The Who, I Can See For Miles, and the Origins of Helter Skelter

So apparently, if it weren’t for this song, Charles Manson never would have heard the Beatles “Helter Skelter” and have murdered all those people.  Legend goes that Paul McCartney read that this song was the “heaviest” ever made, and without even hearing it, took it upon himself to write a metal song, a genre that didn’t really exist yet.  The funny thing is, this song is not that heavy.  It’s a beautiful psychedelic pop song wrapped up in themes of revenge, be them romantic or otherwise.  It’s funny because as I write this, I do recall reading something from Paul McCartney when he finally heard the alleged Who song in question, sort of laughing at the “false” inspiration.  Amazingly, the folks at Wikipedia have the quote for us all to enjoy,

“Umm, that came about just ’cause I’d read a review of a record which said, ‘and this group really got us wild, there’s echo on everything, they’re screaming their heads off.’ And I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, it’d be great to do one. Pity they’ve done it. Must be great — really screaming record.’ And then I heard their record and it was quite straight, and it was very sort of sophisticated. It wasn’t rough and screaming and tape echo at all. So I thought, ‘Oh well, we’ll do one like that, then.’ And I had this song called “Helter Skelter,” which is just a ridiculous song. So we did it like that, ‘cuz I like noise.”

Interesting stuff, but that’s all besides the point.  The point, if you must know, is that “I Can See For Miles” is indeed awesome.  It features some of the best hard rock psychedelic harmonies the Who ever achieved, driving the song with force into the psychedelic expanse.  The video below is also great even though it’s a  mimed performance.  The Who had trouble replicating the overdubs live, contributing to the fact that they never played it much on stage, at least when Keith Moon was living.  Anyway, enjoy this sucker, because its one of the best ever.

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No Responses to “The Who, I Can See For Miles, and the Origins of Helter Skelter”

  1. Jimm says:

    My brother had the Hooligans CD and I used to sneak into his room and abscond it. The first track was Can’t Explain, and number 2 was this…barely-controlled explosion of a song. The shock of going from the harmonies and chiming guitars of one song to the menacing drone of that growling opening chord in the next still resonates in my mind all these years later.

    Many years after, I heard the song on the radio and realized it really isn’t much of a song, at least in terms of beginning, middle, end. The song is really a series of explosions and interrupted chaos. Keith doesn’t keep a steady beat through the whole song (Did he really ever?)–he just keeps hurling dirty cymbal grenades and firing rapid-fire rounds of rat-a-tat snare shots and tom fills. John is the only real rhythm on the track (Wasn’t he always?)–thump-thump-thumping that Fender lurking in the dark underground. And there’s those dissonant monotonic guitar notes at the end of each chorus, spinning like a drunkard on acid.

    Sorry for the verbosity, but this is one of my favorite “songs” ever–again, it’s more an experience than a piece of music. Sure, it’s not punk or metal, which seems to be what Paul was looking for, but its own hybrid of proto-power pop, mixing Brit rock with Byrds-like droning and contemporary psycho production. Helter Skelter, great as it is, doesn’t even come close to representing this kind of danger and barely-contained wickedness.

    Speaking of McGuinn & Co: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this was Pete’s response (maybe unintentionally) to Eight Miles High. The two are very similar is sound and structure, although 8MH is more structured and beat-driven. ICC4M is a hot, violent, dangerous mess. LOVE IT!!

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