The Paul McCartney Project

Helter Skelter

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Album This song officially appears on the The Beatles (Mono) Official album.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1968
Sessions This song has been recorded during the following sessions

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

Helter Skelter” is a song written by Paul McCartney, credited to Lennon–McCartney, and recorded by the Beatles on their eponymous LP The Beatles, often known as “the White Album“. A product of McCartney’s deliberate effort to create a sound as loud and dirty as possible, the song has been noted for both its “proto-metal roar” and “unique textures” and is considered by music historians as a key influence in the early development of heavy metal. In a special stand-alone issue, Rolling Stone ranked “Helter Skelter” 52nd on its “100 Greatest Beatles songs” list.

Writing and inspiration

McCartney was inspired to write the song after reading a 1967 Guitar Player magazine interview with the Who’s Pete Townshend where he described their latest single, “I Can See for Miles“, as the loudest, rawest, dirtiest song the Who had ever recorded. McCartney then “wrote ‘Helter Skelter’ to be the most raucous vocal, the loudest drums, et cetera” and said he was “using the symbol of a helter skelter as a ride from the top to the bottom; the rise and fall of the Roman Empire – and this was the fall, the demise.” In British English, the term “helter-skelter” not only has its meaning of “in disorderly haste or confusion” but is the name of a spiralling amusement park slide. McCartney has used this song as a response to critics who accuse him of writing only ballads.

On 20 November 1968, two days before the release of The Beatles, McCartney gave Radio Luxembourg an exclusive interview, in which he commented on several of the album’s songs. Speaking of “Helter Skelter“, he said: “Umm, that came about just ’cause I’d read a review of a record which said, ‘and this group really got us wild, there’s echo on everything, they’re screaming their heads off.’ And I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, it’d be great to do one. Pity they’ve done it. Must be great – really screaming record.’ And then I heard their record and it was quite straight, and it was very sort of sophisticated. It wasn’t rough and screaming and tape echo at all. So I thought, ‘Oh well, we’ll do one like that, then.’ And I had this song called ‘Helter Skelter,’ which is just a ridiculous song. So we did it like that, ‘cuz I like noise.

Recording

The song was recorded many times during sessions for the White Album. During the 18 July 1968 sessions, the Beatles recorded a version of the song lasting 27 minutes and 11 seconds, although this version is rather slow and hypnotic, differing greatly from the volume and rawness of the album version. Another recording from the same day, originally 12 minutes long, was edited down to 4:37 for Anthology 3. On 9 September, 18 takes of approximately five minutes each were recorded, and the last one is featured on the original LP. After the 18th take, Ringo Starr flung his drum sticks across the studio and screamed, “I got blisters on my fingers!” Starr’s shout was included on the stereo mix of the song. At around 3:40, the song almost fades out, then quickly fades back in with three cymbal crashes and Ringo’s scream (some sources erroneously credit the “blisters” line to Lennon; in fact, Lennon can be heard asking “How’s that?” before Ringo’s outburst). The mono version (originally on LP only) ends on the first fadeout without Starr’s outburst. The mono version was not initially available in the US as mono albums had already been phased out there. The mono version was later released in the American version of the Rarities album. In 2009, it was made available on the CD mono re-issue of the White Album as part of the Beatles in Mono CD box set.

According to Chris Thomas, who was present, the 9 September 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.” Starr’s recollection is less detailed, but agrees in spirit: “‘Helter Skelter’ was a track we did in total madness and hysterics in the studio. Sometimes you just had to shake out the jams.

Critical reaction

Among music critics commenting on “Helter Skelter“, Richie Unterberger of AllMusic views it as “one of [the] fiercest and most brutal rockers done by anyone” and “extraordinary“. Writing for MusicHound in 1999, Guitar World editor Christopher Scapelliti identified the track as one of three “fascinating standouts” on the White Album. While admiring the diversity of McCartney’s songwriting on the album, Mark Richardson of Pitchfork Media cites “Helter Skelter” as one of “the roughest, rawest tunes in his Beatles oeuvre“.

Ian MacDonald was highly critical of the song, however, calling it “ridiculous, McCartney shrieking weedily against a massively tape-echoed backdrop of out-of-tune thrashing“. Rob Sheffield was also unimpressed, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) that, following the double album’s release on CD, “now you can program ‘Sexy Sadie’ and ‘Long, Long, Long’ without having to lift the needle to skip over ‘Helter Skelter.’” Alan W. Pollack said the song will “scare and unsettle” listeners, citing “Helter Skelter“‘s “obsessive nature” and “undercurrent of violence“, and noted McCartney’s “savage vocal delivery” as reinforcing this theme.

