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- Posted on Sep 9th 2009 10:30AM by Stephen Dowling
From 1968's 'The Beatles' (aka the White Album)
Ten years old and reliant upon New Zealand's golden oldie radio stations for a dose of the Fab Four (I grew up in a house without a Beatles album), this song hit me like a runaway train. Someone, clearly, was having a joke. This wasn't the same band who wore strange collarless jackets and wanted to hold someone's hand, surely? Surely?
Being regarded as the ballad man of the Beatles had clearly irked Paul McCartney. The White Album's eardrum-rattling 'Helter Skelter' was partly written as an answer to the Who's guitarist Pete Townshend, who had claimed the band's recent 'I Can See For Miles' was the dirtiest thing recorded. The Fab Four's sensitive soul set about giving him a run for his money.
Anyone who thinks the Beatles weren't capable of blood-curdling menace and mayhem, please step this way. 'Helter Skelter' is more than just a gauntlet thrown down to McCartney's rival from the Who. It's a Year Zero for everyone from Black Sabbath to Television to Oasis, and many more besides. And I blame the Beatles for the beginnings of a love for loud, weird music. 'Helter Skelter' was one of the first songs I heard that demanded my serious attention.
From the first moment, it's disorienting; staccato stabs of guitar and McCartney's strained voice -- "When I get to the bottom/I go back to the top of the slide" -- describing that downward/upward journey, Ringo Starr's drum patterns almost falling over themselves before somehow the whole thing lurches into formation. McCartney's voice is cracked and imploring, a queasy, unsettling guitar line swimming underneath, and then that great, bruised blues riff kicks in.
Ringo bellows "I've got blisters on my fingers!" at the end, after false endings and guitars sounding like collapsing buildings. They're well-earned, mate.