Friday, November 10, 2006

Help (1965)

This is going to get harder as we go along. We’re moving into the period where the albums become so good that it’s impossible for anything to be overrated, and so beloved that it’s impossible for anything to be underrated. It might take a second to get your arms around that last sentence, but – even though I’m very, very tired – I ran it down the belt a few times and it seems right.

Anyway.

Most Overrated: “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” I know, I know. I promise I didn’t choose this for Pitchfork-style anti-cool shock value. I honestly believe that this song receives more reverent praise and attention than it deserves. Granted, Lennon wrote an incredible lyric that balances subtle emotions – he's imitating Dylan, but he gets beyond the wordiness to very Lennon-esque direct honesty. Unfortunately, the Dylan-imitation on the rest of the song succeeds far less well. The Beatles can do Brill Building, they can do Motown, they can do Gene Vincent and Sun Records, and (later on) they could do blues and soul. But they really weren’t folkies. At best, they made folk pastiche – kind of like Brahms writing gypsy songs into his string quartets. Anyway, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” is just too obvious of a grasp towards the Dylan of a year or two before the record came out. And, though the song has some bite, it lacks the venom that it needs. It's a fairly bitter song about shame and isolation, and the Beatles delivery is a little tame. Blah blah blah. Bottom line is, it’s a good song transformed into a great song by fans, which makes it overrated.

Most Underrated: “I Need You.” This song is filler. It’s a completely non-grand statement from George, in the middle of huge contributions from John (“Help!”), Paul (“Yesterday”), and the two together (“Ticket to Ride”). The thing is, this is a perfect song. Perfect songs are very, very hard to write. Unfortunately for George, he was in a band with two other guys who knew how to do it, and who could even create new kinds of songs to perfect. So “I Need You” gets looked over all the time. But its elements work so, so well together. The quiet vulnerability of the lyrics, matched with the frail pedal-tone guitar motif and some judiciously placed dissonances. Alan Pollack points out (and man, do I wish that I’d come up with this insight) that the verses ending in dissonance feel a little like sentences you can’t finish. They need the guitar motif to (figuratively and literally) resolve them. Also noteworthy: the ending gives a prime example of George’s odd sense of harmony, and the small trick – switching around the rhythm of that pedal guitar motif to resolve things in the last second – just wraps it all up so flawlessly that you don’t even notice. That’s ultimately why “I Need You” is filler: 10 seconds into “Another Girl” you’ve forgotten all about it. But without this song, the emotional balance of the album would be all thrown off.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bah! Yesterday is far more overrated, and "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" is too understated to be more overrated than Paul's "masterpiece," even accorded such status on "How Do You Sleep," of all places. Just because it doesn't entirely work doesn't mean it's necessarily overrated!!!!

sarah said...

Zach may be right, but all Felstiner offspring are contractually obligated to revere "Yesterday" with near-religious zeal. It was therefore out of the running, I assume, for the overrated category. Plus, it's not overrated.

ana said...

people-- it's the day after the most amazing election we've seen in the last decade and you're voting on the beatles? this is what you blog about? alek, you may be more of a music nerd than a movement nerd...

Anonymous said...

Sarah, who- or wherever you are, THANK YOU!

John

alek said...

Ana -

Let's go to the scoreboard for that one. Hmm...

Democrats - let me down virtually every day.

Beatles - never let me down ever.

Anonymous said...

The Taxman didn't let you down? "Revolution" didn't let you down? Wow, man.