In a 1980 interview, Lennon said, “That’s Paul completely … It has nothing to do with anything, and least of all to do with me.

In March 2005, Q magazine ranked “Helter Skelter” number 5 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.

Charles Manson

Charles Manson told his followers that several White Album songs including “Helter Skelter” were a part of the Beatles’ coded prophecy of an apocalyptic war in which racist and non-racist whites would be manoeuvred into virtually exterminating each other over the treatment of blacks. Upon the war’s conclusion, after black militants would kill off the few whites they would know to have survived, Manson and his companions would emerge from an underground city in which they would have escaped the conflict. As the only remaining whites, they would rule blacks, who, as the vision went, would be incapable of running America. Manson employed “helter skelter” as the term for this sequence of events.

Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi, who led the prosecution of Manson and four of his followers who acted on Manson’s instruction in the Tate-LaBianca murders, named his best-selling book about the murders Helter Skelter. The book was the basis for two television movies of the same title. […]

Paul McCartney live performances

Since 2004 McCartney has performed the song with his band on every tour, starting on 24 May 2004, while on the ’04 Summer Tour, through The ‘US’ Tour (2005), the Summer Live ’09 (2009), the Good Evening Europe Tour (2009), the Up and Coming Tour (2010/2011), the On the Run Tour (2011/2012) and the Out There Tour, which started on 4 May 2013. In the last tours, the song has been generally inserted on the third encore, which is the last time the band enters the stage. It is usually the last but one song, performed after “Yesterday” and before the final medley including “The End“.

Paul McCartney performed the song live at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards on 8 February 2006 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. In 2009, McCartney performed the song live on top of the Ed Sullivan Theater during his appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.

The version of the song from McCartney’s live album Good Evening New York City, recorded during the Summer Live ’09 tour, was nominated at the 53rd Grammy Awards in the category of Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance. It won, becoming McCartney’s first solo Grammy win since he won for arranging “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” in 1972.

McCartney opened his set at 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief with the song. […]

Paul McCartney in "Many Years From Now", by Barry Miles:

I was in Scotland and I read in Melody Maker that Pete Townshend had said: ‘We’ve just made the raunchiest, loudest, most ridiculous rock ‘n’ roll record you’ve ever heard.’ I never actually found out what track it was that The Who had made, but that got me going; just hearing him talk about it. So I said to the guys, ‘I think we should do a song like that; something really wild.’ And I wrote Helter Skelter.

You can hear the voices cracking, and we played it so long and so often that by the end of it you can hear Ringo saying,’I’ve got blisters on my fingers’. We just tried to get it louder: ‘Can’t we make the drums sound louder?’ That was really all I wanted to do – to make a very loud, raunchy rock ‘n’ roll record with The Beatles. And I think it’s a pretty good one. […]

I was using the symbol of a helter skelter as a ride from the top to the bottom – the rise and fall of the Roman Empire – and this was the fall, the demise, the going down. You could have thought of it as a rather cute title but it’s since taken on all sorts of ominous overtones because Manson picked it up as an anthem, and since then quite a few punk bands have done it because it is a raunchy rocker.

Paul McCartney, in MOJO, July 2004:

In the late ’60s, there were some preposterous interpretations of what The Beatles were doing and saying. After Pepper came out, I’d get these nutters turning up at my front door, all claiming they were the real-life Mr. Kite. Then there was the whole “Paul is dead” thing. John was supposed to have said, “I buried Paul” at the end of Strawberry Fields Forever, although what he actually said was “cranberry sauce”. I took my sandals off for the cover of Abbey Road because it was a warm day but, to some people, this was conclusive proof that I’d actually snuffed it.

The whole Manson thing took it onto another, far scarier level. A song like “Helter Skelter” is really the idea of an amusement ride as a metaphor for the fall and rise of civilisation. But it’s nothing to do with murder or the end of the world. Suddenly, though, The Beatles were the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse and The White Album was meant to have ordered these murders to take place. Well, OK, there were four of us but we weren’t on bloody horseback. Then some smartarse points out that we did actually ride horses in the “Penny Lane” video. So we’re band to rights. If I learnt anything from the whole Manson episode, it was not to read too much meaning into songs because that can get fairly freaky.

From The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations:

  • [a] mono 17 Sep 1968. edited.
    UK: Apple PMC 7068 white album 1968.
    US: Capitol SHAL12060 Rarities 1980.
  • [b] stereo 12 Oct 1968. edited.
    UK: Apple PCS 7068 white album 1968.
    US: Apple SWBO 101 white album 1968.
    CD: EMI CDP 7 46443 2 white album 1987.

