After reading a magazine in which Pete Townshend of The Who described the band’s most recent single “I Can See for Miles” as the ‘loudest, and dirtiest track [they’d] ever done’, Paul McCartney took it upon himself to listen to it and decide whether the track lived up to the adjectives. For him, it did not. Finding it too ‘straight’ and ‘sophisticated’, he wrote a song in response that would really get the people going and to also hush the critics who only saw him as the one who wrote the ballads and sillier songs in The Beatles. The result? “Helter Skelter”, possibly the most manic track the group committed to tape and found on the group’s self-titled album from 1968.
The four men from Liverpool give it to you raw for the four and a half minutes the song lasts for. Whilst Ringo pounds on the crash cymbals and provides regular drum fills here and there for the track’s duration, John provides an ugly, murky sounding but appropriate bassline with George and Paul play feedback-laden rhythm guitars present but which also take a backseat in the song’s mix. Really, the highlight of the track is McCartney’s wild vocals; he melodically shouts and howls throughout, falling into fits of laughter at some points as he fails to control himself. The production is that unpolished that subtle things that would be left out on any other track are left in, such as Paul’s random utterances (2:57-3:09) and John randomly shouting and chanting “Fanny Craddock” before baaing like a sheep (2:37-2:55). They’re very strange, but only add to its chaotic atmosphere.
The version you hear on the album was the last of a staggering eighteen takes, and even if they wanted to try it one more time the chance that they would get it as perfect as they did would be quite slim. Plus, the blisters on Ringo’s fingers would have hindered him from trying one more time anyway.