100 Greatest Beatles Songs

From 'Helter Skelter' to 'Sgt. Pepper's,' ranking of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison's output

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'Helter Skelter'
Mark and Colleen Hayward/Getty Images52/100

52. 'Helter Skelter'

Main Writer: McCartney
Recorded: July 18, September 9
and 10, 1968
Released: November 25, 1968
Not released as a single

With the raucous "Helter Skelter," the Beatles set out to beat a heavy band at its own game. McCartney had taken issue with a review of the Who's 1967 single "I Can See for Miles" that referred to the song as "a marathon epic of swearing cymbals and cursing guitars." "It wasn't rough [or full of] screaming," he said of the song. "So I thought, 'We'll do one like that, then.'"

The Beatles recorded "Helter Skelter" on a night when, as engineer Brian Gibson recalled, "they were completely out of their heads." Lennon played out-of-tune bass and saxophone, and Starr was serious when he screamed, "I've got blisters on my fingers!"

Despite its association with Charles Manson — "Helter Skelter" was written in blood at the site of one of the Manson Family murders — the title has an innocent meaning: A "helter skelter" is a playground slide. "I was using the symbol as a ride from the top to the bottom — the rise and fall of the Roman Empire," McCartney said. "This was the demise, the going down."

Appears On: The Beatles

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