesting and with great potential. Maybe the movie was too conflicted in what it was trying to accomplish. Marx Brothers or James Bond? Batman?
I find the movie refreshing because it's in color unlike their first one. "Help!" shows us the Beatles when they were still clinging to their first incarnation, before some of the annoying and distracting idiosyncrasies later emerged - Harrison with his Eastern religion stuff, Lennon in bad taste mode etc.
Yoko came along and seemed to kill the whole caravan. Or, as Paul would say on "Larry King" (CNN): "Wedding bells (were) breaking up that gang of mine."
All hail the Beatles from their too-short history. "Help!" was a very special chapter. The Cold War was ripe. James Bond sprang from the Cold War. "Help!" has those recognizable spots. I was ten years old. We developed amidst that cynical backdrop, i.e. not knowing who you can trust. Today we simply celebrate the Beatles' wondrous music - historical context not always necessary. No "help" needed.
 
Addendum: One of the promotional stills for "Help!" includes Lennon holding up a trumpet. I say "holding up" rather than "playing" because a trumpet player can instantly tell from a photo whether someone is really a trumpet player (or interloper). Alas, Lennon is not. It's a faux trumpet pose, cute nonetheless. McCartney too holds a brass instrument. He looks a wee more genuine. I have always smiled when trying to imagine a biopic about the great trumpet player Maynard Ferguson. Who on earth could come close to looking like him? His handling of the trumpet was demanding and intense. Merely "pretending" those qualities wouldn't work, no matter the actor. The most skilled actor with hours of practice would be nothing short of laughable - sorry - trying to portray the great MF. Maynard never achieved quite enough fame to be subject for a biopic. At the end of the year he died, Del Sarlette and I were a little disappointed he didn't show up in that annual, depressing gallery of photos of people who died that year. I'm sure Maynard was at least a candidate. Would I rather be reincarnated as someone like Lennon or the great MF? I'd choose the latter.
 
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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