The basic song runs about 3:10 to a pause shortly after Paul’s distorted vocal, too close to the microphone. Mono [a] then is edited into more of the same take, with sound effects noises, and fades at 3:36. Stereo [b] is edited instead to a different part of the take, fading out and then back in again, with another edit, ending finally at 4:29 after Ringo shouts “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”.

Is the distorted vocal “Can you hear me speaking– woo!” or “My baby is sleeping, ooh!, dreaming”?

From 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.

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 November 2, 2018

Lyrics

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
Till I get to the bottom and I see you again

Do you, don't you want me to love you?
I'm coming down fast but I'm miles above you
Tell me, tell me, tell me, come on tell me the answer
You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer

Helter skelter
Helter skelter
Helter skelter

Will you, won't you want me to make you?
I'm coming down fast but don't let me break you
Tell me, tell me, tell me the answer
You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer

Look out!
Helter skelter
Helter skelter
Helter skelter

Look out!
'Cause here she comes

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide
And I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
And I get to the bottom and I see you again

Well do you, don't you want me to make you?
I'm coming down fast but don't let me break you
Tell me, tell me, tell me your answer
You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer

Look out!
Helter skelter
Helter skelter
Helter skelter

Look out!
Helter skelter
She's coming down fast
Yes she is
Yes she is
Coming down fast

I got blisters on my fingers!

Officially appears on


The Beatles (Mono)

Official album • Released in 1968

4:30 • Studio versionA • Mono

Paul McCartney:
Electric guitar, Vocals
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Backing vocals, Bass guitar, Tenor saxophone
George Harrison:
Backing vocals, Electric guitar
Mal Evans:
Trumpet
Chris Thomas:
Producer
Ken Scott:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Sep 09, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Sep 10, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Sep 17, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


The Beatles (Stereo)

Official album • Released in 1968

4:30 • Studio versionB • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Electric guitar, Vocals
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Backing vocals, Bass guitar, Tenor saxophone
George Harrison:
Backing vocals, Electric guitar
Mal Evans:
Trumpet
Chris Thomas:
Producer
Ken Scott:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Sep 09, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Sep 10, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 12, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


Anthology 3

Official album • Released in 1996

4:38 • OuttakeC • Mono • Part of take 2. [...] 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.

George Martin:
Producer
Ken Scott:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Jul 18, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


Love

Official album • Released in 2006

3:22 • Studio versionD • As the title suggests, the track contains the whole of "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite", the guitars from "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and heavily delayed vocals from "Helter Skelter". This track also contains horse sounds from "Good Morning, Good Morning", harmonium and other elements from "Cry Baby Cry" and laughter from "Piggies".

George Martin:
Producer
Giles Martin:
Producer
Paul Hicks:
Remix engineer
Sam Okell:
Remix engineer assistant
Chris Bolster:
Remix engineer assistant
Mirek Stiles:
Remix engineer assistant

Session Mixing:
Circa 2004-2006
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


Good Evening New York City

Official live • Released in 2009

3:48 • LiveL1 • Could have been record on 17, 18 or 21 July 2009

Paul McCartney:
Executive producer
Performed by:
Paul McCartneyRusty AndersonAbe Laboriel Jr.Paul WickensBrian Ray
Geoff Emerick:
Audio mixing
Paul Hicks:
Audio mixing
Jonas Westling:
Additional engineering
Richard Lancaster:
Additional engineering
John Henry:
Recording

Concert From the concert in New York, USA on Jul 17, 2009


The Beatles (2018)

Official album • Released in 2018

4:30 • Studio versionR2018 • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Electric guitar, Vocals
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Backing vocals, Bass guitar, Tenor saxophone
George Harrison:
Backing vocals, Electric guitar
Mal Evans:
Trumpet
Chris Thomas:
Producer
Ken Scott:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Sep 09, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Sep 10, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 12, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


The Beatles (2018)

Official album • Released in 2018

Outtake • First version – Take 2

Session Recording:
Jul 18, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


The Beatles (2018)

Official album • Released in 2018

Outtake • Second version – Take 17

Live performances

“Helter Skelter” has been played in 267 concerts.

Latest concerts where “Helter Skelter” has been played




Krakow • Tauron Arena

Dec 03, 2018 • Part of Freshen Up Tour


Copenhagen • Royal Arena

Nov 30, 2018 • Part of Freshen Up Tour




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