U2 used to perform a lot more covers on-stage than they do now. Songs like “C’Mon Everybody,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “People Get Ready” were important parts of U2’s set-lists during the late eighties. One other song to add to that list is U2’s cover of a classic Beatles song, “Helter Skelter.”
I consider myself a moderate fan of The Beatles, so that group has several songs in their catalog that I really enjoy. For the most part, however, it seems that the members of U2’s taste in Beatles songs differs greatly from mine. I have written in the past about how I don’t really like The Beatles’ original version of “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” and to be honest, I don’t really care overly much for the original version of “Helter Skelter,” either. U2’s version, though…that’s a different story.In many ways, “Helter Skelter” was the moment that I started to take U2 seriously.
I spent a few of my early educational years at a boarding school in south-eastern Kentucky, and that place really had a huge impact on the man that I’ve become. The most important thing to come out of that experience for me was that I fell in love with a little four-piece group called U2, and “Helter Skelter” started it all. I was already peripherally aware of the band because of their hits “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You,” but I will never forget standing in the doorway to my friend’s room as he placed Rattle and Hum in his CD player. From the first words that Bono spoke (“This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles. We’re stealing it back.”) to the final note I was transfixed. I ended up spending the night in his room that night and spent the whole time with his collection of U2 CDs and a pair of cheap headphones.
It wasn’t even that U2’s cover of “Helter Skelter” was all that amazing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great–the band sounds fantastic and Bono voice was unforgettable–“Helter Skelter” just isn’t that strong of a song to start with, in my opinion. It was more that I had never really experienced rock and roll like this before. That one experience opened my eyes, ears, and heart to what music could do, how powerful it could be. Years later, when I read a quote from Paul McGuinness saying that he didn’t know a lot about rock music except that it was supposed to be a tremendous noise, I knew what he meant. The combined force of drums, bass, guitar and voice had changed my life forever.
I have to confess that I’m glad that U2 don’t do as many covers now as they used to. When I go to a concert, I want to hear U2 songs, not U2 as a cover band. Still, if U2 decide at some point to reincorporate covers into their set-lists, I wouldn’t mind hearing “Helter Skelter” once again, just for old time’s sake.