Helter Skelter (song) From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Helter Skelter (song)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Helter Skelter"

Song by The Beatles from the album The Beatles


22 November 1968


9 September 1968,

EMI Studios, London


Hard rock[1][2]


4:30 (Stereo LP)

3:40 (Mono LP)


Apple PMC 7067-7068 (mono), PCS 7067-7068 (stereo)




George Martin

The Beatles track listing

[show]30 tracks

"Helter Skelter" is a song written by Paul McCartney,[3][4] credited to Lennon–McCartney, and recorded by The Beatles on their eponymous LP The Beatles, better known as The White Album. A product of McCartney's deliberate effort to create a sound as loud and dirty as possible, the clangorous piece has been noted for both its "proto-metal roar" and "unique textures" and is considered by music historians as a key influence in the development of heavy metal.[5][6] The song was ranked #52 on the Rolling Stone magazine's "The Beatles 100 Greatest songs" list.[7]

[edit] Writing and inspiration

McCartney was inspired to write the song after reading a 1967 Guitar Player magazine interview with The Who's Pete Townshend where he described their latest single, "I Can See for Miles", as the loudest, rawest, dirtiest song the Who had ever recorded. McCartney then "wrote 'Helter Skelter' to be the most raucous vocal, the loudest drums, et cetera" and said he was "using the symbol of a helter skelter as a ride from the top to the bottom; the rise and fall of the Roman Empire—and this was the fall, the demise."[3] In British English, the term "helter-skelter" not only has its meaning of "in disorderly haste or confusion" but is the name of a spiralling amusement park slide.[8] McCartney has used this song as a response to critics who accuse him of only writing ballads.[9]

On 20 November 1968, two days before the release of The Beatles, McCartney gave Radio Luxembourg an exclusive interview, in which he commented on several of the album’s songs. Speaking of "Helter Skelter", he said: "Umm, that came about just 'cause I'd read a review of a record which said, 'and this group really got us wild, there's echo on everything, they're screaming their heads off.' And I just remember thinking, 'Oh, it'd be great to do one. Pity they've done it. Must be great — really screaming record.' And then I heard their record and it was quite straight, and it was very sort of sophisticated. It wasn't rough and screaming and tape echo at all. So I thought, 'Oh well, we'll do one like that, then.' And I had this song called "Helter Skelter," which is just a ridiculous song. So we did it like that, 'cuz I like noise."[10]

[edit] Recording

The Beatles recorded the song many times during sessions for The White Album. During the 18 July 1968 sessions, a version of the song lasting 27 minutes and 11 seconds was recorded, although this version is rather slow and hypnotic, differing greatly from the volume and rawness of the album version.[11] Another recording from the same day, originally 12 minutes long, was edited down to 4:37 for Anthology 3. On 9 September, 18 takes of approximately five minutes each were recorded, and the last one is featured on the original LP.[12] After the 18th take, Ringo Starr flung his drum sticks across the studio[13] and screamed, "I got blisters on my fingers!"[3][12] The Beatles included Starr's shout on the stereo mix of the song (available on CD); around 3:40, the song almost fades out, then quickly fades back in with three cymbal crashes and Ringo's scream (some sources erroneously credit the "blisters" line to Lennon; in fact, Lennon can be heard asking "How's that?" before Ringo's outburst).[14] The mono version (originally on LP only) ends on the first fadeout without Ringo's outburst. The mono version was not initially available in the US as mono albums had already been phased out there. The mono version was later released in the American version of the Rarities album. In 2009, it was made available on the CD mono re-issue of the White Album as part of the Beatles in Mono CD box set.

According to Chris Thomas, who was present,[12] the 18 July session was especially spirited. "While Paul was doing his vocal, George Harrison had set fire to an ashtray and was running around the studio with it above his head, doing an Arthur Brown." [Arthur Brown sang in Top of the Pops in 1968 with a fire on on his head][12] Starr's recollection is less detailed, but agrees in spirit: "'Helter Skelter' was a track we did in total madness and hysterics in the studio. Sometimes you just had to shake out the jams."[9]

[edit] Critical reaction

The song has been covered by a number of bands (see below) and praised by critics, including Richie Unterberger of Allmusic. Unterberger called it "one of [the] fiercest and most brutal rockers done by anyone" and "extraordinary."[6] Ian MacDonald was critical, calling it "ridiculous, McCartney shrieking weedily against a massively tape-echoed backdrop of out-of-tune thrashing."[15] Alan W. Pollack said the song will "scare and unsettle" listeners, citing "Helter Skelter"'s "obsessive nature" and "undercurrent of violence", and noted "Paul's savage vocal delivery" as reinforcing this theme.[16] Billy Joel used the phrase, "I've got blisters on my fingers", at the end of the extended 12-inch version of "Sometimes a Fantasy".

In a 1980 interview, Lennon said, "That's Paul completely . . . It has nothing to do with anything, and least of all to do with me."[4]

In March 2005, Q magazine ranked "Helter Skelter" number 5 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.

[edit] Charles Manson

Main article: Helter Skelter (Manson scenario)

Charles Manson told his followers that White Album songs including "Helter Skelter" were a part of the Beatles' coded prophecy of an apocalyptic war in which racist and non-racist whites would be manoeuvered into virtually exterminating each other over the treatment of blacks.[17][18][19] Upon the war's conclusion, after black militants would kill off the few whites they would know to have survived, Manson and his companions would emerge from an underground city in which they would have escaped the conflict. As the only remaining whites, they would rule blacks, who, as the vision went, would be incapable of running America. Manson employed "helter skelter" as the term for this sequence of events.

Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi, who led the prosecution of Manson and four of his followers who acted on Manson's instruction in the Tate-LaBianca murders, named his best-selling book about the murders Helter Skelter.[17] The book was the basis for two television movies of the same title.

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