Recording: Helter Skelter

Studio Two, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
Producer: Chris Thomas
Engineer: Ken Scott

The Beatles had recorded three lengthy rehearsal takes of ‘Helter Skelter’ on 18 July 1968. During this 7pm-2.30am session, however, the song was transformed from a slow blues jam into the frantic cacophony heard on the White Album.

This was also the first session in which George Martin’s assistant Chris Thomas had a formal production role, although he had been present at a number of earlier Beatles recordings.

At the beginning of the session The Beatles warmed up with a version of Leiber and Stoller’s ‘(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care’. The song had been made famous by Elvis Presley in the 1957 film Jailhouse Rock, and was also recorded the following year by Buddy Holly. The 1968 recording was released in November 2018 on the 50th anniversary box set of the White Album.

The Beatles recorded 18 takes of ‘Helter Skelter’, numbered 4-21, on this night. The last of these provided the basis of the album version. Paul McCartney played the opening guitar riff and further rhythm guitar, while John Lennon was on bass guitar and Ringo Starr played a blistering drum part.

The version on the album was out of control. They were completely out of their heads that night. But, as usual, a blind eye was turned to what the Beatles did in the studio. Everyone knew what substances they were taking but they were really a law unto themselves in the studio. As long as they didn’t do anything too outrageous things were tolerated.
Brian Gibson, technical engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

‘Helter Skelter’ was given further overdubs on the following evening. These included lead and backing vocals, lead guitar, piano, more drums, trumpet and saxophone.

Lyrics for Helter Skelter, transcribed by Mal Evans

Lyrics for Helter Skelter, transcribed by Mal Evans

Last updated: 23 June 2023
Recording: While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Recording: Helter Skelter
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