Day 87: “Helter Skelter”

When was it recorded?  Jul. 18 and Sept. 9 & 10, 1968

When was it first released, and on which album?  Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”

Who wrote it?  McCartney

Have I heard this song before?  HELL YEAH

What my research dug up:

(I love this song and have been waiting to write about it for like forever.  Fortunately, there’s a lot to talk about.)

A 1967 Guitar Player interview with The Who’s Pete Townshend inspired Paul to write “Helter Skelter.”

“I was in Scotland and I read… that Pete Townshend had said: ‘We’ve just made the raunchiest, loudest, most ridiculous rock ‘n’ roll record you’ve ever heard.’ I never actually found out what track it was that The Who had made, but that got me going; just hearing him talk about it. So I said to the guys, ‘I think we should do a song like that; something really wild.’ And I wrote ‘Helter Skelter’.” — Paul McCartney (Anthology)

(If Wikipedia is to be trusted, Pete was discussing “I Can See for Miles.”)

Because I am an unenlightened American, I had to research helter skelters for context. According to Wikipedia, “A helter skelter is a funfair or amusement park ride with a slide built in a spiral around a high tower. Users climb up inside the tower and slide down the outside, usually on a mat or hessian sack. Typically the ride will be of wooden construction and, in the case of fairground versions, designed to be disassembled to facilitate transportation between sites.” The first recorded use of a “helter-skelter” was in 1906 at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach. The fifth link under my list of sources is a gallery of helter skelter photographs for anyone like me who needs a visual.

According to Paul, “I was using the symbol of a helter skelter as a ride from the top to the bottom – the rise and fall of the Roman Empire – and this was the fall, the demise, the going down” (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now). Sounds like kind of a reach, but OK, Paul, if you say so. The rock number was also an excuse for Paul to shoot down critics who claimed he only wrote ballads and love songs.

“Helter Skelter” was recorded three times on Jul. 18, 1968. Lest you think the Beatles were slacking off, these three takes lasted

  1. 10 minutes, 40 seconds
  2. 12 minutes, 35 seconds
  3. 27 minutes, 11 seconds (the longest take of anything the Beatles recorded in their career)

An edit of the second take appears on “Anthology 3.” Originally bluesier, Wikipedia describes the demo as “rather slow and hypnotic, differing greatly from the volume and rawness of the album version.” The lyrics are also subtly different.

The band revisited “Helter Skelter” on Sept. 9, recording 18 takes (tightened up so each was about five minutes long). After the final take, John asked, “How was that?” to which Ringo threw his drumsticks across the studio and screamed a now infamous phrase.

“We got the engineers and George Martin to hike up the drum sound and really get it as loud and horrible as it could and we played it and said, ‘No, still sounds too safe, it’s got to get louder and dirtier.’ We tried everything we could to dirty it up and in the end you can hear Ringo say, ‘I’ve got blisters on my fingers!’ That wasn’t a joke put-on: his hands were actually bleeding at the end of the take, he’d been drumming so ferociously.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)

Again, the mono and stereo mixes of “Helter Skelter” differ. The mono mix ends with the fake fade-out (lasting around 3:40); the stereo mix fades out then comes back with the real ending, including Ringo’s closing shout (lasting around 4:30).

Mono

Stereo

Looking at critics’ reviews “Helter Skelter” seems to be a love it or hate it listening experience. Nevertheless, it’s had enduring popularity and influence – according to Wikipedia, “Helter Skelter” “is considered by music historians as a key influence in the early development of heavy metal.”

Paul has performed the song live on every tour he’s done since 2004. One live recording of “Helter Skelter” featured on Paul’s 2009 album “Good Evening New York City” even won Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance at the 53rd Grammy Awards. Here’s the video of said version.

[Most of the “extended” takes I’ve seen are just cobbled + edited loops of the final song, so I’m going to avoid posting anything I can’t verify as 100% authentic. I’m also omitting discussion of the effect this song had on Charles Manson – important as it was, that sort of story doesn’t have a place on my blog.]

“Helter Skelter” has long been one of my favorite songs, and it’s hard to articulate why.  I remember getting a good jump-scare the first time I listened to it and the song came blaring back to life after the fade-out.  The ending hasn’t lost any of its novelty now that I anticipate it.  I bet if I ever get to ride a real helter skelter I will be tempted to compare it to the thrill I get listening to this song (and be sorely disappointed as a result).

