Recording "Helter Skelter"

Monday, September 9, 1968 • For The Beatles

Part of


"The Beatles" (aka the White Album) sessions

May 30 - Oct 15, 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.
Timeline More from year 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Master album


Spread the love! If you like what you are seeing, share it on social networks and let others know about The Paul McCartney Project.

About

The Beatles had started recording “Helter Skelter” as a slow blues jam on July 18, 1968. On this day, they drastically reworked it, and transformed it into this precursor of the heavy metal genre.

This session – and all the September sessions – were produced by Chris Thomas, George Martin being on holidays.

I came back from my holiday, and there was a note from George on my desk ‘Chris: Hope you had a nice holiday ; I’m off on mine now. Make yourself available to the Beatles. Neil and Mal know you’re coming down’. It took a while for the Beatles to accept me. Paul was the first one to walk in – I was sitting in the corner wearing a suit and tie! – and he said ‘What are you doing here?’ I felt such an idiot, but managed to blurt ‘Didn’t George tell you?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well, George has suggested I come down and help out.’ Paul’s reply was ‘Well, if you wanna produce us, you can produce us. If you don’t, we might just tell you to **** off!’ That was encouragement? I couldn’t speak after that…

Chris Thomas – from The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Ken Scott was engineering. He was 21. I was 21. The tape op was probably 20. Here we were with the biggest band on the planet. It was ridiculous!

Chris Thomas – from “The Beatles” super deluxe book, 2018

In reality, at this stage of their career, the presence of a true producer was not as important as it was in their early days. And it’s fair to assume that, during the absence of George Martin, they were in reality kind-of producing themselves.

Before recording the first take of “Helter Skelter“, they played “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care“, a song written by Leiber and Stoller, recorded by Elvis Presley in 1957 and Buddy Holly in 1958.

About the recording of “Helter Skelter“, from Wikipedia:

Chris Thomas produced the 9 September session in George Martin’s absence. He recalled the 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.” Ringo Starr recalled: “‘Helter Skelter’ was a track we did in total madness and hysterics in the studio. Sometimes you just had to shake out the jams.”

On 9 September, 18 takes lasting approximately five minutes each were recorded, with the last one featured on the original LP. At around 3:40, the song completely fades out, then gradually fades back in, fades back out partially, and finally fades back in quickly with three cymbal crashes and shouting from Starr. During the end of the 18th take, he threw his drum sticks across the studio and screamed, “I got blisters on my fingers!” Starr’s shout was only included on the stereo mix of the song; the mono version (originally on LP only) ends on the first fadeout without Starr’s outburst.

The version on the album was out of control. They were completely out of their heads that night. But, as usual, a blind eye was turned to what the Beatles did in the studio. Everyone knew what substances they were taking but they were really a law unto themselves in the studio. As long as they didn’t do anything too outrageous things were tolerated.

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

They recorded 18 takes, numbered from take 4 to take 21, decided that take 21 was the best. Overdubs would be added the day after.

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 26, 2021

Songs recorded


1.


2.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 4


3.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 5


4.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 6


5.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 7


6.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 8


7.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 9


8.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 10


9.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 11


10.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 12


11.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 13


12.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 14


13.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 15


14.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 16


15.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 17

Album Officially released on The Beatles (2018)


16.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 18


17.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 19


18.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 20


19.

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • Remake - Take 21

Staff

Musicians

Paul McCartney:
Electric guitar (on "Helter Skelter")
Ringo Starr:
Drums (on "Helter Skelter")
John Lennon:
Bass guitar (on "Helter Skelter")

Production staff

Chris Thomas:
Producer
Ken Scott:
Engineer
John Smith:
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/1968/09/09/recording-helter-skelter/

Contribute!

Have you spotted an error on the page? Do you want to suggest new content? Or do you simply want to leave a comment ? Please use the form below!

Your comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.