Helter Skelter - The Beatles

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"Helter Skelter" - The Beatles (1968)

McCartney said the origins of “Helter Skelter” was when he heard the song “I Can See for Miles” by The Who.

Taking this up as a challenge to top what The Who had one, McCartney stated in his autobiography:

“There’s echo on energy on everything, they’re screaming their heads off. And I remember thinking, ‘Oh, it’d be great to do one. Must be great- really screaming record. So I thought, Oh well, we’ll do one like that, then. 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, I want to do it even dirtier.’ As loud and as filthy as you can get it is where I want to go.”

Lennon commented on the track:

“It has nothing to do with anything, and least of all to do with me.”

Beatle scholar Ken Womack wrote that the phrase "Helter Skelter" refers to the spiral slides on the English playgrounds of the Beatles’ youth, although in Paul’s composition, the childhood thrill ride takes on very different, highly sexualized connotations, when he sings; “Do you, don’t you want me to love you?/I’m coming down fast…”

Consider the “heaviest” number in the Beatles catalogue, "Helter Skelter" proves that the Beatles could blow all competition in that genre away if they really wanted to. McCartney’s Paul’s violent screaming and a thundering, snapping bass line, was heavier than anything else at the time- Hendrix and The Who included. One of the engineers in the studio recalled that during the session “they were completely out of their heads.”

If nothing else,  "Helter Skelter" witnesses the Beatles in the act of evoking the sound and metal of pure unadulterated terror. With its shouts and its screams and its scorching guitar work, it heightens our sense of trauma through a series of three false endings.

Author Jonathan Gould commented:

“The cannonade of crashes, crescendos, throbbing machine rhythms and phallocentric guitar riffs that surrounds Paul’s outlandish performance is the sound of heavy metal music before the genre got its name.”

"Helter Skelter" had a direct impact on future heavy metal drummers. Ringo cut the snare-drum beats in half which led to a certain “heaviness” to the music. This was the first time drums had been manipulated in this way. Ringo plays steadily on the back end of the beat but although he sits back on the beat, he creates and sustains the tension crucial to the song through timbral manipulation. This provided enormous inspiration and influence for drummers in heavy metal bands in the decades that followed.


 

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