Helter SkelterWritten by: Paul McCartney (100%)
(credited to Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: September 9 and 10, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: September 17, October 9 and 12, 1968
John Lennon: backing vocals, bass guitar (1961 Fender Bass VI), tenor saxophone
Paul McCartney: lead vocals, rhythm guitar (1965 Epiphone E230TD(V) Casino)
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitar (1962 Gibson Les Paul SG Standard)
Ringo Starr: backing vocals, drums (Ludwig)
Mal Evans: trumpet
Available on: (CDs in bold)
The Beatles (a/k/a "The White Album"; UK: Apple PMC 7067-8; US: Apple SWBO 101; Parlophone CDP 7 46443 2; CDP 7 46444 2)
Rock And Roll Music (UK: Parlophone PCSP 719; US: Capitol SKBO 11537)
- Though the Rolling Stones and the Beatles were often thought of as the Beatles' chief rivals in the studio, "Helter Skelter" was that rare Beatles song inspired by The Who, already making their claim as the most raucous of the British Invasion bands (for many years, they held the Guinness Book of World Records title as the loudest band in the world). In a 1967 interview with Guitar Player magazine, Who leader Pete Townshend described his excitement over the band's upcoming single, "I Can See For Miles," calling it the most raw, aggressive track they'd ever made. McCartney liked the concept of writing something chaotic and hard, and came up with "Helter Skelter." (He claimed later to be disappointed with the final product of the Who.)
- Paul made an acoustic demo of the song and presented it to the band at the "White Album" sessions; the band first attempted the song on July 18, 1968, crafting a slower, more hypnotic take on the song at first, then erupting into a 27-minute free-for-all, during which George Harrison helped create the proper mood by filling an ashtray with lighter fluid, lighting it on fire, placing it on his head, and running around the studio. Finally, on September 9, the band worked on 18 takes of the song in the arrangement we know now, keeping the last one -- Ringo's shout of "I've got blisters on my fingers!" was indeed a complaint! The next day, extra guitar overdubs were added, as were backing vocals. For extra chaotic noise, the group recorded Mal Evans' trumpet and Lennon squawking loudly into the mouthpiece of a saxophone.
- A "helter skelter," in Britain, is slang for a circular child's slide; it's also a euphemism for the kind of chaos such a slide might stand for. But the song has since become notorious for the interpretation offered by cult leader Charles Manson. A career criminal who had assembled a "family" of hippie followers at a semi-deserted ranch near Los Angeles, Manson had missed most of the rock revolution while in jail. When his followers played him the "White Album," however, Manson became convinced that the Beatles were telegraphing his thoughts and prophecy on an upcoming "race war" that he was to spearhead. "Helter Skelter," in Manson's mind, was the code name for the war itself, and when he ordered his "family" to set off on a murder spree, the words "Healter Skelter" (sic) were written on one of the victim's homes in their own blood.
- The mono mix of "Helter Skelter" differs more from its stereo counterpart than in any other Beatles song: at approximately 3:10, the stereo mix splices a jump to another mix of the song, and fades in an out twice. The mono version ends at 3:36, almost a full minute shorter than the standard stereo version, and also features more squeaking sax and trumpet sounds in the mix.
- The three initial takes of this song recorded on July 18 run 10:40, 12:35, and 27:11. A drastically edited version of Take 2 can be found on Anthology 3. The acoustic demo has also been bootlegged, as has audio and video from another of the July 18 takes. An alternate US stereo mix of the released song was done by George Martin for the 1976 compilation album Rock N' Roll Music.
- U2 gained some notoriety themselves when they included a live version of "Helter Skelter" on their 1989 album Rattle And Hum: the performance begins with lead singer Bono claiming "This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. Tonight we're stealing it back."
Covered by: U2, Motley Crue, Pat Benatar, Aerosmith, Oasis, The Stereophonics, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Husker Du, Dianne Heatherington, Mari Hamada, Vow Wow, Skrew, Joe Lynn Turner, Dana Fuchs, Autolux, Thrice, White Zombie, Phish, Bon Jovi, Urban Dance Squad, Diamond REO, Gillan, The Bobs, Mighty Sphincter, Gamelon, Don Wayne, Alice Donut