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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 334
Sat, Dec 15, 2012

“Helter Skelter”
The Beatles

1968

“♫ Tell
me/ tell me/
tell me the
answer/ You
may be a
lover but
you ain’t no
dancer
♫”

When was a young Beatles fan hearing the ending of “Helter Skelter” would literally scare the crap out of me. You have to remember this was the late nineteen seventies, way before the introduction of the information super highway and it was also the ‘hey day’ of the “Paul is Dead” hoaxes. Around my neighborhood I heard rumors of which voice was at the climax of being the loudest song on The Beatles’ White Album— “Helter Skelter.”

I remember gathering my friends around the record player and spinning side three and as “Helter Skelter” fades back in, just before the final coda, when the instruments sound smashing and spewing out of the speaker like it’s coming out of hell is a voice that screams, “I’ve Got Blisters On My Fingers!” Someone in our neighborhood spread the tale that not only was Charles Manson the crazy voice at the end of “Helter Skelter” but his voice was captured with blood on his hands at the scene of the crime.

Looking back, of course it’s preposterous that The Beatles would sample Charles Manson’s voice on their album. First and foremost, Manson committed his crimes after The While Album was released. Secondly, I was a youngster with a very vivid imagination and I was gullible. What got me was the title of the song. What was a “Helter Skelter?” To a child that title just sounds plain evil. Through in the fear that our parents shared about Charles Manson and our little minds leaped to these thrilling but make believe theories were nothing but childlike conjecture.

The older and more schooled Beatles fan I became I realized the error in my over eager imaginative ways. “Helter Skelter” was the name of a spiraled amusement park slide found in England. And The Beatles were just trying to out duel The Who by recording the loudest rock in roll song in history as Paul McCartney explained when he said, “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.”

It’s obvious that Paul’s “Helter Skelter” was one of the sonic seeds that would later birth heavy metal. Released in 1968, “Helter” was unleashed to the world a full year before Zeppelin hit the scene with Jimmy Page. Former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl admitted that songs like “Helter Skelter” inspired him to become a rocker as he wrote in the liner notes to 2011 compilation Tomorrow Never Knows, “If it weren’t for The Beatles, I would not be a musician. It’s as simple as that. From a very young age I became fascinated with their songs, and over the years have drowned myself in the depth of their catalogue. Their groove and their swagger. Their grace and their beauty. Their dark and their light. The Beatles seemed to be capable of anything. They knew no boundaries, and in that freedom they seemed to define what we now know today as ‘Rock and Roll.’”

Not many Beatles fans realize that is was Paul and not John who wrote this killer classic. Paul talked about his intentions behind “Helter Skelter” when he explained in Barry Miles book Many Years From Now, “I was always trying to write something different, trying to not write in character, and I read [what Pete said] and I was inspired. Oh Wow! Yeah! Just make that one little paragraph enough to inspire me: to make me, make a move. So I sat down and wrote “Helter Skelter” to be the most raucous vocal, the loudest drums. I was using the symbol of 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.

Ironically enough, the only thing I ever wanted to do, while spinning “Helter Skelter” is to crank the volume all the way up. Cacophony never sound this brilliant as it does when The Beatles riffed this three chord symphony of metallic genius. So maybe Manson didn’t scream at the end of “Skelter,” McCartney’s thrilling ride is a gyre adventure beyond sight and sound. I believe John Lennon said it best in Ken Scott’s new book Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust when after listening to an early playback of “Helter Skelter,” Lennon turned to engineer Chris Thomas, before walking out of the recording studio, and said “Thanks for the trip!

And here’s any early slow groove take 2 of Helter Skelter from Anthology 3:

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