The Beatles were as famed for their intelligent and expansive work in their latter days as they were the poptastic number one hits they churned out in their inception. But somewhere in between lies ‘Helter Skelter’
Below we’re looking back at quite possibly the one attribute that made The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’ so singular in their back-catalogue, Paul McCartney’s whisky-soaked rock vocal. Check out his isolated vocals for the song below and see how it quite possibly invented the heavy metal growl we hear so much today.
‘Helter Skelter’ ranks as a bit of an anomaly in The Beatles catalogue of songs. Very rarely do the Fab Four let themselves so fully dive into the rock arena but on 1968’s White Album McCartney was determined to muddy the band’s image as much as possible, the result was the band’s heaviest track. It would also become their most infamous song after the notorious Charles Manson adopted the title for his proposed race-war.
For that reason, the song is widely beloved by The Beatles’ fans. They can always appreciate seeing the tolerance of a band who had such an expansive tracklist. But there’s another reason that the song is so widely heralded as one of their best, it, and in particular, Paul McCartney, created quite possibly one of the first heavy metal songs.
Before Led Zeppelin would officially break ground on what we know today as heavy metal, The Beatles were already on the land and mapping out exactly where to begin. On that blueprint, alongside big and bruising drums and a fuzzed-riff capable of cracking the ground itself, was one word: vocal.
McCartney’s vocal is so far removed from his usual tone and The Beatles’ trademark sound that it usually takes a first-time listener a few takes before confirming it is in fact Macca at all. It may have been purely down to McCartney’s intention to make the song sound as loud and dirty as possible, but we think the studio antics may have had something to do with Macca’s over-zealous performance.
Chris Thomas, who was in charge of the studio in George Martin’s absence recalls, “While Paul was doing his vocal, George Harrison had set fire to an ashtray and was running around the studio with it above his head, doing an Arthur Brown.” Perhaps not the easiest environment to add a straight vocal to.
Ringo Starr recalled: “‘Helter Skelter’ was a track we did in total madness and hysterics in the studio. Sometimes you just had to shake out the jams.” And they certainly did. What fell out fo the proverbial shaken tree was a vocal unlike any other, for McCartney it was exactly what he wanted. It sounded nothing like The Beatles.
The track does feature in McCartney’s solo sets every so often but he will never perhaps capture the exact magic that you cna hear below in Paul McCartney’s isolated vocal for The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’.