With You There to Help Me

Benefit completes the transition—from the blues of This Was, via the eclectic melange of jazz, classical, rock and folk in Stand Up, and eventually to something immediately recognizable as the Tull sound in Benefit. An intensely experimental album, Benefit sounds modern even to a contemporary listener, so we can only imagine how it must have sounded back in 1970. See this review from Rolling Stone in 1970, which clearly did not understand the band’s direction (was this the start of the band’s feud with the magazine?) and contrast it with a more recent glowing review from June 2020. Above all, one senses that Benefit is at the precipice of something vast that is yet to come!

The opening track of the album, With You There to Help Me, is a case in point. The first of Jethro Tull’s complex song suites, the song is a marvelous musical journey—both tender in its lyrical content and intense in its musical composition. It starts with a breathtaking flute intro accompanied by piano before the electric guitar steps in to drive the momentum of the piece all the way to the rollicking end. The piano, by the way, is played by Anderson’s old friend John Evan – who plays for the “benefit” of the band here, but would join as a full-fledged member on tour.

Studio version from 1970 – remixed by Steven Wilson in 2013.

In days of peace
Sweet smelling summer nights
Of wine and song;
Dusty pavements burning feet.
Why am I crying, I want to know.
How can I smile and make it right?
For sixty days and eighty nights
And not give in and lose the fight.
I’m going back to the ones that I know,
With whom I can be what I want to be.
Just one week for the feeling to go
And with you there to help me
Then it probably will.
I won’t go down
Acting the same old play.
Give sixty days for just one night.
Don’t think I’d make it: but then I might.
I’m going back to the ones that I know,
With whom I can be what I want to be.
Just one week for the feeling to go
And with you there to help me
Then it probably will.

Source: LyricFind Songwriters: Ian Anderson With You There to Help Me lyrics © BMG Rights Management

Another song of being on the road but it has a darker tone than previous songs on the subject—revealing the singer’s vulnerability (Dusty pavements burning feet/Why am I crying, I want to know) and his dependence on others (I’m going back to the ones that I know/With whom I can be what I want to be). Eventually, it leads to his deliverance (Just one week for the feeling to go/And with you there to help me/Then it probably will). Anderson says in Benefit – A Collector’s Edition that he wrote the song in a hotel room during the US tour in 1969, “A song about absence and hearts growing fonder.” The song is thought to refer to Anderson’s first wife-to-be Jennie Franks, although he says, “I’ve never written love songs you could pin down as being about a specific person.”

Here’s a live version recorded by the German music program called the Beat Club in August 1970. Perhaps coincidental, but the dark stage lighting seems apt for the mood of the song. This performance segues mid-way into John Evan’s improvisational piano solo, of which many versions exist – such as the well-known By Kind Permission Of piece from Carnegie Hall in 1970 (originally released in the Living in the Past album).

Live version of With You There to Help Me recorded for the Beat Club music program in Germany in Aug 1970.

A 2003 live version of the song recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival, organized by Claude Nobbs, has a touch of grace given the effort it takes for an older Ian Anderson to sing the lyrics. Lovely!

Live version at Montreux in 2003. With Martin Barre on guitar, Andy Giddings on piano, Jonathan Noyce on bass, and Doane Perry on drums.

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