“I Can Help” is a song written and performed by
Released in July 1974, the song was a big crossover smash, reaching No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Country Singles charts late that fall. Although Swan had other charting singles on both the Hot 100 and country charts, the song is generally recognized as being Swan’s only major hit single release. However, Swan had continued success as a songwriter for other artists and as a session musician.
Billy Swan secured his own recording deal with Monument Records, after his return to Nashville in August 1963. From the time he secured the deal, Swan began composition of ‘I Can Help’ in a music room that his wife, Marlu, had converted from a closet inside the small duplex that they shared close to his city’s Centennial Park. Swan has revealed that he used a ‘Rock’ preset, from his Rhythm Master drum machine, when writing the song; “It played 16ths and sounded like a sock cymbal, so I just started playing these chords along with it, and the song came in about 20 minutes. I didn’t always write that quickly, but from my experience the ones that come quickly are the good ones. ‘Lover Please’ was like that, and so was ‘Everything’s the Same’. With ‘I Can Help’ I actually wrote the three verses first, and since I needed something to put between the second and third verse I then came up with the bridge. The whole thing just came out of the air, including the words.”
‘I Can Help‘ was written during March 1974, and also during that time Billy Swan recorded it with producer and engineer Chip Young at the Young’un Sound studio. The distinctive keyboards were played by Swann on a portable Farfisa belonging to Memphis session musician Bobby Emmons. The vocals were recorded with a Neumann U47, while Swan’s Farfisa, Mike Leech’s bass and Reggie Young’s guitar, were all recorded direct. Dennis Linde and Johnny Christopher, who performed for the song on acoustic guitars, were each miked with Sony ECM lapel mics, while the setup for Hayword Bishop’s drums comprised another pair of ECMs overhead on the cymbals, an Electrovoice RE15 on the toms, an RE20 on the kick and a Shure SM58 on the snare. Keyboardist Bobby Wood was also booked for the session, but after hearing the track and realising he wasn’t needed he joined Emmons and Young in the control room. Emmons and Young suggested overdubbing handclaps at the end to convey an in-studio party atmosphere, as well as adding some bridge-section backing vocals by Lea Jane Berinati and the Holliday Sisters. Swan recalls, “Chip was excited after he recorded that part, but I went out there and listened to it, and I said, ‘Boy, I don’t know.’ I listened to it over and over, until finally I said, ‘Hey, man, nothing else will work.’ It was actually a great solo, so that just shows you where my head is at. That part was so perfect, and today a lot of people remember the song because of that solo.”
In the album version, there is a false ending with the clapping, and a long extended cadenza on the organ, which is followed by an instrumental repeat of the ending, which is followed by a brief organ cadenza, which is then followed by another instrumental repeat of the ending before the song’s fade. The false ending was caused by Billy’s dog in the studio who kept on pestering Billy, and the recording group applauded Billy’s effort to continue on despite.