Saturday 17 February 2018

Why Are There Different Versions of "Help!"?

Composer: Lennon / McCartney

John Lennon rhythm guitar (1965 Framus Hootenanny 12-string acoustic guitar), Lead Vocal
Paul McCartney bass (1963 Hofner 500/1 bass), Backing Vocals
George Harrison lead guitar (1964 Gretsch Tennessean guitar), Backing Vocals
Ringo Starr drums (1964 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl "Super Classic" Kit with 22" kick drum)

George Martin: Producer
Norman Smith: Engineer
Ken Scott: 2nd Engineer

Recorded: 7:00-11:00pm, Tuesday 13th April 1965, Studio 2, Abbey Road Recording Studio
Recording Medium: Four Track

Additional Recording: 7:00-10:00pm, Monday 24th May 1965, CTS Studios, London
Recording Medium: Three Track

Mono Mix: 18 June 1965
Stereo Mix: 18 June 1965

UK Mono Release: Friday 23rd July 1965 (A Single / I'm Down [Parlophone R5305])
UK Stereo Release: Friday 6th August 1965 (Help! LP [Parlophone PCS-3071])
US Mono Release: Monday 19th July 1965 (A Single / I'm Down [Capitol 5476])
US Stereo Release: Friday 13th August 1965 (Help! LP [Capitol SMAS-2386])

Running Time:
  • Mono Mix: 2:23
  • Stereo Mix: 2:23

Available on:
(Source: Beatles For Sale on Parlophone Records , Bruce Spizer and Frank Daniels, 498 Productions 2011, Way Beyond Compare: The Beatles' Recorded Legacy, Volume One, 1957-1965 , John C.Winn, Three Rivers Press 2008, Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four's Instruments from Stage to Studio , Andy Babuick, Backbeat Books 2002)

As with all of The Beatles' material up until 1969, Help!, the title song from their second feature film, was released in both mono and stereo versions. It had been written by John Lennon at his home in Weybridge on Sunday 4th April during a day off from filming. In 1980, Lennon said of the song:

When Help! came out, I was actually crying out for help. Most people think it's just a fast rock 'n' roll song. I didn't realise 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. So 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.


The song was recorded in 12 takes on Tuesday, 13 April. The first nine takes concentrated on the backing track, with no vocals. As was their standard practice, the bass and drums were recorded to one track of a four-track tape, and the two guitars went on a second:

Take 1

Stopped after 36 seconds when one of the strings on Lennon's guitar snapped

Take 2

Stopped after Harrison mis-played the first descending guitar riff

Take 3

Stopped after verse 2, when Lennon changed chords a couple of bars early

Up until this point, Harrison has been playing chords over the intro, syncopated offbeats in the chorus and the descending guitar arpeggios at the start of each verse. After Take 3, George Martin pointed out that Harrison was not playing the arpeggios cleanly, and suggested that it should be overdubbed later. Harrison pointed out that this would require him to play the arpeggios and sing simultaneously, which would be even harder.

Take 4

This was complete, although Harrison missed out the arpeggios, and Starr makes a couple of minor errors.

Take 5

This was also complete, but Lennon's guitar is out of tune.

Take 6

McCartney counted the band in again before Lennon had a chance to tune his guitar. However, Martin aborted the take halfway through the opening verse, allowing Lennon to tune up. Lennon tried to do so, but fails, much to his own frustration.

Take 7

Stopped after the band failed to get the transition to the final verse. Lennon's guitar was still out of tune.

Take 8

Halted after a few seconds when Harrison stopped playing

Take 9

A complete and satisfactory take.

After Take 9, the Beatles then recorded double tracked vocals on to the remaining two tracks. One of the vocal tracks also featured Starr on tambourine.

The four tracks of the original tape were then transferred to a new four track tape by engineer Norman Smith, combining the two vocal tracks to one and leaving one track free. These were counted as new takes. During the mixdown, the intro was mixed out from one of the two vocal tracks, because Lennon's timing was off.

Take 10

Complete but not used

Take 11

Aborted after Smith forgot to mix out one of the vocal tracks from the intro

Take 12

A satisfactory mix. Harrison then recorded his guitar arpeggios on to the fourth track.

A rough mono mix was prepared for the Beatles at the end of the session. Three more mono mixes, numbered RM2-4, were prepared the following Sunday, 18th April, along with a stereo mix, numbered RS1, with all the instruments mixed on one side and all of the vocals mixed on the other. As the tambourine had been recorded alongside the vocals, it was on the vocal track.

Rerecording the Vocals

RM4 was the best mono mix, and was supplied to United Artists for the film soundtrack. The following Thursday, 22 April, the Beatles were at Twickenham Film Studios, where they filmed a black and white sequence, used in the film. The Beatles, dressed in black on a minimalist set, mimed to RM4. Starr wears the ring that is at the centre of the film's plot, while Lennon plays his six-string Gibson acoustic.

However, the Beatles' miming was inaccurate and did not sync up with the film, and it was decided that the vocals needed to be re-recorded. This was done in a non-EMI session on the evening of Monday 24th May, at CTS Studios in London. CTS was often used for post-sync sound production work for film and television, and was an unusual choice of recording venue - perhaps the new vocals were required by United Artists rather than EMI, so the studio was their choice, or perhaps Abbey Road was simply not available.

Either way, CTS could only record to three track tape, so the instrumental track from RS1 was transferred to one of the three tracks, leaving the other two tracks free for Lennon, McCartney and Harrison to record their double-tracked vocals in an unknown number of takes. Starr, presumably, was not at the session, because he did not re-record his tambourine.


Mono Film Version

The new version was mixed to mono at CTS the same evening, and this is the version used in the film.

Mono Single and Album Version

When preparing the mixes for the single and mono album on 18th June, George Martin decided that the vocals during the introduction of the re-recorded version were not satisfactory, so he edited the first 11 seconds from the original RM4 mono mix into the re-recorded version.

Stereo Version

When he went to prepare the final stereo mix, George Martin encountered a problem: the three track tape from CTS could not be mixed to stereo, because Abbey Road did not possess a three-track tape machine. He resorted to using the original 13th April vocals from Take 12.

Subsequent Mixes

All subsequent stereo mixes of the song have also used the 13th April vocals.
In 1987, George Martin made a new stereo mix of Help! for release on CD. This was remastered in 2009 and re-released.
In 2015, the song was remixed again by Giles Martin and Sam Okell at Abbey Road Studios for release on a new version of 1.

Differences Between the Mono and Stereo Versions

The mono version has no tambourine, and on the first verse, John sings "and now these days...".

The stereo version has a tambourine, and John sings "but now these days..."

The phrasing of "changed my mind" differs between the mono and stereo versions as well.

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