Recording "Cry Baby Cry", "Helter Skelter"

Thursday, July 18, 1968 • For The Beatles

Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the The Beatles (Mono) LP.
Timeline More from year 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Master album


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On this day, The Beatles continued the work on “Cry Baby Cry” …

The night we started making this one I jotted in my diary “That George sure wields a mean blues axe. That Paul tools a real smooth heavy-axe that is”. This is John’s number all the way with strong, heavy and very Lennon vocal. He also plays piano and organ. I suppose you could call this a Beatles-type nursery rhyme – all about the King of Marigold, his wife and kids, The Duchess of Kirkcaldy and her Duke. With a midnight seance round the table put into the last verse for good measure! George Martin plays harmonium.

Mal Evans – From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°64, November 1968

During this session, The Beatles also started recording “Helter Skelter“, which was at this stage a slow blues jam. They recorded three takes of the song. Take one lasted 10 minutes 40 seconds, take two lasted 12 minutes 35 seconds, and take three 27 minutes and 11 seconds !!

They recorded the long versions of Helter Skelter with live tape echo. Echo would normally be added at remix stage otherwise it can’t be altered, but this time they wanted it live. One of the versions developed into a jam which went into and then back out of a somewhat bizarre version of Blue Moon. The problem was, although we were recording them at 15 ips [inches per second] – which meant that we’d get roughly half an hour of time on the tape – the machine we were running for the tape echo was going at 30 ips, in other words 15 minutes… The Beatles were jamming away, completely oblivious to the world and we didn’t know what to do because they all had foldback in their headphones so that they could hear the echo. We knew that if we stopped it they would notice.

In the end we decided that the best thing to do was stop the tape echo machine and rewind it. So at one point the echo suddenly stopped and you could hear ‘bllllrrrrippppp’ as it was spooled back. This prompted Paul to put in some kind of clever vocal improvisation based around the chattering sound!

Brian Gibson, technical engineer – The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Take 2 was released, in a truncated form, on the “Anthology 3” album in 1996, and its entirety on the “The Beatles” boxset in 2018. From the Anthology 3 liner notes:

A couple of months before recording the White Album version of Helter Skelter, the Beatles taped three extended performances of this new Paul McCartney number, which – because of their length and unreleased status – have assumed legendary standing. Take 2, which runs in excess of 12 minutes, has been respectfully pruned to under five here, preserving the essential elements of what was, fundamentally, an impromptu jam. Following balance engineer Ken Scott’s “Take 2” announcement the band immediately begins the slow, insistent groove on top of which Paul adds his compelling vocal; the mix is mono to compensate for the track configuration on the original tape: all the instruments appeared on one track, the vocal was isolated on a second and the two remaining tracks were vacant.

The Beatles would turn “Helter Skelter” into the precursor of the heavy metal genre heard on “The Beatles” album, during two days of work, on September 9 and September 10.

From YouTube, November 1, 2018

Giles Martin talks us through the recording of Helter Skelter, from the first sessions of blues jams through to the revisited loud and heavy sessions and how it became the iconic finished master. Now remixed for the 2018 release of the White Album.

Last updated on May 27, 2021

Songs recorded


1.

Cry Baby Cry

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • SI onto take 12


2.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 1


3.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 2

Album Officially released on The Beatles (2018)


4.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 3

Staff

Musicians

Paul McCartney:
Guitar (on "Helter Skelter"), Vocals (on "Helter Skelter")
Ringo Starr:
Drums (on "Helter Skelter")
John Lennon:
Bass (on "Helter Skelter")
George Harrison:
Guitar (on "Helter Skelter")

Production staff

George Martin:
Producer
Ken Scott:
Engineer
Richard Lush:
Second Engineer

The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions • Mark Lewisohn

The definitive guide for every Beatles recording sessions from 1962 to 1970.

We owe a lot to Mark Lewisohn for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - the number of takes for each song, who contributed what, a description of the context and how each session went, various photographies... And an introductory interview with Paul McCartney!

The Beatles Bible

If we like to think, in all modesty, that the Paul McCartney Project is the best online ressource for everything Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible is for sure the definitive online site focused on the Beatles. There are obviously some overlap in terms of content between the two sites, but also some major differences in terms of approach.

Have a look at https://www.beatlesbible.com/1968/07/18/recording-cry-baby-cry-helter-skelter/

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