There is not a lot of information out there on these guys.
There is a very short entry on them in wikipedia and a couple of scattered reviews elsewhere on the net. Everything is a rehash of that. The information highway is only as good the information being placed on it.
Even the drummer, Chet McCracken, who has had a subsequent career doesn't refer to Help or their pair of LPs they released in the early 70s on his website.
You have to go to primary sources to write a complete history of the band if you want to. I won't be advancing the original content of the information highway here but I have consolidated what little I could find.
It seems the band were originally from California, having formed in 1969 when drummer Chet McCracken (former "Evergreen Blue Shoes" with future Byrd Skip Battin) and guitarist Jack Merrill, joined bassist Bob Rochan. Help began played clubs in the area and gained a reputation as a powerful live band In late 1969 the group signed with the major label Decca Records after producer Val Garay saw them in a Los Angeles concert and was impressed. Two albums and a couple of singles followed.
That's it. The chatter on the net stems from a CD reissue of those two albums a few years ago. The reissue did not bring them any more fame but it did raise their profile.
But, what happened?
This band had it all. They can play, they can sing (all three of them), their songs aren't bad, they were around at the right time with the right sound, and they had major label behind them (the copy of the record I have is an Australian pressing on MCA so clearly they were being pushed, though ever so slightly).
Richie Unterberger at allmusic says in his own perceptive way "When you read books with day-by-day chronologies of the concerts of big rock bands, Help is the kind of group you might see listed as third-billed in the early '70s to the Who, the Kinks, or whoever. It's prototypical early-'70s American album rock, not unlikable in any significant way, but fairly yawn-inducing all the same". http://www.allmusic.com/album/help-mw0000480243
He is right though yawn inducing may be a little harsh.
The dude at Badcat records, who is no less perceptive, says "Help's one of those early-1970s groups that had considerable talent and released a pair of decent albums that just seem to have gotten lost in the tidal wave of music being released during that timeframe. Their short recording catalog (two albums and two singles) is also sort of interesting for the musical shift the band underwent within a year's time – their self titled debut album had a heavy country-rock vibe, while the follow-up set featured a far more rock orientation. It's actually kind of funny to note that a website run by one of the members (referenced below), doesn't even mention this band … " http://badcatrecords.com/BadCat/HELP.htm
The history of music is littered with the right band at the right place with the right sound and the right amount of talent but no subsequent career.
Why these guys failed while others succeeded I don't know. Sure you can point to other better records in the same style but these guys only lasted two albums – who knows what they may have done.
That's the ups side.
On the downside there are limitations on this record that that why they folded, perhaps. The lyrics are of the time, as is the music. It doesn't transcend the time. There are a couple of catchy songs but not enough. A record has to have a majority of catchy songs or a couple of songs that jump out at you. This LP doesn't do that.
It's pity the band plays well in that power trio format popular at the time (Hendrix band, Cream, Taste, Mountain) though laced with country. The drummer was only about 19 years old also! The guitar licks are tasty and the bass is nicely up front on some songs. Best of all, all three of them sing (though the guitarist and bass share the leads) and the harmonies are glorious.
Moby Grape, The Byrds, Manassas, Grateful Dead, Brewer and Shipley and, especially, Crosby Stills Nash and Young come to mind.
If you like the sound (country rock with psychedelic overtones) this is perfectly acceptable and you know what …I think it may grow on me …I don't know … time will tell.
All you need is Tarantino to sue a track on his version of "Walking Tall" meets "Easy Rider".
Their follow up album is heavier (apparently) with hard rock, more acid psych and a bit of prog rock (and perhaps some religious overtones looking at the titles) replacing the country vibes.
Tracks (best in italics)
- For Sale -(Jack Merrill) – some hippie sentiments but this one starts off gentle and increases to a nice gentle thump
- Open Up The Door -(Bob Rochan)- a country-ish mid tempo song with some full hippie lyric – "open up the door, people, give the world a chance"
- I Tried Too Hard -(Bob Rochan, Jack Merrill)- A gentle love and loss ballad – nice
- Easy To Be Free – (Rick Nelson) – A good cover of a Rick Nelson song from his country rock period. It's from his "Rick Nelson In Concert" album from 1970 which was also on the Decca label. Did Help they get onto it through there, hear the album, hear it on the radio (#48 1970), or see him at the Troubadour, Los Angeles in 1969 with his Stone canyon Band and where the album was recorded?
- Run Away – (Bob Rochan)- funky country rock – very tasty
- Keep In Touch -(Jack Merrill)- some more hippie come prog rock sentiments and some nice guitar but this one goes on a bit – it does predate the wonderful excesses of Jeff Lynn's War of the Worlds" though.
- Take A Look At Yourself -(Bob Rochan, Jack Merrill, Chet McCracken) – good mid tempo rocker.
- Commit Yourself -(Jack Merrill, Bob Rochan, Chet McCracken) – naff and silly and more than a little hippie….but enjoyable!
- Help Me, Help You, Help Me -(Bob Rochan, Jack Merrill)- this one goes on far too long though no more than the others – but it feels like it.
- Tennessee Waltz – (Redd Stewart, Pee Wee King) – Patti Page had a #1 of this in 1950. A gigantically popular song. It has been covered many times since, including versions by other rock and pop acts who have double (or tripple) timed it. Help have sped up the tempo but it works. They manage to capture the melancholy in the song …. it helps to know the original but this is great. ttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessee_Waltz
Patchy but more than good with subtle memorability …. I'm keeping it.
Nothing no where
Easy To Be Free
- Drummer Chet McCracken was also in Evergreen Blueshoes (before) and The Doobie Brothers and The Chet McCracken Band (after). He also sessioned for many artists.
- This album was produced by Val Christian Garay and Mark Hopkins McNabb. The engineer was Dave Hassinger best-known for his work with the Rolling Stones.