The Beatles are not really associated with hard rock. Certainly up there as the greatest band of all time, they are not ranked among the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, or Led Zeppelin. All those other musical entities are labeled as heavy rockers of the generation. But there is a song by the Beatles that is regarded as a key influence in the early development of heavy metal.
That song is ‘Helter Skelter’ and was released in their 1968 album The Beatles. It is one of their iconic songs and was written by Paul McCartney. It is referred to as the Beatles’ hardest and heaviest song. The song may not be that satisfying melodically, but the energy in the song can be felt by everyone.
Talking about the song, Paul has revealed the song is about the rise and fall from the top to the bottom. While talking about it with Barry Miles for ‘Many Years From Now’, he said, “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.”
However, most people know about the song for a different reason. And it’s not a good one. Hippie cult leader, Charles Manson used the song to vision his apocalypse. He even told a court about the song. He deems that the song is confusing. Even tries to give a different vision to the song, by saying it has words like ‘Kill!’, and ‘Rise’. Then, he says he didn’t write the lyrics so don’t blame it on me.
According to him, he interprets the song as, “‘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”
The interpretation given by the cult leader was not off the mark. Helter-skelter is a red-white attraction that has a tall spiral slide in England. But, it was not really the meaning behind the song. According to McCartney the main inspiration behind the song was ‘British Invasion’. This was revealed in the Beatle’s autobiography, Anthology. He revealed he wanted to write something wild after hearing the Who guitarist Pete Townshend describe their new song ‘I Can See For Miles’.
McCartney remembered, “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’.”
Paul also explained the production process of the song. He says, most can hear the voices cracking in the song. It was because they had played the song for a long time. Ringo even said, “‘I’ve got blisters on my fingers.'” However, they all went on with it, asking him to play the drums louder. That’s how they made the song so loud and rocky.
We can say that, The Who’s ‘I Can See For Miles’ really inspired and gave rise to much heavy and dirty music which was to come back in the days.
Listen to ‘Helter Skelter’ on any major music streaming site.