Listen John Lennon’s acoustic demo of ‘Help!’ from 1970

“That old gang of mine. That’s all over,“ John Lennon once reflected on the break-up of The Beatles. “When I met Yoko is when you meet your first woman, and you leave the guys at the bar, and you don’t go play football anymore and you don’t go play snooker and billiards”. Indeed, his sporting days were over, but that didn’t make the process any easier.

And yet, it also seemed inevitable even before the gang started settling down with partners. No song reflects this quite like ‘Help!’. As Lennon would later explain regarding the track in a 1980 Playboy interview, shortly before his death: “The whole Beatles thing was just beyond comprehension. I was subconsciously crying out for help.“

The cognisance and sincerity behind the song rendered it one of Lennon’s personal favourites. It was written in early 1965, and although Bob Dylan gets a lot of credit for foisting introspection upon the band, this early effort shows that Lennon was already a natural extolling his own sense of truth in song; it’s just that the upbeat ways of the early Beatles sometimes masked this with poppy obfuscation

“I meant it – it’s real,“ Lennon would later reflect in a 1971 Rolling Stone interview. “The lyric is as good now as it was then. It is no different, and it makes me feel secure to know that I was that aware of myself then. It was just me singing ‘Help’, and I meant it.“

In fact, the lyrics were almost more potent following the break-up of The Beatles. While the mania that surrounded them at the time ‘Help!‘ was written may well have been overwhelming, there was still a sense of brotherhood and fun abound, and that infiltrated the track. However, when Lennon had departed the band a sense of a deep sigh was palpable, even though he had willed the end, and the band members were now truly facing up to life alone for the first time in their entire adulthoods to date. They needed help.

Thus, it seems fitting and tender (even though a crossword can be detected in the demo) that Lennon sat down behind a piano and revisited his cry for help in 1970. Hushed and reflective, the guttural nature of his original plea is diminished, and in its place is a deeper sense of recognition that although he knew himself to be strong-willed, he still craved support and friendship around him.

The strains of breaking up The Beatles for us mere mortals are unimaginable, but the humility of this dogeared demo is as close as yet can get to grasping it. It makes revisiting an old favourite sound like revisiting an old friend.

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