The Beatles: John Lennon Wrote the Lyrics of ‘Help!’ to Please a Journalist and She Didn’t Like Them

“Help!” has some of the most famous lyrics John Lennon wrote for any of The Beatles’ folk-rock songs. During an interview, John revealed he wrote the lyrics to please a journalist who noted he didn’t use certain types of words in his songs. John said writing The Beatles’ “Help!” to please this journalist reflected his own insecurities.

The Beatles' John Lennon with a guitar
John Lennon | Max Scheler – K & K/Redferns

These 2 people heard The Beatles’ ‘Help!’ before it was a single

Paul McCartney told Billboard two people heard “Help!” before the public did. “I turned up at John’s house for a writing session and saw the opportunity to add a descant [melody in the second verse],” Paul said. “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.”

John Lennon discussed how Maureen Cleave inspired and reacted to the classic Beatles song

According to the book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, John revealed Cleave had an influence on the lyrics of “Help!” “I remember Maureen Cleave, a writer — the one who did the famous ‘We’re-more-popular-than-Jesus’ story in the Evening Standard — asked me, ‘Why don’t you ever write songs with more than one syllable?’ So in ‘Help!’ there are two- or three-syllable words and I very proudly showed them to her and she still didn’t like them.”

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John said writing the lyrics of The Beatles’ “Help!” to please Cleave reflected his own insecurity. “I was insecure then, and things like that happened more than once,” he said. “I never considered it before. So after that I put a few words with three syllables in, but she didn’t think much of them when I played it for her, anyway.”

How the world reacted to ‘Help!’ in the 1960s and beyond

“Help!” was a massive hit. It topped the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 13 weeks. The song’s parent album, Help!, was a hit as well. It peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and remained on the chart for 46 weeks.

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“Help!” also became popular in the United Kingdom. The Official Charts Company reports the song reached No. 1 in the U.K. and stayed on the chart for 14 weeks. In the U.K., Help! peaked at No. 1 and remained on the chart for 39 weeks.

“Help!” resonated beyond its time on the charts. For example, the Nickelodeon boy band Big Time Rush covered “Help!” and five other Beatles songs for the soundtrack of their film Big Time Movie. Miley Cyrus performed a cover of it in an empty sports stadium during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. There was a giant version of the logo of the film Help! in the middle of the stadium. Her version of the song incorporates elements of country music. John wrote the lyrics of “Help!” to please Cleave — and those lyrics seemed to please many others.