Something that is a little confusing to me is why U2 opened Rattle And Hum with this song. It’s not a U2 song, they don’t cover it very well, and it doesn’t fit in with much of the rest of the album. My guess is they wanted to start the movie off with a bang, and this is what they chose, instead of something like Streets, which has led off many of their shows. Oddly enough, they only played this song live 15 times (plus one snippet) according to @U2. All of them (except the snippet) coming on the leg of the tour where the movie was recorded, with the last time being one of the nights where the color segment of the movie was filmed. So it’s not like this was a significant enough part of the band’s repertoire to feature in the movie, let alone as the lead song. This gets one of the lowest ratings for a live U2 song that I'll ever give.
I get that the band were going through a phase at the time, looking back at the past and the music that came out of America. This song obviously wasn’t that, although made famous in America by Charles Manson. I remember when the movie came out that there was even some controversy about that, Bono saying “This song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles, we’re stealing it back,” and people asking who the heck U2 thought they were to be defending the Beatles. Kind of tells you how thin-skinned some people are, and how they can read anything into anything someone says. It’s like politicians who will take a word said out of context and twist it. Stupid, just trying to gain points but it ends up being just another part of the corruption of the system.
An interesting little twist on the phrase “helter skelter” would be the definition “out of control”, which would have been a much better song to put in the movie.
While reading about this song I found someone who said that Bono had put a neat twist on the lyrics, saying “you ain’t no lover but you ain’t no dancer” instead of the original “you may be a lover but you ain’t no dancer”. I think it is far more likely that Bono simply got the words wrong on a song that he hadn’t learned very well (kind of like Watchtower on the movie, where they’re learning it in the dressing room right before the show). And that is odd because the lyrics are so very simple. To be controversial for a moment, I find most of the Beatles songs to be simple, the same verse repeated several times with just slight changes in the lyrics. Not necessarily a bad thing - U2 have done it at times - but I much prefer songs with a little depth, where you get three verses that are much different.
It’s funny watching the movie to see Bono swinging around with the microphone and the long wire dangling off it. Those were the days, before wireless, where you’d have some guy running around the edge of the stage making sure the microphone didn’t get caught on anything or anyone. Hard to believe that it was more than a quarter of a century ago.
My rating for Helter Skelter: 5 / 10