Under Cover: Siouxsie & the Banshees Hit the Top of the Slide With the Beatles
There have been countless interpretations of Beatles songs over the years. Some are faithful; others take many liberties. Either way, Beatles covers are an easy sink-or-swim for those who decide to take on the band’s prestigious catalog of songs.
On their 1978 debut album ‘The Scream,’ Siouxsie & the Banshees tackled one of the Fabs’ most notorious and iconic songs, ‘Helter Skelter.’
Though Siouxsie and her band would later evolve into a more melodic combo — with psychedelic flashes a common part of the equation — early on they were one of the most fierce and jagged-sounding outfits on the scene. What would become know as post-punk is in full bloom on ‘The Scream’: Shards of guitar squall go head to head with Siouxsie’s commanding and dramatic vocals. Their take on the Beatles’ classic is nothing short of stunning.
While remaining true to the spirit and the basic arrangement of the Beatles’ original, Siouxsie takes ‘Helter Skelter’ into crevasses unheard in the 1968 version. The track begins with a simulation of the roller-coaster ride the band is about to take us on. As it builds in intensity, fury is unleashed, with Siouxsie in total command of things. The Banshees achieve a very different kind of tension from that heard on the Beatles’ cut. It’s not in the same league, we admit that. But it rocks in its own mighty way.
Written primarily by Paul McCartney, ‘Helter Skelter’ remains one of the Beatles’ most powerful and controversial songs. One of the many highlights on the band’s self-titled 1968 LP, better known as the White Album, ‘Helter Skelter’ was the most brash, raucous and metallic song the Beatles ever recorded. It’s a bludgeoning rock ‘n’ roll tour de force that still sounds powerful all these years later.
“I read in Melody Maker that Pete Townshend had said, ‘We’ve just made the raunchiest, loudest, most ridiculous rock ‘n’ roll record you’ve ever heard,’” McCartney recalled in ‘The Beatles Anthology.’ “That got me going, just hearing him talk about it. So I said to the guys, ‘I think we should do a song like that — something really wild.’ And I wrote ‘Helter Skelter.’”
The song would take on a life, and legacy, of its own when it was interpreted by serial killer Charles Manson as some sort of sign and call-to-arms.
“[He] interpreted that ‘Helter Skelter’ was something to to with the four horsemen of the Apocalypse,” McCartney has said. “I still don’t know what all that stuff is. It’s from the Bible, Revelation. I haven’t read it, so I wouldn’t know. He interpreted the whole thing – that we were the four horsemen – and arrived at having to go out and kill everyone.”
Forty-six years later, it remains one of rock’s most visceral recordings. No matter who’s taking a stab at it.