Friday, July 10, 2009

Ticket to Ride

Today, I've got a ticket to ride and I don't care.

If nothing else, "Ticket to Ride" is probably one of the most famous musical scenes from Help!, just really well-done and hilarious and cutting-edge for its time. Which is funny, when you think about it it, because it mostly consists of watching people who don't know how to ski, ski. Actually, the reason the scene exists in the film is mostly because the Beatles said to Dick Lester, "Hey, we've never been skiing before! Could we write in a skiing part?" and off they went to the Alps to film something. (This is also why some scenes from Help! were shot in the Bahamas.) My skiing skills are about on par with the Beatles', but videos of me falling down while skiing would never be this compelling. Even when they're falling down they're charismatic as all get out. (Dick Lester is a really good director, too.)

Here's another thing the Beatles aren't that great at besides skiing: lip-syncing to their own songs. John is hilarious in this made-for-TV promo video.

But they were incredibly good, as we know, at making fantastic songs, and "Ticket to Ride" is absolutely one of them. This song is often characterized as a key developmental song, a conscious move away from the more acoustic, country-fried sounds of Beatles for Sale, as it was the first new music the public would have heard since that album-- it was released as a single backed with "Yes It Is" in the spring of 1965. Since I grew up with the Beatles in a post-singles kind of era, though, I tend to think more of this one as part of John's trifecta of awesomeness on the Help! soundtrack-- the other two being "Help!" and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"-- just because all three are so groundbreaking for him personally, and so different from each other that they really show off his range.

Now, my John-trifecta thesis is thrown off slightly by the fact that Paul has claimed that today's song is almost half his. In Barry Miles's Many Years from Now, which is actually a pretty good book as long as you never forget that Paul's goal is always to protect his own legacy, Paul says that about 60% of "Ticket to Ride" was written by John. How big of him to give John such credit! I'm dubious about this one, though, as I am of Paul's claim to have written large chunks of "Norwegian Wood" and "This Boy" and some others. (And of John's equally annoying claim to have written large chunks of "Eleanor Rigby.") I just don't hear it. Again, I'm willing to believe that Paul contributed a lyric or something-- John himself owned that Paul had the idea for the way Ringo is drumming, which is no small contribution-- but by the winter of 1965 they rarely wrote songs together anymore anyway, and the version Paul gives of actually working together on this for several hours goes against both conventional wisdom and my own ears. Does anyone know of any further evidence that this might be partly Paul's? Do share it if so.

Anyway, how is it that "Ticket to Ride" so rocks our world? For me, the key is the sort of lugubrious, weighty feel-- that feeling that later led John to call this the first heavy metal song. They're accomplishing this through a kind of amazing combination of drone-esque harmonic stuff and intense syncopation. If you listen to the beginning, you'll hear that the whole song stays on the I chord until John sings "a-way" in the middle of the first verse. (This is in A, by the way, as you already know if you watched the Help! video-- the musical notes are basically correct.) George, by the way, is playing that introductory guitar phrase over and over again throughout the verse, so he's also contributing to the sense of stasis. The strangeness of this is only heightened by the syncopated rhythmic figure that the bass and the rhythm guitar are playing in octaves (at least that's what I'm hearing)-- which is just that low A in a two-note syncopated phrase. Put together with the truly jarring syncopation in Ringo's beyond-awesome drum line, it makes for this really crazy rhythmic texture. I so love it. (And it does sound extremely different from Beatles for Sale, doesn't it?)

Ringo drumming might be the best part of the whole song for me. I have read his drum line described as being played "backwards" a few different times, and I think I hear what this means kind of intuitively, but I don't know enough about drumming to know what that literally means, so if anyone can help me out there, go for it. But even if I don't know how to talk about, I love the angry thwacks he gets here, and I particularly love the tippa-tappa thing he plays in the chorus right before the third "she's got a ticket to ride" vocal-- you know the one. On the last repeat of that part, he actually doesn't do it-- he just thwacks once on the beat-- and that might be my favorite part of the whole song for some reason. But I also want to single out John's vocal. On the verses, they've single-tracked him, but on the "she's got a ticket to ride" repeats it's double-tracked, and it sounds amazing. Sometimes John on that clear, energized double-tracked vocal just gets me in the gut. I always end up singing along to this much too loudly.

"Ticket to Ride" was considered so odd back in 1965 that it almost didn't make the cut as a single, but in the end it came out and was most assuredly a hit (though less so than some of their others). Even now, it sounds markedly different from some other stuff they had going on at the time-- just much heavier, or like more serious rock. You can hear that they're heading in the direction of "Rain" and "She Said She Said" and the like. (Or maybe that's only because I covered "Rain" so recently, but there seem to be echoes.) I think I put this one in my personal top 10 almost all the time, but it's one of those songs that I think might still flummox some people-- or at least, I get the distinct impression that I love this song more than a lot of people do. (Those other people are probably off listening to "The Fool on the Hill" or something, God help them. Well, there are all kinds of Beatles fans, and I hate to criticize...) But I'm not actually alone here, am I?

"Ticket to Ride," released in the U.K. as a single c/w "Yes It Is," April 9, 1965; in the U.S. April 19, 1965.


  1. Nope. I got your back. I ranked it 20th, but noted that I couldn't believe it wasn't top-10. Anyone who doesn't get this is probably missing a big part of what made them so awesome.

  2. I'm with you, too, Meg. I guess if Troy's got you back, i got your flank. Push on! You mentioned the repetition of the first cord. I think it's a great example of something that is quite important to rock and roll, which is "tension and release." Am i right on that?

    You didn't say much about the lyrics. I love the line and the thought process that created, she's got a ticket to ride. Says volumes.

    Regarding the video clip, didn't you just love the musical score showing up over the lines created by the telephone lines is the wide shot of the skiing?

  3. P.S. on the telephone lines. What makes it cool to me, is i can envision the cinematographer framing the wide shot of the Beatles skiing down the slope and complaining to the Director about the telephone wires "cutting thru and dividing" what would otherwise be a beautiful shot. And then Richard Lester having the light bulb go off ... and the result you see. May not have happened that way, but i can see it ...

  4. Actually, Frank, I think it did. They explain this a little on the special features of my Help DVD. I forget the details, but they're not dissimilar to what you said-- something about how, "gee, that's a great shot except for those telephone wires..."

  5. Hi Meg,

    This blog of yours is amazing! You know I credit you with my fondness for the Beatles. You were (and still are, obviously) so into them that I had to give them another look. You were right. They're great. Except I can't stand that Maxwell's hammer song either.

    I simply had to say hi to you. The Diner was sooooo boring after you went away, they simply razed it. HaHa

    Boat Steve

  6. Boat Steve?? How the hell are you? I am stunned that you were able to find this obscure little blog. But thanks for reading and for listening! You clearly rule as much as ever. Please be in touch somehow. If you're on Facebook, my funky last name makes me easy to search for, so look for me there.