There are a lot of reasons why the Beatles were so great–I mean, you put four talented, innovative musicians together and you’re bound to get impressive results no matter what–but one factor that really elevated them was the way they embraced competition. Their rivalry with the Rolling Stones inspired both bands to up their games, but the Beatles were confident enough to actually donate a(n admittedly lousy) song across enemy battle lines. Even within the group itself, Lennon and McCartney’s constant urge to outdo the other fueled a slew of hits.
So when Paul McCartney read a review claiming that the Who’s 1967 “I Can See For Miles” was the “heaviest” song ever recorded, he did what anyone else would have done. He went to his local record shop and purchased the single.
Before he listened to it, Paul decided he was going to top it. He wanted to write a song with “the most raucous vocal, the loudest drums, etc.” in order to shut that critic up. And, well, he kind of delivered. The Who song is pretty excellent in its own right, but “Helter Skelter” is a straight-up shot of whiskey. “I Can See For Miles” is more like a fat pour of a wine with an aggressive aftertaste.
Now, you can’t really discuss “Helter Skelter” without acknowledging its horrific aftermath and how one deluded listener became inspired to lead a cult that viciously murdered nine people. Oof. But hey, that’s how you know you’ve written a heavy song. Take that, Pete Townshend!
It’s the Beatles meets 90s alternative–what’s not to love?
The false ending (stereo version only).
The actual ending where Ringo screams, “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”
That killer riff.
The live Soundgarden cover of “Helter Skelter” is actually pretty underwhelming.
It eventually does actually end.
That ending is taken from a 27-minute long rendition of “Helter Skelter” that has never been released, not even on bootlegs.
That killer Charles Manson.