In Billboard’s Greatest of All Time cover story with Paul McCartney revealing the stories behind the Beatles‘ No. 1 Hits, the rock legend noted his former partner John Lennon‘s personal misery specifically surrounding the 1965 hit “Help!”
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Recalling the story behind writing the title song for the band’s second film, McCartney said, “I turned up at John’s house for a writing session and saw the opportunity to add a descant [melody in the second verse]. We finished it quite quickly; we went downstairs and sang it to John’s wife at the time, Cynthia, and a journalist he was friendly with called Maureen Cleave. We were very pleased with ourselves.”
This followed two years of recording and touring without pause and Lennon was unhappy in his marriage to his former college sweetheart Cynthia Lennon and self-medicating with drugs. With this song, he began to redefine the band and move away from its cheerier style.
Lennon later said, “I was fat and depressed, and I was crying out for help.”
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Responding to that quote, McCartney told Billboard, “He didn’t say, ‘I’m now fat and I’m feeling miserable.’ He said, ‘When I was younger, so much younger than today.’ In other words, he blustered his way through. We all felt the same way. But looking back on it, John was always looking for help. He had [a paranoia] that people died when he was around: His father left home when John was 3, the uncle he lived with died later, then his mother died. I think John’s whole life was a cry for help.”
Read the full feature here.