When was it recorded? Feb. 20 and Mar. 30, 1965
When was it first released, and on which album? Mar. 18, 1996 on “Anthology 2”
Who wrote it? McCartney (with noteworthy contribution from Lennon)
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
I’ll take “Songs Written for Beatles Movies” for $600, Alex.
Paul was the primary writer of “That Means a Lot” but John definitely helped.
“The song is a ballad which Paul and I wrote for the film [‘Help!’] but we found we just couldn’t sing it. In fact, we made a hash of it, so we thought we’d better give it to someone who could do it well.” — John Lennon (New Musical Express 1965)
Actually, before they decided to give it away, the Beatles recorded “That Means a Lot” on two separate occasions.
On Feb. 20, 1965, they rehearsed it four times before recording one take of the rhythm track. They overdubbed more guitars and vocals before abandoning it. This version of “That Means a Lot” appeared on “Anthology 2” in 1996.
Not ready to give up, the Fab Four tried again to record the song one month later. They recorded four attempts, playing with the arrangement. The first attempt “was a country-rock performance, played slightly faster than the previous version, and transposed from E major up to G major. The following take was similar, though without the guitar flourishes previously added by Harrison” (Beatles Bible).
According to the Beatles Bible, “For take 22 the group revived the original arrangement and key, performing it this way through to take 24. However, all the day’s attempts were incomplete, and The Beatles took the song no further.”
Brian Epstein then passed the song onto another musician he managed – P.J. Proby. Born James Smith, the American entertainer “had become friends with the [Beatles] after taking part in the TV special ‘Around The Beatles’ in April 1964” (Beatles Bible). With the tempo slowed and a string arrangement written and conducted by George Martin, Proby recorded a new arrangement of “That Means a Lot” and released it as a single in Sept. 1965. It peaked at #30 in the UK.
Music critic Ian MacDonald utterly panned this song, calling it Paul’s “attempt to rewrite Lennon’s ‘Ticket to Ride’” and claiming “the structure sounds wrong and, at worst, seems completely arbitrary” (Wikipedia). While I can kind of see his point regarding the number’s comparison to “Ticket to Ride,” I think both criticisms are unnecessarily harsh. The song owes as much to “Ticket” as it does any other pop song of the era (and maybe that’s the worst I can say – that it sounds like any other pop song of the era and not something truly unique). I actually quite liked this one (though I prefer the Beatles’ demo to Proby’s cover) and don’t think it deserves half the vitriol I saw for it online.