“Ticket to Ride” is a song by the English rock group the Beatles, written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon–McCartney. Issued as a single in April 1965, it became the Beatles’ seventh consecutive number 1 hit in the United Kingdom and their third consecutive number 1 hit in the United States, and similarly topped national charts in Canada, Australia and Ireland. The song was also included on their 1965 studio album Help! Recorded at EMI Studios in London in February that year, the track marked a progression in the Beatles’ work through the incorporation of drone and harder-sounding instrumentation relative to their previous releases. Among music critics, Ian MacDonald describes the song as “psychologically deeper than anything the Beatles had recorded before” and “extraordinary for its time”.
“Ticket to Ride” appears in a sequence in the Beatles’ second feature film, Help!, directed by Richard Lester. Live performances by the band were included in the Beatles at Shea Stadium concert film, on the live album documenting their concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, and on the 1996 Anthology 2 box set. In 1969, “Ticket to Ride” was covered by the Carpenters, whose version peaked at number 54 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Ticket to Ride” was written by John Lennon, although credited to Lennon–McCartney. In his authorised biography, however, Paul McCartney contradicts this, saying: “we sat down and wrote it together … give him 60 percent of it … we sat down together and worked on that for a full three-hour songwriting session.” Speaking in 1980, Lennon said that McCartney’s contribution was limited to “the way Ringo [Starr] played the drums” on the recording.
The song is written in the key of A major. The structure of the composition is in an expanded variation of the AABA pop song format, with eight bars of verse and eight bars of chorus forming the A section, and a nine-bar primary bridge forming the B section. The sustained A chord over the verses creates an implied drone common in Indian music and supports a melody that author Ian MacDonald terms “raga-like”.
The song’s coda features a change of tempo. In the view of musicologist Walter Everett, the latter section marks a progression on previous Beatles songs that similarly revisit aspects of a composition when ending with a coda. In the case of “Ticket to Ride”, the section consists of a repeated refrain similar to the last line of the chorus (“My baby don’t care”), played over a constant A major chord and set to the double-time rhythm used in the bridge. Lennon said this closing section was one of his “favourite bits” in the song. He also claimed that “Ticket to Ride” was the first heavy metal record ever made. According to MacDonald, the track’s heavy sound may have been influenced by Lennon and George Harrison’s first encounter with LSD, the precise date for which varies among Beatles biographers.
While the lyrics describe a girl “riding out of the life of the narrator”, the inspiration of the title phrase is unclear, as is the meaning of the song. McCartney said the title referred to “a British Railways ticket to the town of Ryde on the Isle of Wight”, and Lennon said it described cards indicating a clean bill of health carried by Hamburg prostitutes in the 1960s. The Beatles played in Hamburg early in their musical career, and a “ride” was British slang for having sex. Gaby Whitehill and Andrew Trendall of Gigwise have interpreted the song to be about a woman leaving her boyfriend to become a prostitute.
The Beatles recorded “Ticket to Ride” on 15 February 1965 at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London. It was the band’s first recording session since completing the Beatles for Sale album on 26 October 1964, after which they had toured the UK and played a season of Christmas shows in London through to mid January. The session inaugurated what author Mark Lewisohn describes as “a more serious application in the recording studio” by the group, which included taping rehearsals of each song they worked on and concentrating on backing or rhythm tracks, after which they would overdub more detailed instrumental parts. Everett views the recording as a radical departure for the Beatles, due to the vocals and lead guitar parts being overdubbed for the first time.
The song’s main guitar riff was played by Harrison on his Rickenbacker 12-string guitar and was among the parts taped with the rhythm track. Author Mark Hertsgaard highlights the idea for this riff and for Starr’s “jagged, whack-and-jump” drum pattern as examples of McCartney’s increasing importance as the Beatles’ musical director. According to Harrison, however, the Rickenbacker riff was his own idea, based on the way Lennon strummed the chord when introducing the song to the band. Harrison also said that the “staggered” motion of the riff then inspired the pattern that Starr decided to play. In addition to Lennon’s lead vocal and McCartney’s harmony, the overdubs included further electric guitar parts by Lennon and Harrison (on Rickenbacker 325 and Fender Stratocaster, respectively), over the verses, and by McCartney (on Epiphone Casino), who supplied the fills that close the bridges and the solo over the coda.
It was [a] slightly new sound at the time, because it was pretty fuckin’ heavy for then. If you go and look in the charts for what other music people were making, and you hear it now, it doesn’t sound too bad. It’s all happening, it’s a heavy record.
– John Lennon, 1970
In March 1965, the Beatles and their manager, Brian Epstein, selected “Ticket to Ride” and “Yes It Is” to be the A- and B-sides, respectively, of the group’s first single release of the year. The record was issued by EMI’s Parlophone label on 9 April 1965 in the United Kingdom, and by Capitol Records on 19 April in the United States. A contemporary news report stated that the Beatles were due to promote the single on television shows such as Top of the Pops and Thank Your Lucky Stars, and that the band were forming an independent production company with their producer, George Martin, which would earn them a more favourable financial return on their recordings. In addition to their television promotion, the group performed the song during their last session for BBC Radio, on 26 May, which was broadcast as The Beatles (Invite You to Take a Ticket to Ride).
“Ticket to Ride” topped Britain’s official singles chart for three weeks. It went straight in at number 1 on the national listings compiled by Melody Maker, where it also stayed for three weeks, and similarly topped Ireland’s singles chart in its first week of release there. In America, the song was number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for one week. According to Billboard’s Hits of the World listings for 15 May 1965, “Ticket to Ride” was also the top-selling single in Australia. The US single’s face label stated that the A-side was from the forthcoming United Artists release Eight Arms to Hold You, which was the original title of the Beatles’ second film, directed by Richard Lester. The title was changed to Help! after the single’s release. In the film, the song plays over a sequence during which the Beatles attempt to ski and frequently fall over. The track also appeared on the band’s 1965 album Help!, which was issued on 6 August in the UK and on 13 August in the US.