 

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helter_Skelter_%28song%29

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/helter-skelter/

http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/AWP/hs.shtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helter_skelter_%28ride%29

http://www.joylandbooks.com/themagiceye/galleries/helterskelters.htm

http://wgo.signal11.org.uk/html/content/h.htm#hs

http://www.allmusic.com/album/the-beatles-white-album-mw0000418113

http://www.iamthebeatles.com/article1167.html

Day 86: “Help!”

When was it recorded? Apr. 13, 1965

When was it first released, and on which album? Jul. 23, 1965 as a single (later on “Help!”)

Who wrote it? Lennon (with noteworthy contribution from McCartney)

Have I heard this song before? Yes

What my research dug up:

According to the Anthology series, John “wrote the lyrics of the song to express his stress after the Beatles’ quick rise to success” (Wikipedia).

“When ‘Help!’ came out, I was actually crying out for help. Most people think it’s just a fast rock ‘n’ roll song. I didn’t realize it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help. So it was my fat Elvis period. You see the movie: he – I – is very fat, very insecure, and he’s completely lost himself. And I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was.” — John Lennon (David Sheff, All We Are Saying)

I can’t say I see the “fat” part, but John’s depression is understandable. Although he says above it was commissioned for the movie “Help!,” John said in a 1970 Rolling Stone interview that he felt “Help!” was one of his most honest Beatles songs.

Initially, the movie “Help!” was to be called “Eight Arms to Hold You,” with “Eight Days a Week” a potential theme song. According to Paul, either John or film director Dick Lester proposed the new title at the start of April. As with “A Hard Day’s Night,” John took it upon himself to compose the title song and hashed most of it out alone at his home in Weybridge. Then Paul helped concoct the counter-melody during a writing session on Apr. 4, 1965. Interestingly, John imagined “Help!” as a ballad (which upon examining the lyrics make sense), but the composition was sped up “to satisfy the group’s commercial instincts” (Beatles Bible) during recording. Here’s a snippet of John’s piano demo.

Musically, “Help!” is uncomplicated and unvarying. According to Alan Pollack, “The music underscores the urgent single-mindedness of the message contained within the lyrics; shades of ‘got no time for trivialities’…” Pollack also wrote, “The public relations hype said that we were all affected especially hard by John’s more confessional songs because they revealed a surprising vulnerability we’d never have expected was lurking beneath his tough, cool, and zany public persona.”

“Help!” was recorded and completed Apr. 13 from 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM.

On May 24, CTS Studios had the Beatles re-record the vocals, partly to help sync to what they were filming for the movie and partly to get rid of the tambourine part (which had originally been recorded on the same track as the vocals). This mix – different vocals, no tambourine – appeared on the mono version of the “Help!” album.

Stereo

Mono

“Help!” was released as a single two weeks before “Help!” the album was released. Appearing Jul. 19 in the US and Jul. 23 in the UK, the song quickly shot to the top of both countries’ music charts. “Help!” also reached #1 in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden. The RIAA certified the song Gold.

Naturally, the song “Help!” opens the film “Help!” Footage was filmed Apr. 22 for the movie; the same footage was used with the credits omitted as a proto-music video that aired on TV music programs of the time.

The Beatles made another ‘promotional clip’ of “Help!” on Nov. 23 for the TV special “Top of the Pops.” Quoth Wikipedia, “Directed by Joseph McGrath, the black-and-white clip shows the group miming to the song while sitting astride a workbench.”

 

The Beatles performed “Help!” live a number of times; it was on their 1965 American tour set list, and they performed it on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in Aug. 1965. A live performance from the Aug. 1 program “Blackpool Night Out,” the audio of which was included on “Anthology 2.”

 

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help!_%28song%29

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/help/

http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/AWP/h.shtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Lester

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help!_%28film%29

Day 85: “Hello Little Girl”

When was it recorded?  1960 (and more cleanly on Jan. 1, 1962)

When was it first released, and on which album?  Aug. 30, 1963 as a single for The Fourmost

Who wrote it?  Lennon

Have I heard this song before?  No

What my research dug up:

(EDIT: I have no idea what I was thinking when I dated this Entry #54.  Oops.)

“Hello Little Girl” is important, as it was the first song John ever wrote.  Composed in 1957, John drew inspiration from Cole Porter’s 1936 tune “It’s De-Lovely,” which John’s mother used to sing to him.

The Beatles (then Quarrymen) performed the song in their live shows as early as 1958. They recorded a home demo of the song in 1960; according to my sources it is not available on any albums, but thank God for bootlegs and YouTube.

