‘Helter Skelter’: The Story Behind The Song

Arguably The Beatles’ most visceral moment on record, ‘Helter Skelter’ grew from a bluesy jam into what’s been cited as the world’s first heavy metal song.

Preparing to record ‘Blackbird’ at Abbey Road Studio Two one evening, Paul McCartney warmed up with an early version of ‘Helter Skelter’. A light yet funky acoustic piece with a falsetto vocal, this nascent version sat at the opposite end of the spectrum to the screaming rocker that would eventually grace side three of The Beatles’ “White Album”.

‘Helter Skelter’ went through a number of incarnations as Paul sought to create the heaviest Beatles track yet. In an interview with Radio Luxembourg in November 1968, he talked about the song’s origins: “I’d read a review of a record, which said ‘and this group…’ it was about some group, I can’t even remember, saying, ‘This group really goes wild and they just stuck echo on everything, they’re screaming their heads off,’ and I just remember thinking, Oh, it would be great to do one like that, it’s a pity they’ve done it. It must be great, a really screaming record. And then I heard their record and it was quite straight, and it was very sort of sophisticated, and wasn’t rough and screaming and tape echo at all. So I thought, Ah, 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 ’cause I like noise.”

 

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