Help!

Best album titles. This week – Help!

Cry for assistance, promise of assistance, and title of the Beatles’ fifth album, released in August 1965.

The title track explores the paradoxes that hide in the idea of help. In this song, someone has suffered problems which result in a loss of confidence. Their independence “seems to vanish in the haze”. But if the problem is a loss of independence and confidence, isn’t it possible that help might make the problem worse?

The word help itself also holds contradictions. It can be both a noun and a verb. Help, as a noun, is a thing with a substantial reality. You can offer help in the same way that you can offer someone a chair or a bowl of soup. As a verb, however, help has no such certainty. It could be all good intentions and unpredictable outcomes.

There is a lot of history reflected in the complexities of the word help. There’s all that political struggle between, for example, 1960s prime ministers Mr Wilson and Mr Heath. There are those who want to offer help, and those who think that help might damage our ability to look after ourselves. The contradictions in the word we use to describe assistance, suggest that neither side is wholly right or wrong. The arguments will go on forever.

While they all argue, we can listen to Help! It might seem difficult to see how we can get real help listening to an album. It’s not like someone is going to jump out of the music and provide a cup of tea, or love or money, or whatever it is we might need. Yet the record tells us that real assistance can emerge in unexpected ways.

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