John Lennon once referred to Help! as one of only two true songs he ever wrote with the Beatles (the other being Strawberry Fields). In contrast, so many of his other songs felt “phony” to him.
Both the lyrics and the backstory behind this Beatles' hit contain many truths about the nature of help, and how hard it is to both give it and ask for it.
The song was written during a difficult time in Lennon’s life. He was depressed, felt overweight, and was struggling with his first marriage.
These very real and deep feelings were obscured by the upbeat melody. How effective was masking this cry for help? Lennon and McCartney first performance was in his living room - to Cynthia, Lennon’s afore-mentioned first wife. Her response, “I like it. It’s very nice.”
The song begins by stating that who is providing the help matters. (I need somebody. Help, not just anybody)
The lyrics go on to show how the realization that we need help changes over time. Going from “so much younger than today I never needed anybody's help in any way” to “My independence seems to vanish in the haze" and (But) but every now and then I feel so insecure I know that I just need you like I never done before.”
The song points to the uncertainty of whether help is even possible, “help me if you can I’m feeling down” and the importance of being there for someone, “I do appreciate you being ‘round.” The idea that your presence is valued even if you can't help, seems implied.
And of course, it acknowledges that someone needs to want help in order to receive it “Now I find I’ve change my mind, I’ve opened up the doors.”
The desire to either seek help from or give help to those we love is instinctive.
Yet, how many of us have been in a position when we could not bring ourselves to ask those closest to us for assistance? Or perhaps even worse, felt at a complete loss to find a way to help those we love the most.
Each is a different form of help-less.
Originally, the song had a different title as there was another tune by the same name. That is until someone suggested adding an exclamation point. Hence, the official title Help!. While I’m not usually a fan of this particular punctuation mark, it seems appropriate that a song about such a maddening topic, screams at you to listen to its truths.