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Weekend Wig-Out: White noise

9 Oct 11 | Re: Proto-cacophony

I know I haven’t done a wig-out in about 100 years (or at least more than 100 days - the last one was in March) but there are still two of these that I want to cover, so, as I have been meaning to do for a while, I am bringing the series briefly back. This week I’m going to go back into musical history and look at a song that I believe may have pioneered the wig-out idiom.

Are you ready? This week’s wig-out is...

Helter Skelter by the Beatles
(Unavailable online of course; if you own it, stick it on.)

Yes, just like everything else in music, there’s a case to be made that the Beatles were there wigging out just ahead of everybody else. OK, I’m sure groups like Cream were doing extended jams all over the place, but the idea of the wig-out specifically in a recording context may start here. Several of the now-standard wig-out characteristics are present: the track is significantly more frenzied than those around it; it is positioned second-to-last on the side that it appears on; it ends in collapse; it is followed by an almost whisper-quiet contrast song.

(Note: Some might claim that the real wig-out on the White Album is actually Revolution 9. Sure, it is the second-to-last song on the album. Sure, it’s a lot longer than Helter Skelter. Sure, it’s followed by a lovely lullaby. BUT it is complete bobbins, and it contains no instruments, let alone instrumental solos, so I don’t think it qualifies.)

The main point against Helter Skelter being a true wig-out is its length - actually only four and a half minutes. However, we ought to remember that this was the vinyl age, there was less room on records generally, and four and a half mins is still 50% longer than the standard single back then. Anyway, we’ll see how much that counts against it when we do the scoring.

So, this proto-wig-out starts up with some very tense guitar strumming, and the vocals come in almost immediately. Twelve seconds in, we already have some real heaviness, and some good yelling from Paul (though still unconvincing, of course, it’s far better than his yelling attempt on, say, Hey Jude). Soon the backing vocals come in, and as an interesting side point I must say it struck me how T-Rex-like these are. Anyway, the first chorus appears less than a minute in - the song rarely stands still - and there is some good enthusiastic riffing in it.

After that, other wig-outs I’ve heard have conditioned me to expect a solo, but in fact the next verse comes in after the shortest of instrumental breaks. What’s impressive is how all the equipment, and the musicians, really sound like they’re straining under the effort of playing so loud. You can sometimes detect an audible breath in from Paul, and I’m sure the distortion on the rest of it, and the squealing feedback, and the low-level buzzing, are well-documented elsewhere. This apparent struggle against the limitations of the band’s technology is something that would be impossible now, and for me certainly adds to the overall feel.

So as the the song goes on we get more verses, more guitar breaks, and everything gets gradually wilder as it cranks up. There are a lot of cymbals from Ringo. And then, unexpectedly, it collapses. And then, just as unexpectedly, it fades in again, and fades out, and in and out again. This does a good job of making you wonder if the song will ever finish, and if so, how it possibly can. Of course the answer is with a drum hit and Ringo’s famous "I“ve got blisters on my fingers!” I wonder if he really did have.

Time to rate this wig-out!

Total wig-out points: 15.

Tune in next time, whenever that is, to see whether the last song I’ve got lined up can affect the top of the wigging table.

Posted by HAL HUNT at 19:10

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