Vinyl Analysis: I Need “Help!”

Help_0

“Help! I need somebody”!

A song that starts by shouting “Help!” is hard to ignore. It’s my favorite Beatles song, hands down.

When I hear “Help!,” I sometimes think I need to get some help. It drives me entirely crazy. If I were to openly weep and jump up and down screaming like I want to between 00:50-1:00 in, I might end up getting some help whether I want it or not. I understand why Beatlemania happened when I hear those ten seconds. In an effort to get my feet back on the ground, I’ll try to examine and understand, You Know, That Part When…

A few years ago, when I was younger than today, I noticed a detail in the song that made me feel totally stupid. I have known this song all my life. I think the discovery of the phenomenon here under study comes from what was my favorite part of the song until now, which is the sound of the vocals when they sing “my independence seems to vanish in the haze.” That part of the song has always stood out for me. I always thought it was the timbre in their voices on “vanish in the haze,” but now, I find I’ve changed my mind. It’s opened up the doors to a new understanding.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. The phenomenon begins at 00:10-00:20 with the lines “When I was younger, so much younger than today / I never needed anybody’s help in any way.” They shorten “younger” to “young” and “needed” to “need” in the backing vocals. I’m not sure the idea of lead and backing vocals even applies, given that it’s an internal dialogue. That’s the brilliance of it. Sequentially, it seems to be a systematic exchange, but in terms of narrative structure, it’s fluid, and any voice can repeat or sustain the story, and the rheme or closing of the predicate comprises all the voices. Take the lines above for instance. The single voice and the backing vocals are not the typical pop music echo. It goes like this (backing vocals in parentheses):

When I was younger
(when I was young)
so much younger than today
(I never need)
I never needed anybody’s
RHEME [all voices]: help in any way

 There’s a sustain/introduce pattern. See it? Interestingly, they use those shortened forms. We linguists refer to these deleted suffixes {-er, -ed} as inflectional morphemes, which means that they only enhance a word’s grammatical function. The words don’t mean anything new, with or without the suffix. It’s only a grammatical detail. And it fits the meter better to shorten them. And maybe even more importantly, it foreshadows another morphological reduction that I daresay makes the entire song work, both narratively and musically.

In the next verse, at 00:50-1:00, we find that they have tried to replicate the narrative structure I noted above. I’ve copied the lyrics below from A-Z Lyrics.

(Now) And now my life has changed in oh so many ways
(My independence) My independence seems to vanish in the haze
(But) But every now (Every now and then) and then I feel so insecure
(I know that I) I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before

But this is not how The Beatles have done this. Here’s how it really goes and why it makes me so crazy.

(Now)
And now my life has changed
(My life has changed)
In oh so many ways
(My indepen…)
My independence seems to
RHEME (all voices): vanish in the haze

There’s the same sustain/introduce narrative pattern, but this time, they shorten “independence” to “indepen.” which is an entirely different morphological operation. They clipped a derivational morpheme {-ence}, which does affect meaning, and in this instance, the entire word loses its meaning because the stem “independ,” although it feels verby with a nouny modifier, does not inhabit any part of speech category. You can’t “independ” no matter how hard you try (no wonder he feels so insecure). Not only have they clipped the noun suffix, they also leave off the /d/ phoneme. It’s so subtle. If they had tried to sing “independence” there, it never would have fit. They made it fit the meter by just cutting it off. There’s something innovative, even brave, about that.

And then, AND THEN-when they actually do sing “independence,” they defiantly enunciate each of the syllables, only to find that the rheme, the final word-“seems to vanish in the haze” with all the internal voices confirming the loss.

Think about it. Everything lines up. He needs help, his independence is incomplete, then when he tries to assert it, it vanishes. That’s the story line and the psychological state it articulates. It all fits musically because the shortened form preserves the meter, thus sustaining the narrative AND musical elements.

I don’t know if I can say this changes my life in oh, so many, ways. However, I’m not feeling down about having missed this element for so long. Those days are gone. I’m feeling more self-assured about having at least noted that something special exists, even if it took this long to figure out, you know, that part when…

Written by Martin Jacobsen (aka Dr. Metal)

Vinyl Analysis #2

Beatles_press_conference_1965

 

The Beatles – Help

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