Paul McCartney wanted to write the "loudest, nastiest, sweatiest rock number we could" after reading a Pete Townshend interview describing a Who track (possibly "I Can See For Miles
") as "The most raucous rock 'n' roll, the dirtiest thing they'd ever done." This was the result. Some historians of popular music now believe that this song was a key influence on the development of heavy metal.
McCartney told Mojo
magazine October 2008: "Just reading those lines (of the Townshend interview) fired my imagination. I thought, Right, they've done what they think was the loudest and dirtiest; we'll do what we think. I went into the studio and told the guys, 'Look, I've got this song but Pete said this and I want to do it even dirtier.' It was a great brief for the engineers, for everyone- just as fuzzy and as dirty and as loud and as filthy as you can get it is where I want to go. I was happy to have Pete's quote to get me there."
The first version was a 27-minute jam that was never released. During the July 18, 1968 sessions, The Beatles recorded this version, which was much slower and much more tame than the album version. Another recording from the same day was edited down to 4:37 for The Beatles Anthology, Volume III. For the album version, recorded September 9, 21 takes of approximately 5 minutes each were recorded, and the last one is featured on the official LP.
In December 1968, Charles Manson heard this song, as well as others from The White Album, and interpreted them as a warning of an approaching race war. He saw the Beatles as the four angels mentioned in the New Testament book of Revelation and believed their songs were telling him and his followers to prepare themselves. Manson referred to this future war as "Helter Skelter," and tried to ignite it by sending his followers to invade two homes and murder the inhabitants, making it look like the work of the Black Panthers.
The word "Pig" was written in blood at the crime scenes, and the phrase "Healter Skelter" (a misspelling of the Beatles song) was scrawled at the second home, the one belonging to The Labiancas.
Because of this connection, Los Angeles assistant District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi, who led the prosecution of Manson and the other killers, named his best-selling book about the murders Helter Skelter. Bugliosi's book was the basis for a film of the same title.
In an interview with Lennon in the January 1971 edition of Rolling Stone, the former Beatle was asked about his reaction to Manson's deluded interpretation of this song. Lennon replied: "He's balmy, like any other Beatle-kind of fan who reads mysticism into it. We used to have a laugh about this, that or the other, in a light-hearted way, and some intellectual would read us, some symbolic youth generation wants to see something in it. We also took seriously some parts of the role, but I don't know what 'Helter Skelter' has to do with knifing somebody. I've never listened to the words, properly, it was just a noise."
As for Manson, he disputed Bugliosi's interpretation of the Helter Skelter theory he used to prosecute the case, telling Rolling Stone, "that doesn't even make insane sense." (thanks, Mike - Mountlake Terrace, Washington, for above 2)
Ringo played the drums so forcefully that his shout of "I've got blisters on my fingers!" accompanies the musical fadeout. Ringo explained what happened in The Miami Herald June 29, 2008: "The track was actually very long, and we were just pounding. It was a jam, really, it turned into that. And at the end, the only way off the kit was, 'Look, my fingers are bleeding, and I just have to get up.'' And I decided to shout it." (thanks, William - Miami, FL)
The song is named after a slide at a British amusement park. The first line is a joke about this: "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." Learn more about the ride in Song Images
The recording session was particularly raucous.
Don McLean mentions this in his song "American Pie
" ("Helter Skelter in a summer swelter"), a rather clear reference to the Manson family killing spree. (thanks, Mike - Mountlake Terrace, WA. U.S.A)
In 2006, McCartney played this on the Grammy Awards. It was the first time he performed on the Grammys. On his 2010 tour, McCartney included it on the setlist. McCartney's lead guitarist Rusty Anderson explained how it got in the set: "I was working on Paul for 'Helter Skelter' since the first time we played the Super Bowl, before we even went on tour (in 2002 A.D.). I said 'Hey, y'know what would be a really rad song to play, Paul?' He said 'what?' I said 'Helter Skelter,' and he goes (imitates McCartney) 'Oh, yeah' (laughs). It took him a while to warm up to it. And we kept prodding him and prodding him and he put it in the set -- but we still hadn't rehearsed it. We said, 'Paul are we gonna rehearse 'Helter Skelter?' And finally we did it... and I remember playing it at rehearsal and some of the pre-show dancers started coming out and dancing and rocking to it and all of a sudden he started realizing how great it is." (thanks, DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation)