You’ve more than likely heard the term Helter Skelter before, but more than likely it’s only a vague awareness that it has something to do with The Beatles and also something to do with Charles Manson and the murders he and his family committed. Kinda weird for The Beatles to be wrapped up in this, huh? Here’s how they both became intertwined together.
The term “helter skelter” actually predates both The Beatles and Manson, and in the U.K. it actually is a name used to describe an amusement park ride a: tall wooden structure, with a spiral slide around the outside of it. Going back even further, this term comes from a word used to describe “disorderly haste or confusion” and was first coined in the 1500s. Helter and skelter mean nothing apart from one another, but put together they simply mean "chaos."
While The Beatles were working on their 1968 album The Beatles, Paul McCartney was looking to write a song that was just super loud and jarring, and unlike any other song, they had done before. And after listening to "Helter Skelter," hard agree. The lyrics directly reference the amusement park ride, with lyrics like, “When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide / Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride / Till I get to the bottom and I see you again,” along with the repeated lyrics of “helter skelter,” and “Look out, helter skelter / She's coming down fast.”
Unfortunately for the band, Manson took this seemingly innocent rock song and interpreted it for his own diabolical purposes. Manson believed that The Beatles were sending coded messages in their songs to start a racial war. According to Manson, his initial killings would show black men in American how to kill, and they would rise up and fight off white men. While this was going on, Manson and his family would hide underground to wait out the conflicts, and in the end, would emerge and then rule over whoever was still standing — and Manson predicted those left would be black men. Needing a ruler, they would, in this theory, turn to him.
“He was quite certain that the Beatles had tapped in to his spirit, the truth — that everything was gonna come down and the black man was going to rise... He thought that the Beatles were talking about what he had been expounding for years. Every single song on The White Album, he felt that they were singing about us. The song 'Helter Skelter' — he was interpreting that to mean the blacks were gonna go up and the whites were gonna go down.”
Later, when Manson and his family committed their first murders, one of the Manson Girls is believed to have written “Helter Skelter” in blood on the walls of the house, but spelled it wrong and instead wrote, “Healter Skelter.”
Following the murders, The Beatles tried to distance themselves from the song. In an interview with NME, Paul McCartney explained, “Well, that put me off doing it forever. I thought, I’m not doing [‘Helter Skelter’], you know, because it was too close to that event, and immediately it would have seemed like I was, either I didn’t care about all the carnage that had gone on or whatever, so I kept away from it for a long time.”
However, after some time had passed, he came around to the song again, thinking, “that’d be a nice one to do, so we brought it out of the bag and tried it and it works. It’s a good one to rock with, you know.”
Nowadays, every now and then you will hear “Helter Skelter” on classic rock radio stations as it’s slowly made its way back into rotation again. However, it’ll unfortunately never be able to shake its initial Manson connection.