Recording "Cry Baby Cry", "Helter Skelter"

Thursday, July 18, 1968 • For The Beatles

Part of

"The Beatles" (aka the White Album) sessions

May 30 - Oct 18, 1968 • Songs recorded during this session appear on The Beatles (Mono)

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

Master release

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On this day, The Beatles continued the work on “Cry Baby Cry” began on July 16, with more overdubs added onto take 12. Whistling and some sound effects were added, as well as some guitar contributions from Paul McCartney and George Harrison, and some tambourine from Ringo Starr.

Cry Baby Cry” was considered done at the end of this 2.30 pm – 9.30 pm session. The last overdubs would be added two months later, on September 17.

During the second session of the day (from 10:30 pm to 3:30 pm), 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

[This live tape echo] is an effect created by having a second machine recording with its fader open. When the tape reaches the playback head after the audio has been recorded onto it by the record-head, the reproduction of the audio is delayed. How much delay depends on how far apart the heads are and the speed of the tape. In this session, the four-track machine was running at 15 inches-per-second, while the machine for tape-reverb ran at 30 ips. This created a fairly short delay on Paul’s voice. The tape delay used at Sun Records in the 1950’s, heard on early Elvis Presley records, was usually longer because it came from a tape running at 7.5 ips.

From “The Beatles” Super Deluxe edition book (2018)

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 September 11, 2021

Songs recorded


Cry Baby Cry

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • SI onto take 12


Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 1


Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 2

Album Officially released on The Beatles (50th anniversary boxset)


Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Take 3


Musicians on "Helter Skelter"

Paul McCartney:
Guitar, Vocals
Ringo Starr:
John Lennon:
George Harrison:

Musicians on "Cry Baby Cry"

Paul McCartney:
Whistling, Guitar
Ringo Starr:
John Lennon:
George Harrison:

Production staff

George Martin:
Ken Scott:
Richard Lush:
Second Engineer

Going further

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!

Shop on Amazon

The Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 4: The Beatles through Yellow Submarine (1968 - early 1969)

The fourth book of this critically acclaimed series, "The Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 4: The Beatles through Yellow Submarine (1968 - early 1969)" captures The Beatles as they take the lessons of Sgt. Pepper forward with an ambitious double-album that is equally innovative and progressive. From the first take to the final remix, discover the making of the greatest recordings of all time. Through extensive, fully-documented research, these books fill an important gap left by all other Beatles books published to date and provide a unique view into the recordings of the world's most successful pop music act.

Shop on Amazon

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.

Read more on The Beatles Bible


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