The recording I mentioned taking place Jan. 1, 1962, was from the Beatles’ Decca Records audition. Quoth the Beatles Bible, “By the time of the Decca audition, the group had tightened their performance, transforming ‘Hello Little Girl’ into something approaching a commercially viable pop song. The vocal harmonies, too, point the way to the sound which would later become a Beatles trademark.” This demo appeared on “Anthology 1” in 1995. Compare and contrast.

The Beatles Bible continues, “The song didn’t remain in The Beatles’ repertoire for much longer, and was never recorded for EMI. It was, however, performed at an audition for BBC radio, which took place at Broadcasting House in Manchester on [Feb. 12] 1962.” I didn’t dig up a recording of that version.

As noted above, “Hello Little Girl” was given to fellow Liverpool boy band The Fourmost for their debut single. Their biography strikes me as oddly similar to the Beatles’, so let’s take a look.

The band started with best friends lead guitarist Brian O’Hara and rhythm guitarist Joey Bower; calling themselves The Two Jays, they started playing music in 1957. Then came bass player Billy Hatton, and last came drummer Brian Redman. As the Four Jays, they played the Cavern Club on Mar. 1, 1961, about three weeks before the Beatles. Mike Millward joined in 1961, and my sources stop mentioning Bower around this time as well, leaving to me believe he left the group. In Sept. 1962 Dave Lovelady replaced Redman on the drums, and the band changed its name to the Fourmost in Oct. 1962.

According to Wikipedia, “On [Jun. 30] 1963, the group signed a management contract with Brian Epstein. This led to their being auditioned by George Martin and signed to EMI’s Parlophone record label.” The Fourmost were friendly with the Beatles and had early access to Lennon-McCartney demos like “Hello Little Girl” and “I’m in Love,” the band’s first two singles.

The Fourmost had their biggest hit in 1964 with “A Little Loving,” which peaked at #6 on the UK charts (they were not exactly popular in the US). The band stopped recording in 1968 “and became popular on the cabaret circuit” (Wikipedia), which they seemed to favor. Hatton and Lovelady are still alive while Millward died of cancer and O’Hara committed suicide (apart from the suicide think about it… it’s kind of weird).

Coincidence-hunting aside, the Fourmost recorded “Hello Little Girl” on Jul. 3, 1963. According to Collaborations, the Beatles were actually present for the recording session (produced by George Martin). Their single was released in Aug. 1963 and peaked at #9 on the UK music charts.

“Hello Little Girl” was also recorded by British band Gerry and the Pacemakers (also from Liverpool, managed by Brian Epstein, and recorded by George Martin) on Jul. 17, 1963. Their version was not deemed single-worthy and was put on the shelf until 1991 (still beat the Beatles’ version to stores).

“Hello Little Girl” is hardly my new favorite song, but for a first effort from any songwriter?  Not too shabby.  John obviously had some innate talent from Day One.  My sources all note how strongly Buddy Holly’s influence can be heard on this song, and I agree it definitely has that ’50s flavor.

 

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hello_Little_Girl

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/hello-little-girl/

http://www.jpgr.co.uk/col_r5056.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fourmost

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerry_%26_The_Pacemakers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthology_1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_De-Lovely

Day 84: “Hello, Goodbye”

When was it recorded?  Oct. 2 – Nov. 2, 1967

When was it first released, and on which album?  Nov. 24, 1967 as a single

Who wrote it?  McCartney

Have I heard this song before?  YES

What my research dug up:

“Hello, Goodbye” was written by Paul (with a little help from Brian Epstein’s personal assistant Alistair Taylor) at his home in London. Taylor asked Paul about his songwriting process, and, well…

“Paul marched me into the dining room, where he had a marvellous old hand-carved harmonium. ‘Come and sit at the other end of the harmonium. You hit any note you like on the keyboard. Just hit it and I’ll do the same. Now whenever I shout out a word, you shout the opposite and I’ll make up a tune. You watch, it’ll make music’… ‘Black,’ he started. ‘White,’ I replied. ‘Yes.’ ‘No.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Bad.’ Hello.’ ‘Goodbye.’ I wonder whether Paul really made up that song as he went along or whether it was running through his head already.” — Alistair Taylor (Yesterday)

According to Paul, the song was always intended to be unsophisticated — “The answer to everything is simple. It’s a song about everything and nothing. If you have black you have to have white. That’s the amazing thing about life” (Disc). Paul also focused on emphasizing the positive (notice how the song’s narrator is the one saying things like “hello” and “go”). John hated it, calling it in 1980 “three minutes of contradictions and meaningless juxtapositions” (Beatles Bible).

