Charles Manson and the White Album

In the months after its release, The Beatles were horrified to learn that Charles Manson had interpreted several of the White Album’s songs as an incitement to commit murder and a prophecy of armageddon.

Look at the songs: songs sung all over the world by the young love. It ain’t nothin’ new… It’s written in… Revelation, all about the four angels programming the holocaust… the four angels looking for the fifth angel to lead the people into the pit of fire… right out to Death Valley. It’s all in black and white, in the White Album – white, so there ain’t no mistakin’ the color.
Charles Manson

Manson took particular notice of Paul McCartney’s ‘Helter Skelter’, a song about a fairground ride which was nonetheless interpreted as a prophecy of chaos, which he tied in with the New Testament’s Book of Revelation.

Like, ‘Helter Skelter’ is a nightclub. ‘Helter Skelter’ means confusion. Literally. It doesn’t mean any war with anyone. It doesn’t mean that those people are going to kill other people. It only means what it means. ‘Helter Skelter’ is confusion. Confusion is coming down fast. If you don’t see the confusion coming down fast, you can call it what you wish. It’s not my conspiracy. It is not my music. I hear what it relates. It says ‘Rise!’ It says ‘Kill!’ Why blame it on me? I didn’t write the music. I am not the person who projected it into your social consciousness.
Charles Manson, November 1970

Read our feature on Charles Manson and Helter Skelter.

Five songs by The Beatles were particularly significant for Charles Manson, all from the White Album: ‘Helter Skelter’, ‘Revolution 1’, ‘Revolution 9’, ‘Blackbird’, and ‘Piggies’. He also found hidden meanings in ‘I Will’, ‘Honey Pie’, ‘Glass Onion’, ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, ‘Sexy Sadie’, ‘Rocky Raccoon’, and ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’.

Read about Charles Manson’s interpretations of The Beatles’ songs.

Lyrics for Helter Skelter, transcribed by Mal Evans, 1968

All that Manson stuff was built around George’s song about pigs and this one, Paul’s song about an English fairground. It has nothing to do with anything, and least of all to do with me.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Needless to say, Manson’s interpretations were wholly unintended by The Beatles, who later expressed anger and disgust at his actions.

Charles Manson interpreted that ‘Helter Skelter’ was something to do with the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. I still don’t know what all that stuff is; it’s from the Bible, Revelations – I haven’t read it so I wouldn’t know. But he interpreted the whole thing – that we were the four horsemen, ‘Helter Skelter’ the song – and arrived at having to go out and kill everyone.

It was terrible. You can’t associate yourself with a thing like that. Some guy in the States had done it – but I’ve no idea why. It was frightening, because you don’t write songs for those reasons. Maybe some heavy metal groups do nowadays, but we certainly never did.

Paul McCartney
Anthology