Thursday, February 16, 2006

Helter Skelter

AUTHORSHIP McCartney (1.00)
Paul came up with the idea for "Helter Skelter" in Scotland after reading an interview with Pete Townshend in which he described the Who's new single, "I Can See For Miles", as the loudest, rawest, dirtiest and most uncompromising song they had ever done.

McCARTNEY, referring to a Pete Townshend interview in Melody Maker: "He said the Who had made some track that was the loudest, the most raucous rock 'n' roll, the dirtiest thing they'd ever done. It made me think, 'Right. Got to do it.' I like that kind of geeking up. And we decided to do the loudest, nastiest, sweatiest rock number we could. That was 'Helter Skelter.' " Musician (February 1985)

McCARTNEY: "I was always trying to write something different, trying to not write in character, and I read this and I was inspired, Oh, wow! Yeah! Just that one little paragraph was 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, et cetera et cetera. I was using the symbol of a 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. You could have thought of it as a rather cute title but it's since taken on all sorts of ominous overtones because Manson picked it up as an anthem, and since then quite a few punk bands have done it because it is a raunchy rocker.
"I went into the studio and said, 'Hey, look, I've read this thing. Let's do it!' We got the engineers and George Martin to hike up the drum sound and really get it as loud and horrible as it could and we played it and said, 'No, it still sounds too safe, it's got to get louder and dirtier.' We tried everything we could to dirty it up and in the end you can hear Ringo say, 'I've got blisters on my fingers.' That wasn't a joke put-on: his hands were actually bleeding at the end of the take, he'd been drumming so ferociously. We did work very hard on that track. Unfortunately it inspired people to evil deeds." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now

The first version, recorded July 18, 1968, at Abbey Road, was about twenty-seven minutes long. The album version was recorded September 9 with an overdub added September 10. This was recorded on an eight-track machine that EMI had just installed. The Long and Winding Road: An Intimate Guide to the Beatles

BRIAN GIBSON, technical engineer: "The version on the album was out of control. They were completely out of their heads that night. But, as usual, a blind eye was turned to what the Beatles did in the studio. Everyone knew what substances they were taking, but they were really a law unto themselves in the studio." The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970

McCARTNEY: bass, lead guitar, lead vocal
LENNON: bass, lead guitar, saxophone, backing vocal
HARRISON: rhythm guitar, backing vocal
STARR: drums
MAL EVANS: trumpet

At the end of the song, Ringo screams, "I got blisters on my fingers!" The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970

Convicted murderer Charles Manson took the title as the name for the race war and apocalypse he believed was destined to happen when the Black Panthers would rise up and kill the white "piggies." Manson had his group commit the Tate and LaBianca murders to show blacks how to "rise." In England the term helter skelter applies to an amusement-park slide.
Lennon found Manson's interpretation of "Helter Skelter" absurd. Manson's zealous reading of lyric signs and symbols was typical of Beatle fans, but - also typical, Lennon said - he came up with a message that simply did not exist in the song. December 1970, Lennon Remembers: The Full Rolling Stone Interviews from 1970

MANSON: "Like, Helter Skelter is a nightclub. Helter Skelter means confusion. Literally. It doesn't mean any war with anyone. It doesn't mean that those people are going to kill other people. It only means what it means. Helter Skelter is confusion. Confusion is coming down fast. If you don't see the confusion coming down fast, you can call it what you wish. It's not my conspiracy. It is not my music. I hear what it relates. It says 'Rise!' It says 'Kill!' Why blame it on me? I didn't write the music. I am not the person who projected it into your social consciousness." November 17, 1970, via Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now

His followers could also be unbalanced, crazed people looking for a leader, twisting his message in their minds. The Charles Manson gang had it in their heads that "Helter Skelter" was an incitement to kill. They sang "Magical Mystery Tour" as they proceeded to take people away. When Manson himself was caught the only book in his room, and the one he was reading at the time, was my biography of the Beatles. It was a chilling realization of what could happen. And what did happen, once again, in December 1980. Hunter Davies, John Lennon: A Tribute (intro to The Beatles: Illustrated and Updated Edition)

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