Alan Pollack noted, “There is an ironic tension between the lyrics and the musical mood of this song that operates on a deeper level than the irony of the lyrics themselves. The words sound like a whimsical update of that sentimental favorite of the thirties… The music, though, has a nervous, pounding, passion that seems to curiously belie the words.” Even as a kid, I noticed that tension, so I appreciate the articulation of this observation.

“Hello, Goodbye” is also simple melodically. It’s in 4/4 (common) time and the key of C Major (no sharp or flat notes).

With the working title of “Hello, Hello,” recording began Oct. 2. Overdubs were added Oct. 19; George Martin added violas the next day. Of his time recording, Violist Ken Essex provides maybe my favorite quote of any article I’ve read for this blog – “All of The Beatles were there. One of them was sitting on the floor in what looked like a pyjama suit, drawing with crayons on a piece of paper” (Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions). Paul added a bass part Oct. 25, then another on Nov. 2, finally allowing the song to be mixed and completed Nov. 6.

The “Hello, Goodbye” single was the first song released by the Beatles following the death of their manager Brian Epstein on Aug. 27. The single featured “I Am the Walrus” on the B-side (which pissed John off to no end). “Hello, Goodbye” appeared on the US release of “Magical Mystery Tour” (hence my tag) but not the UK version.

“Hello, Goodbye” was the Beatles’ fifteenth #1 single in America and similarly topped the charts for seven weeks in Britain. It was certified Gold by the RIAA.

But onto what really matters – the music videos!

(Thanks, Ed.) There were three versions of the “promotional film” for “Hello, Goodbye.” On Nov. 10, Paul directed all three – well, in his words…

“I didn’t really direct the film – all we needed was a couple of cameras, some good cameramen, a bit of sound and some dancing girls. I thought, ‘We’ll just hire a theatre and show up there one afternoon.’ And that was what we did: we took our Sgt. Pepper suits along and filmed at the Saville Theatre in the West End.” — Paul McCartney (Anthology)

Video One is the one you just watched – to a point. Originally, the opening was in color and the hula girls danced to the end. According to the Wog Blog, when the Anthology project was released, the opening was rendered into black and white and parts of Video Three were spliced onto the ending instead.

Video Two is similar to the first video, only the boys aren’t wearing their Pepper uniforms, appearing instead in their everyday wear (which, for the late ‘60s is still highly entertaining). The Beatles Bible also notes Ringo’s drum kit has their logo on it, which didn’t appear in Video One.

This version of the video also uses a different version of the “Hello, Goodbye” song found on “Anthology 2.” George absolutely kills it on that guitar part. The piano part sounds slightly more prominent too, but that could just be my ears.

Video Three is basically outtakes from the filming sessions. The quality on this one isn’t as good, but it’s fun enough for me to put up with some fuzz.

Quoth Wikipedia, “The films were not aired by the BBC due to the Musicians Union’s strict rules on miming.” Britain has/had some strange media rules, but I think this one takes the cake of what I’ve heard. Obviously, this rule was unheard of in the US, as Video One debuted on “The Ed Sullivan Show” Nov. 26.

The end of “Hello, Goodbye” plays during the credits of the “Magical Mystery Tour” film. I figured a video of that would be boring, so I’m not posting one.

As I mentioned earlier, “Hello, Goodbye” is one Beatles song I’ve always been conscious of and one of my favorite Beatles songs that I’ve heard so far. I think my nostalgia filter is too heavy to make an objective “this is good/this is bad” statement on this tune (not that that’s a bad thing).

 

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hello,_Goodbye

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/hello-goodbye/

http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/AWP/hg.shtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Mystery_Tour

http://wogew.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-three-hello-goodbye-videos.html

Day 83: “A Hard Day’s Night”

When was it recorded?   Apr. 16, 1964

When was it first released, and on which album?  Jul. 10, 1964 on “A Hard Day’s Night”

Who wrote it?   Lennon

Have I heard this song before?   Heck yeah

What my research dug up:

(It’s definitely shaping up to be a hard day’s night on my end, so this is more than appropriate.)

The phrase “a hard day’s night” was one of Ringo’s more famous malapropos.

“We went to do a job, and we’d worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came up still thinking it was day I suppose, and I said, ‘It’s been a hard day…’ and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said, ‘…night!’ So we came to A Hard Day’s Night.” — Ringo Starr (of a Mar. 19, 1964 filming session)

The saying first appeared in John’s book, In His Own Write, published Mar. 23, 1964. There are three different stories on how it wound up as the title of the Beatles’ current movie and album.

