"Help" gets my vote for the real beginning of the Beatles peak era. It is either at the very top of the early period works, or at the bottom of the later works; which is no small achievement within the greatest catalog ever in recorded music. It is the perfect border marker between their early and late eras, containing elements that harken back to the great rocker days of earlier Beatlemania and pure pop heaven, and the something else entirely that is about to start the full and highest flights that were the fruit of the metamorphosis that was taking place seemingly at every turn. This is where they also left the chrysalis of those early days and ventured forth with the first testing of their new wings into areas that were greater and different than whatever had come before in very palpable and breathtaking ways.
I like each of the pre-"Rubber Soul" albums better than it's predecessor. From "Rubber Soul" onwards I simply couldn't choose between them. Does this mean that I actually prefer "Beatles For Sale" to "A Hard Day's Night" for example? Yes, yes I do. "Please Please Me" is great, but my least loved, and you go from there upwards. Just for the record "Beatles For Sale" & "Let It Be" (or "Let It Be...Naked"-whichever version you prefer) are the two great twin underrated/overlooked/misunderstood albums in The Beatles catalog; one from the early era, & one from the later. "Help" isn't far behind, largely because as I said I date the true beginning of their greatest era to legitimately begin here; most date it starting with "Rubber Soul" (which I do prefer to "Help") which means "Help" is being historically shortchanged. I'd also say that most of "Help" is about as far ahead of most of "Beatles For Sale", in a way very similar to how most of "Rubber Soul" is far ahead of much of "Help". It's just that "Help" tends to get still lumped with the earlier period works, and while it doesn't fit into the later period as seamlessly as "Rubber Soul", I'd argue that it still sticks out as being something different enough from that early era to demand another classification entirely.
For Americans there is an especially strong overlap between the way "Help" & "Rubber Soul" feel. As far as one's deep memory is concerned having "I've Just Seen A Face", and it's wonderful little intro section, as the lead off track to side one, is an extraordinarily powerful starting point to the U.S. version of "Rubber Soul". "It's Only Love" is equally as powerful with it's indelible little electric riff leading off side two. Adding to this connection, is that it's worth noting that "Wait", which was salvaged and re-cut to be used as the last needed track on "Rubber Soul" was originally recorded, in a completed version, during "Help". On the U.S. version of "Rubber Soul" there were only 12 tracks and 1/4 (25%) of those are truly from the "Help" sessions. So if you've ever loves the U.S. version of "Rubber Soul", you've been truly loving a whole lot of "Help".
I prefer both the album and film "Help" to "A Hard Day's Night", though each is brilliant and evocative of both it's time, and of that particular time in the Beatles existence; personally and artistically. While AHDN is black & white, and focused on on a single day, with a very focused location. "Help", in contrast, is a global whirlwind filmed in stunning color that takes place over a nice long, undetermined period of time. It carries the feel of "The Monkees" (which it would literally spawn), but also the sly wit and wild pop-art style of "Batman" (which is also massively influenced). It speaks mostly of the Marijuana vibration that was so prevalent for them around then; with their longer hair, and looser, but still fab 'n' gear fashion sensibilities. It also begins to look forward to the LSD era that is approaching, and will begin, in a most major way, with "Rubber Soul"; this last point is felt more on the album, but is also present in the film in more implicit, less explicit ways.
I feel as passionately about this album, as I was lukewarm on the album that started all of this weekly reviewing: Macca's "London Town". Take a deep breath and set your sonic memory for a little review with my basic tour of the wonders of "Help". There are 14 songs on the album, and if you are willing to include "Wait" 18 songs from the sessions (17 if you leave "Wait" out). Of these 9 on the album proper, and 11/12 total make my "Level I". The quality of what's left would all come up as "Level Ia" as it's still so good, and couldn't justifiably be dropped a full notch to a "Level II". This includes 5 tracks on the album proper, with one other added to the total. For me that's a pretty amazing run.
Level I- the best of the best: Help, I've Just Seen A Face, It's Only Love, Ticket To Ride, Tell Me What You See, You've Got To Hide Your Love Away, I Need You, Yesterday, You're Gonna Lose That Girl (9 of 14 songs on the album proper)
Level Ia-still amazing: The Night Before, You Like Me Too Much, Another Girl (3 originals)
Level Ia- 2 amazing covers: Dizzy Miss Lizzy, Act Naturally (5 total Level Ia out of 14)
B-sides, released later, and unreleased: Wait, I'm Down & That Means A Lot (all three of which would be added to Level I- making for 12 Level I tracks), and If You've Got Trouble (a fine track to add to Level Ia- making 6 of them, and 18 songs total from the "Help" sessions).
Om Namah Shivaya !!!!