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While it’s one of the most innovative songs of the 1960s, Ringo Starr declined to play The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” for a shockingly long amount of time. He discussed performing the track live with Paul McCartney in the 2010s. The song “Helter Skelter” has a disturbing history. John Lennon had a dismissive attitude toward that history.

Ringo Starr asked why he would want to play The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’

Ringo played “Helter Skelter” with Paul McCartney in July 2019. During a 2020 interview with Rolling Stone, Ringo was asked if he played the song since she came out in 1968. “No, I did listen to it once before [the performance], but why would I play it?” he said. 

“I love playing with Paul,” Ringo continued. “And he’s great. You know, if he’s in L.A., and I’m making a record, he’s on a track. He’s still for me, the finest, most melodic bass player in the world, and I love what he does. But, you see, this is when you realize I’ve said that for 40 years. I’m still saying the same line!”

‘Helter Skelter’ and other ‘White Album’ songs are associated with notorious crimes

Ringo didn’t explain his decision not to play “Heter Skelter” for so long. We can only speculate why he declined to perform the song. What’s not up for speculation is why “Helter Skelter” became an infamous song.

According to the 1976 book Heter Skelter, Charles Manson believed that “Helter Skelter,” “Piggies,” ‘Don’ Pass Me By,” “Honey Pie,” and other tunes from The White Album were about a coming apocalypse. Manson infamously referred to this apocalypse as “Helter Skelter.” His followers, colloquially known as the Manson Family, carried out the Tate–LaBianca murders. For better or worse, The White Album as a whole and “Helter Skelter” in particular will always be associated with these horrific crimes.


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What John Lennon said about Charles Manson and people misinterpreting The Beatles

The book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono features an interview from 1980. In it, John was asked about “Helter Skelter.” “That’s Paul completely,” he said. 

“All that Manson stuff was built ’round George’s song about pigs [‘Piggies’] and this one, Paul’s song about an English fairground,” John added. “It has nothing to do with anything, and least of all to do with me. I gave George a couple of lines about forks and knives and eating bacon.”

John dismissed Manson’s habit of reading too much into The Beatles music. “Manson was just an extreme version of the people who came up with the ‘Paul is dead’ thing or who figured out that the initials to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ were LSD,” he said. He also compared Manson to David Berkowitz, a serial killer who believed a dog was talking to him, implying that both Manson and Berkowitz were masters of misinterpretation.

We don’t know why Ringo didn’t play “Helter Skelter” for so long but we do know that the track has some unsavory associations