  1. According to John, “I was going home in the car and Dick Lester [the film’s director] suggested the title Hard Day’s Night from something Ringo’d said. I had used it in In His Own Write but it was an off-the-cuff remark by Ringo. You know, one of those malapropisms. A Ringoism, where he said it not to be funny, just said it. So Dick Lester said we are going to use that title, and the next morning I brought in the song” (David Sheff, All We Are Saying)
  1. According to Paul, “We’d almost finished making the film and this fun bit arrived that we’d not known about before which was naming the film. So we were sitting around at Twickenham studios having a little brain-storming session; director Dick Lester, us, Walter Shenson [the film’s producer], Bud Ornstein [European head of production for United Artists] and some other people were sitting around trying to come up with something and we said, ‘Well, there was something Ringo said the other day’… He said after a concert, ‘Phew, it’s been a hard day’s night.’ John and I went, ‘What? What did you just say?’ He said, ‘I’m bloody knackered, man, it’s been a hard day’s night.’ …So that came up in this brain-storming session, something Ringo said, ‘It was a hard day’s night.’” (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)
  1. According to Walter Shenson, the film’s producer, John “described to Shenson some of Starr’s funnier gaffes, including ‘a hard day’s night,’ whereupon Shenson immediately decided that that was going to be the title of the movie (replacing other alternatives, including Beatlemania). Shenson then told Lennon that he needed a theme song for the film” (Associated Press).

According to Wikipedia, “Regardless of who decided on the title, Lennon immediately made up his mind that he would compose the movie’s title track. He dashed off the song in one night, and brought it in for comments the following morning.” The title of the movie was chosen and announced publicly Apr. 13, 1964, and John wrote the song that evening on the back of a birthday card for his son, Julian.

John and Paul performed “A Hard Day’s Night” for Shenson the next day in their dressing room on acoustic guitars. Recording began two days later. Nine takes of “A Hard Day’s Night” were recorded. The first take appears on “Anthology 1” – behold.

Here are takes six and seven (plus some excellent studio chatter).

Of course, we can’t talk about this song without talking about George’s guitar work, particularly the opening chord.

“We knew it would open both the film and the soundtrack LP, so we wanted a particularly strong and effective beginning. The strident guitar chord was the perfect launch.” — George Martin (Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions)

I read conflicting reports on whether George was playing a 12-string guitar or two six-strings, but I’d put my money on the 12-string. His solo is doubled by George Martin’s piano party and “taped at half speed so they sounded speedier when played back” (Beatles Bible). According to Guitar World, “This is why the solo from the studio version of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was ever-so-unsubtly edited into the otherwise-live version of the song on the Live At The BBC album — and why it never sounds quite right on other live versions.”

“A Hard Day’s Night” first appeared in America on the “A Hard Day’s Night” soundtrack/album on Jun. 26. The album was released in the UK on Jul. 10, as was the single version of “A Hard Day’s Night” (with the B-side “Things We Said Today”). Not to be outdone, the single version of the song was released Jul. 13 in the US (with the B-side “I Should Have Known Better”).

In the UK, the single first charted Jul. 18; it then reached #1 on Jul. 25. The exact same day, the album “A Hard Day’s Night” topped the charts in both America and Britain. If you trust Wikipedia’s claims, the was the first time any musician had “the number one position on both the album and singles charts in the United Kingdom and the United States at the same time.”

(I’m having trouble dating it, but here’s the version from “Live at the BBC” mentioned above.)

The single was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America and won the Beatles a Grammy for Best Performance by a Vocal Group in 1965. Quoth Alan Pollack, “Even if you had somehow missed them on Ed Sullivan, or if perhaps you had seen them on Ed’s show yet their impact somehow missed you… it would have become increasingly, if not impossibly, difficult to ignore the Beatles once the likes of this song and its associated film came on the scene.”

As previously mentioned “A Hard Day’s Night” opens the movie of the same name. Here’s the scene it appears in/music video.

I had somehow seen all that footage of the band on the run (pun fully intended) but never seen it with “A Hard Day’s Night” backing it.  So much more fun!  I just found a copy of that film so hopefully I can squeeze watching it in over the weekend.

I looped around listening to this song — starting out thinking it was alright, got sick of it, then came back to wholly loving it.  I know for sure “A Hard Day’s Night” will be stuck in my head tomorrow, but I won’t complain.

 

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Hard_Day%27s_Night_%28song%29

http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/a-hard-days-night/2/

http://www.beatlesbible.com/albums/a-hard-days-night/

http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/AWP/ahdn.shtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_at_the_BBC_%28The_Beatles_album%29

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthology_1

http://www.guitarworld.com/song-facts-beatles-hard-days-night