“Ticket to Ride” was the eighth consecutive chart-topping single for the Beatles in the UK and the first Beatles track released with a running time exceeding three minutes. On the American charts, it was the third of six number 1 singles in a row, a record at the time, along with “I Feel Fine”, “Eight Days a Week”, “Help!”, “Yesterday” and “We Can Work It Out”. Everett writes that although the song achieved “classic” status, it was a surprise among Beatles singles in that it failed to achieve gold accreditation from the Recording Industry Association of America. When the song hit number 1 there, the Beatles became the fourth consecutive English group to hold down the top spot, after Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, and Herman’s Hermits. Thus, the Beatles broke a combined six-week run at the top for Mancunian groups. As part of EMI’s policy of celebrating the 20th anniversary of each Beatles single, “Ticket to Ride” was reissued in the UK in April 1985 and peaked at number 70 on the UK Singles Chart.
On 23 November 1965, the Beatles filmed promotional clips for “Ticket to Ride” and four other songs, including both sides of their upcoming single at the time, “Day Tripper” / “We Can Work It Out”, at Twickenham Film Studios in south-west London. The films were directed by Joe McGrath, who had worked on Help! as an assistant to Lester. In the case of “Ticket to Ride”, the clip was made for inclusion in Top of the Pops’ round-up of the biggest hits of 1965.
Against a backdrop of oversized tickets, the Beatles are shown miming to the song, with Starr standing at his drum kit and the other band members sitting in director’s chairs. Part of the clip appeared in the 1995 documentary The Beatles Anthology. In 2015, it was included in full on the Beatles’ video compilation 1.
“Ticket to Ride” is a watershed single, the moment when the Beatles moved from cuddly mop-tops to strange and interesting sonic explorers. So it’s fitting that it carries an enigma at its core [regarding the song’s meaning] – the first Rosebud in a catalogue of many.
– Music critic Johnny Black, 2006
In his contemporary review of the single, Derek Johnson of the NME admired the “depth of sound” and “tremendous drive” of the recording. Music critics Richie Unterberger of AllMusic and Ian MacDonald both recognise “Ticket to Ride” as an important milestone in the evolution of the musical style of the Beatles. Unterberger said, “the rhythm parts on ‘Ticket to Ride’ were harder and heavier than they had been on any previous Beatles outing, particularly in Ringo Starr’s stormy stutters and rolls.” MacDonald describes it as “psychologically deeper than anything the Beatles had recorded before … extraordinary for its time – massive with chiming electric guitars, weighty rhythm, and rumbling floor tom-toms”, and he views the production as a signal of the band’s next major change of musical direction, with “Tomorrow Never Knows” in April 1966. MacDonald also notes that, while the Kinks’ “See My Friends” has been identified as the inspiration for the Beatles’ incorporation of Indian sounds later in 1965, the implied drone in “Ticket to Ride” could equally have influenced the Kinks when they recorded “See My Friends”.
Writing for Mojo in 2002, musician and journalist Bob Stanley recognised the track as “where moptop Beatlemania ends and [the Beatles]’ weightless, ageless legend begins”. In his song review for Blender, Johnny Black similarly described it as a “watershed” recording and attributed its relatively poor US sales to the song’s “weird soup of hypnotically chiming, droning guitars, stuttering drums and contrasting vocal textures that, in the context of the 1965 charts, was far ahead of its time”. Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph identifies a darker edge to Lennon’s lyric writing during the Help! period and he cites “the drone of riffing, proto-heavy-rock song Ticket to Ride” as an example of the band’s more sophisticated sound, and of how the album “contains some of their greatest early songs”. In his review of Help! for BBC Music, David Quantick includes “Ticket to Ride” among the album’s “flashes of brilliance” and describes it as “the song that saw The Beatles take on The Kinks, the Stones and The Who at their own, more rocky game”.
“Ticket to Ride” has been included in many critics’ best-song lists, including top 500 “all-time” lists compiled by Rolling Stone in 2010 (at number 394) and the NME in 2014 (number 311). Dave Marsh ranked it 29th on his 1989 list “The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made”. The track appeared at number 17 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Beatles Songs” and at number 23 on a similar list compiled by Mojo. In his commentary for Mojo, John Harris said that “Ticket to Ride” was “the sound of a four-piece group hurtling way beyond the beat-pop being churned out by their peers”. In 2014, USA Today named it the best Beatles song, saying: “No single better reflects the ambition, tension and pure pop genius that made the Beatles unique … Ticket to Ride is perfection all the way through.”
The Beatles played “Ticket to Ride” throughout their June–July 1965 European tour. A live performance from the 1 August 1965 broadcast of Blackpool Night Out was included on the Anthology 2 compilation and shown during The Beatles Anthology documentary. On 14 August, the group recorded a live performance of the song for The Ed Sullivan Show, broadcast the following month.
“Ticket to Ride” was also included in the set list for the Beatles’ 1965 US tour and their UK tour at the end of the year. The 15 August performance at Shea Stadium appears in the 1966 documentary The Beatles at Shea Stadium, although the audio for the song was re-recorded in London prior to release. The group’s 29 August performance at the Hollywood Bowl was chosen for the 1977 album The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl.
John Lennon – double-tracked vocal, rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney – harmony vocal, bass guitar, lead guitar
George Harrison – lead guitar (12-string), rhythm guitar
Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine, handclaps