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The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr was privy to some of the most influential recording sessions in music history. However, some were more demanding than others. These sessions included one collaboration for a “complete madness” song on The White Album, an experience Starr likened to “hysterics” alongside John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison.

The Beatles at their manager Brian Epstein's home, 24 Chapel Street, London, for a press meeting and pre-listen to their upcoming album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison | Getty Images/Bettmann

Ringo Starr and The Beatles released ‘The White Album’ in 1968

The Beatles released their ninth recorded studio compilation, The White Album, in 1968.

The Atlantic said the following of the iconic record. “Thirty songs pulling in 20 different directions, multipolar, spiking and troughing, inventing genres or exhausting them, earthy, heavenly, now dazzled by clear light, plunging willfully into chaos and carnality.”

In reality, the album that fans have come to know as The White Album is called The Beatles. However, from the moment of its Nov. 1968 release, it picked up its more popular moniker. 

One of its standout tracks is “Helter Skelter,” a song long regarded as the first heavy metal song in music history. Paul McCartney responded to that accolade in a 2018 interview with NME.

“No! I’ve never claimed it, you know. People said it, but if you think about it, it was near the start of heavy metal, and it was us trying to be heavy. I’d heard [The Who’s] Pete Townshend saying they’d done the dirtiest, filthiest record ever, so we were trying to out-filth The Who. So if that communicated itself, there might have been some little guy living up in Rotherham thinking, Aye, we’ll have a group, we’ll do that,” McCartney explained.

Recording sessions for ‘Helter Skelter’ were ‘complete madness’ said Ringo Starr

Far Out Magazine reported the drummer once said the following of his experience recording the iconic Beatles tune. Starr said the recording sessions for “Helter Skelter” were “complete madness.”

“‘Helter Skelter’ was a track we did in total madness and hysterics in the studio,” Starr said. “Sometimes you just had to shake out the jams, and with that song, Paul’s bass line, and my drums, he started screaming and shouting and made it up on the spot.”

McCartney appeared to agree with Starr about the process of recording that particular White Album tune. For Anthology, McCartney explained his version of the recording sessions.

 “You can hear the voices cracking. We played it so long and often that by the end of it, you can hear Ringo saying, ‘I’ve got blisters on my fingers,’” McCartney explained. “We just tried to get it louder: ‘Can’t we make the drums sound louder?’ That was all I wanted to do: make a loud, raunchy rock ‘n’ roll record with The Beatles. And I think it’s a pretty good one.”

The heaviest component of the ‘White Album’ featured John Lennon playing two surprise instruments

John Lennon playing the guitar in Rishikesh, India where he was following a transcendental course with the rest of The Beatles members.
John Lennon | Getty Images/Keystone-France

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McCartney told Barry Miles for his biography Many Years from Now that the song’s title hailed from a popular ride on British fairgrounds. He described “a ride from top to bottom. The rise and fall of the Roman Empire. This was the fall, the demise, the going down.”

The session for that song was so wild, Harrison set fire to an ashtray and ran around the studio, holding the dish above his head. This move was a nod to Arthur “Fire” Brown, a singer/songwriter from the late 1960s.

In the finished version of “Helter Skelter”, Lennon plays bass, alongside Beatles assistant Mal Evans who plays trumpet. Lennon even plays saxophone on the track.