Song Facts: The Beatles — "Helter Skelter"

by Chris Gill
Posted Nov 25, 2013 at 6:16am

Paul McCartney was generally known for writing "silly love songs" like "Yesterday" or cheeky whimsy like "When I'm Sixty-Four," but occasionally he could rock every bit as hard as John Lennon.

While The Beatles recorded numerous violent rockers, few were more fiery, savage and controversial than McCartney's "Helter Skelter."

In this case, McCartney was attempting to outdo not Lennon but rather The Who. After reading an interview with Pete Townshend, who claimed that "I Can See for Miles" was the loudest rock and roll record ever made, McCartney decided to outdo The Who in the most outrageous manner he could conceive.

"Helter Skelter" was the second song, after "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," to be recorded on one of Abbey Road's new 3M eight-track recorders. George Martin was on vacation at the time, leaving his assistant, Chris Thomas, behind to oversee the increasingly rebellious band.

Of the instruments initially recorded for "Helter Skelter," The Beatles kept only the bass and drum tracks, alongside which they overdubbed a new electric guitar part and a lead vocal track. Ringo Starr recorded two drum overdubs, including a part featuring a snare drum processed with repeat echo that was recorded on a single track along with Harrison and McCartney's descending guitar riff, which they played in unison.

Lennon and Mal Evans laid down dissonant horns, and Starr added the finishing touch, screaming "I've got blisters on my fingers!" at the song's cacophonous conclusion.

McCartney's lyrics were essentially nonsense ramblings about an amusement park slide and a loose metaphor for the rise and fall of the Roman empire. Cult leader Charles Manson, however, thought the song prophesized Armageddon, and it inspired him to mastermind several horrific murders.

His act transformed "Helter Skelter" into the most controversial song in The Beatles' catalog, a million miles removed from the youthful innocence of "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

RECORDED: September 9 and 10,1968, at Abbey Road Studio Two


Add a Comment
0 Comments

Similar Guitar News

Guide to The Beatles' White Album: the Recording Equipment, the Songs, the Conflicts (11/22/2014)
Having opened a Pandora's box with their critically acclaimed and commercially successful album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles faced serious competition from a variety of open-minded artists who were expanding rock music's ba...
Guide to the Recording Equipment and Instruments Featured on The Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (6/2/2014)
The studio experimentation that had begun with Revolver advanced to the next level on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In many ways, 1966 had been a watershed for the Beatles. They had broken from the two-albums-per-year formula that had ...
Dear Guitar Hero: Donovan Recalls Working with The Beatles, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page — and Welcoming Jimi Hendrix to England (5/21/2014)
He’s a famous Sixties folk-pop troubadour who worked with Jimmy Page and played with the Beatles. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is… What do you call your unique picking technique, and which artists inspired it? — Dingy Bell I...
Song Facts: The Beatles — "Let It Be" (Both Versions) (5/8/2014)
Attentive Beatles fans who purchased Let It Be when it came out in May 1970 noticed something very different about the album version of the title track: The guitar solo was markedly changed from what they'd heard on the "Let It Be" single releas...
Tribute to The Beatles: Virtuoso Al Di Meola Puts His Signature Style on 14 Fab Tunes (2/18/2014)
Whether he’s racing with devils on Spanish highways or chasing aliens in Arabian deserts, Al Di Meola has enjoyed a career highlighted by new musical adventures in exotic locales. His latest call of duty? Recording a tribute to one of his favor...
Album Review: The Beatles — 'The U.S. Albums' (2/18/2014)
Unless you’ve been under a rock, missed the Grammys and close your eyes while you’re at the grocery store checkout, you’ve probably noticed it’s the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in the U.S. To mark the occasion, there’s a new box s...
Lesson: The Acoustic Artistry of The Beatles' George Harrison (2/11/2014)
Of the four Beatles, George Harrison brought to the group an assortment of electric and acoustic guitar approaches, flavors influenced by everyone from Chet Atkins and Carl Perkins to the Byrds and Bob Dylan. Harrison’s pioneering use of the Ri...
The Fab 50: The Beatles' 50 Greatest Guitar Moments (2/7/2014)
On the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' arrival in the United States (and legendary February 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show), Guitar World celebrates the 50 best guitar moments from the band's hit-making history. The Beatles were such t...
The Beatles US Albums: a disc-by-disc guide (2/6/2014)
Read more about The Beatles US Albums: a disc-by-disc guide at MusicRadar.com Between January of 1964 and February of 1970, Cap
David Crosby on the impact of The Beatles: "They changed my life" (2/4/2014)
Read more about David Crosby on the impact of The Beatles: "They changed my life" at MusicRadar.com THE BEATLES IN THE USA: "A friend of mine brought home the record Meet The Beatles. We were living in Chicago at the time, over a grocery store, ...
The Beatles in the USA (2/1/2014)
Read more about The Beatles in the USA at MusicRadar.com 50 years ago this week, The Beatles made their debut performance on the Ed Sullivan Show - and the world never sounded the same again. To celebrate half a century since Liverpool's likelie...
From Bo Diddley to The Beatles to U2, Gretsch Guitars Have Been a Key Part of Rock and Roll’s Explosion (12/30/2013)
From the GW Archive: This story originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Guitar World. From Bo Diddley to the Beatles to U2, Gretsch Guitars have been a key part of rock and roll’s big explosion. Guitar World celebrates more than 125 y...
The Making of The Beatles’ U.S. Albums (12/20/2013)
As the Beatles’ camp gets ready to roll out The U.S. Albums box set next month, we thought it was a good time to explore why this new release even exists. Didn’t Apple Corps reissue remastered versions of the group’s catalog just a few years ag...
The Beatles' 13 US Albums to Be Released as Box Set in January (12/12/2013)
Even though the ink is still drying on the Beatles' latest BBC collection, On Air — Live at the BBC Volume 2, there is more Beatles product on the horizon. A new box set, which will be released in early 2014, will reissue the band's 13 American ...
Abbey Road Engineer Ken Scott Says The Beatles' White Album Sessions Were a "Blast" (11/22/2013)
Ken Scott — one of only a handful of recording engineers to have worked side by side with the Beatles — has stories to tell. Good stories. And lucky for us, he loves telling them. To emphasize the point, Scott recently publishing a 500-page memo...