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Paul McCartney said The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” used a metaphor to portray the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. He also said that The Who influenced the song indirectly. One of these claims is easier to swallow than the other. Regardless, “Helter Skelter” still inspired one of the most infamous cults of all time.

A review and the Roman Empire inspired The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’

In the 1997 book Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, Paul recalled writing “Helter Skelter.” He said he read a review of The Who’s “I Can See for Miles,” which described the song as the loudest and dirtiest entry in the band’s catalog. “I was always trying to write something different, trying to not write in character, and I read this and I was inspired, ‘Oh, wow! Yeah! Just that one little paragraph was enough to inspire me, to make me make a move.

“So I sat down and wrote ‘Helter Skelter’ to be the most raucous vocal, the loudest drums, etc. etc.,” he added. “I was using the symbol of a helter-skelter [corkscrew-shaped slide] 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. You could have thought of it as a rather cute title but it’s since taken on all sorts of ominous overtones because [Charles] Manson picked it up as an anthem, and since then quite a few punk bands have done it because it is a raunchy rocker.”

Paul McCartney’s interpretation of ‘Helter Skelter’ is hard to accept

Even with the knowledge that “Helter Skelter” is about a slide, few would connect the song to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. The lyrics of “Helter Skelter” have no reference to any importers, territorial expansions, Christianity, paganism, or anything else relevant to the Romans.

The sound of “Helter Skelter” was innovative. However, in a way, the track was a throwback for The Beatles. Their early catalog is filled with risque songs that aren’t explicit. It’s easy to see “Helter Skelter” as another suggestive song from the same band that brought the world “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Please Please Me,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.”


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John Lennon didn’t connect the song to the Roman Empire

The book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono features an interview from 1980. In it, John remembered the origin of “Helter Skelter.” He said that Paul wrote the song alone. Regardless, the track is still credited to the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership.

The “Power to the People” singer said the tune was about “an English fairground,” probably referring to the slide that Paul discussed. John implied that the tune was meaningless, noting that Manson took inspiration from both “Helter Skelter” and “Piggies” when cooking up his apocalyptic prophecies. At no point did he connect it to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. If that is what was on Paul’s mind when he penned the track, John gave no indication he was aware of it.

“Helter Skelter” is one of The Beatles’ best and most important songs, even if its connections to Julius Caesar are a little dubious.