Recording "Helter Skelter"

Monday, September 9, 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.
Timeline More from year 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Master album


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About

The Beatles had started recording “Helter Skelter” as a slow blues jam on July 18, 1968. On this day, from 7 pm to 2:30 am, 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 holiday.

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

An awful lot has been written about the Beatles being at odds with each other the entire time they were recording the White Album, but that to me is completely false […] For my book, I did an interview with Chris Thomas, who at that time was George Martin’s assistant. When Chris came back from a holiday [at the end of the first week of September ’68], there was a note from George [Martin] saying he had also gone on vacation and that Chris should go along to the studio and help out. Suddenly, having never produced anything in his entire life, Chris was the Beatles’ producer. Still, when I ended our interview with the standard ‘Is there anything else you would like to say?’ Chris’s immediate comment was, ‘Yeah, please let everyone know it was fun; it was nowhere near as bad as has been stated. We loved it.’ So, there are several of us who don’t see it the same way as other people. We had a blast. It was great.

Ken Scott – From The Beatles ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (soundonsound.com)

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.

They recorded 18 takes, numbered from take 4 to take 21, and lasting approximately five minutes each. The last one – take 21 – was considered the best, and would be the 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 Ringo Starr. During the end of take 21, 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 fade-out 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

“Helter Skelter” was a track we did in total madness and hysterics in the studio. Sometimes you just had to shake out the jams. Paul started screaming and shouting and made it up on the spot.

Ringo Starr – from the Beatles Anthology

I went into the studio and said, ‘Hey, look, I’ve read this thing. Let’s do it!’ We got the engineers and (the producer) to hike up the drum sound and really get it as loud and horrible as it could and we played it and said, ‘No, it still sounds too safe, it’s got to get louder and dirtier.’ We tried everything we could to dirty it up.

Paul McCartney – from the Beatles Anthology

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. All in all, a pretty undisciplined session, you could say!

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

That wasn’t a joke put-on: his hands were actually bleeding at the end of the take, he’d been drumming so ferociously. We did work very hard on that track.

Paul McCartney – about Ringo Starr shouting “I got blisters on my fingers!”

Overdubs would be added the day after, 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 19, 2021

Songs recorded



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 (50th anniversary boxset)


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 on Helter Skelter

Paul McCartney:
Guide vocal, Electric guitar
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Bass guitar
George Harrison:
Electric guitar

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/

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