Ticket To Ride - Reviews

Reviewed by Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the Head:

Following their UK tour at the end of 1964 and another long Christmas season, the group took a month off before starting work on the second of their films. At this stage entitled Eight Arms To Hold YOU [1], the project was ill¬conceived, swiftly degenerating into a whimsical working holiday in the Bahamas and Austria. In the week before they flew to Nassau, The Beatles met at Abbey Road to start work on the soundtrack album, returning to Studio 2 on the day that EIGHT DAYS A WEEK arrived at No. 1 in America. They began with their new single, a Lennon number. A bitter, dissonant mild-tempo song with a dragging beat, TICKET TO RIDE [2] was hardly an obvious choice for a Beatles single and there was said to be disagreement about it behind the scenes. In the run-up to its UK issue, the pop press trailed it as a new departure for the group: something unusual, even uncommercial [3]. In the event, while British record buyers kept it at No. 1 for three weeks, America was less impressed, purchasing enough copies to haul it laboriously to the top for one week before it was deposed by The Beach Boys' cheery 'Help Me Rhonda'. With its melancholy B-side YES IT IS, TICKET TO RIDE was psychologically deeper than anything The Beatles had recorded before and a sharp anomaly in a pop scene where doomy melodramas from balladeers like Gene Pitney and P. J. Proby stood in for real feeling.

Yet there was more to the record than unusual emotional depth. As sheer sound, TICKET TO RIDE is extraordinary for its time - massive with chiming electric guitars, weighty rhythm, and rumbling floor tom-toms. Among the first attempts to convey on record the impact achievable live by an amplified group, it was later recalled by Lennon as 'one of the earliest heavy metal records'. As such, he may have been going for the effect he'd heard The Who produce seven months earlier (see I FEEL FINE), though it must be said that interest in the possibilities of amplified sound was very much in the air around this time. Apart from The Who's as-yet unrecorded ventures in pure noise, Jeff Beck, a master of controlled feedback, was about to replace bluesman Eric Clapton as lead guitarist with one of Britain's most exciting live groups, The Yardbirds. A tougher sound had also entered the UK singles chart towards the end of 1964 with The Animals' 'I'm Crying', The Kinks' 'You Really Got Me', Them's 'Baby Please Don't Go', and Keith Richards' ferocious minimalist solo in The Rolling Stones' 'It's All Over Now'. Having played acoustic guitar throughout most of A Hard Day's Night and Beatles For Sale, Lennon returned to electric quitar [4] in I FEEL FINE and TICKET TO RIDE with an energy drawn partly from the air of adventure then abroad on the UK scene. But there was perhaps a more potent reason for his renewed absorption in the texture of high amplification.

Some time early in 1965 - the exact date is unknown but it may have been in January or February, before The Beatles went abroad to film Help! - Lennon and Harrison encountered LSD [5]. 'Spiked' by a foolish acquaintance who slipped it into their coftee after dinner, they found themselves careering through late-night London, dazzled and near-hysterical as the powerful hallucinogen took effect. Lennon later admitted that the experience had stunned him, revealing a mode of perception which marijuana had barely hinted at. Whether TICKET TO RIDE was his first creative response to LSD is, on current evidence, impossible to say. lts heavy rhythm and immersion in electric sound may have been a spin-off from the cannabis inspiration audible in the later work for Beatles For Sale. On the other hand, the track is far more intense than anything The Beatles made in late 1964, pointing forward to 1966 and such frankly psychedelic records as RAIN, which shares its gong-like clangour of saturated guitar tone, and TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS, which emulates its high-lying one-note bass-line and broken drum pattern. (It also shows signs of 1966-style varispeeding, being pitched in the gap between G sharp and A.) TICKET TO RIDE is even more unusual for The Beatles in clinging, entranced, to its opening chord for six long bars (ten, including the introduction). Like the middle eight experiments on Beatles For Sale, this was clearly deliberate and may, in this case, have been suggested by Martha and the Vandellas' similarly obsessional 'one-chord' hits for Motown towards the end of 1964: 'Dancing in the Street' and 'Wild One'. Again anticipating 1966, Lennon's melody rises and falls in mesmeric raga-style - A, C sharp, D, E, G - making McCartney's harmony in bluesy fourths and thirds seem shockingly harsh [6].

Though it had appeared in half a dozen Beatle songs, the word 'sad' here carries a weight graphically embodied in the track's oppressive pedal tonality and deliberately cumbersome drums. There is, too, a narcotic passivity about Lennon's lyric: though the girl is leaving him, he makes no attempt to stop or threaten her as he would have done in earlier sonqs, all he does - in the ruminative, monochordal middle eight - is mutter bitterly while she 'rides high', absorbed in herself (a self whose chief characteristic is that of not caring). By 1966, according to Lennon, he was 'eating' LSD, taking 'thousands' of trips and lapsing into introspective states for days on end. This self-centred, addictive outlook, which eventually led him to heroin, is vividly prefigured in the droning sound and lethargic mood of TICKET TO RIDE. The first Beatles recording to break the three-minute barrier [7], it is an extra-ordinary precognition of their next stage of development, commenced fifteen months later with TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS.


  1. The title appears on the first pressings of both TICKET TO RIDE and HELP!. Help! was supposed to be the second of a three-film contract between The Beatles and United Artists. Plans for a third film (rumoured to have been based on Richard Condon's novel A Talent tor Living) were subsequently shelved.
  2. The title arose from a pun on Ryde, the ferry port in the north of the Isle of Wight. Lennon and McCartney took a daytrip ferry from Portsmouth to Ryde to visit friends (possibly on 8th April 1963).
  3. This ploy was not original. The Animals' 'House of the Rising Sun' was promoted by playing up its 'uncommercial' length (four minutes, almost twice as long as the average pop single).
  4. He plays a Jetglo Rickenbacker 325 12-string presented to him in America in mid-1964. Harrison is probably using his Rickenbacker 360/12 (although for the TICKET TO RIDE promo film he sported a recently-acquired Gibson ES345 stereo). McCartney's lead lines in the fade-out are performed on his new Epiphone Casino, a semi-acoustic modelled on the Gibson ES330 which he bought in late 1964.
  5. According to Peter Brown (see DAY TRIPPER) it was during the filming of Help!, i.e., after the end of March 1965. Goldman, whose account is the most detailed, claims it took place 'back in 1964'.
  6. Lennon's formal introduction to Indian classical music took place six months later with NORWEGIAN WOOD. Although probably derived from Motown, the sustained tonic at the beginning of TICKET TO RIDE, is equivalent to the static Indian drone foundation. Hence, perhaps, the raga-like melodic results.
  7. At 2:58, YOU REALLY GOT A HOLD ON ME is the longest Beatles track before SHE'S A WOMAN (2:59) in October 1964. Leaving aside YOU WON'T SEE ME (3:17), The Beatles' timescale only began to expand significantly on Sgt. Pepper.

Posted: 28 dec 2009

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