Vocals: Trey (lead), Fish, Mike, Page (backing)
Original Artist: The Beatles
Original Album: The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) (1968)
Albums: Live Phish 13
Historian: Mark Toscano, lumpblockclod
Legend has it that Paul McCartney penned this track, not as an inspirational letter to Charles Manson, but as a response to the journalistic claim that Pete Townshend of The Who had just written the nastiest, most hard-core rock song. The White Album cut of "Helter Skelter" is itself part of an insane, jammed out, 20-something minute version of this tune that exists somewhere in the vaults at Apple.
Phish covered this noisy tune on 10/31/94 during their Halloween White Album set with reasonably satisfactory results (though the Phish version manages to be even more tension-filled than the original). As they did with a few other White Album tunes, (for instance “Glass Onion,” “Honey Pie,” and “Don’t Pass Me By”) the band altered this one ever so slightly. The end of the song’s anguished Ringo Starr cry of “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!!!” – as a result of the long jam from which the song came – was Phish-ified into a sweet barbershop quartet refrain. The band offered a second helping of this tune on 11/17/94, also ending it with the barbershop wackiness of the Halloween version.
One additional version of "Helter Skelter" that may be of interest to the truly dedicated fan can be found on DJ Danger Mouse's bootleg, The Grey Album, where Danger Mouse sets the vocals of Jay-Z's "99 Problems" – another song Phish has covered – to the music of "Helter Skelter." Finally, as to anyone who may be concerned about Charles Manson's association with the song, worry not. As Bono made clear on the opening track of U2's Rattle and Hum, "Charles Manson stole this song from The Beatles, we're stealing it back," relieving opponents of mass murder, but simultaneously causing innumerable headaches for intellectual property attorneys worldwide.
Phish, "Helter Skelter" – 10/31/94, Glens Falls, NY