‘Ticket To Ride’ was the first song to be released from Help!, The Beatles’ fifth album. The band’s performance of the song, filmed on the ski slopes in Austria, was one of the highlights of the Help! film.

The song was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, although the precise nature of their contributions has been disputed. In one of his final interviews, Lennon claimed it as mainly his work.

That was one of the earliest heavy-metal records made. Paul’s contribution was the way Ringo played the drums.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

In his authorised biography, published in 1994, McCartney claimed ‘Ticket To Ride’ to have been a more collaborative effort.

We wrote the melody together; you can hear on the record, John’s taking the melody and I’m singing harmony with it. We’d often work those out as we wrote them. Because John sang it, you might have to give him 60 per cent of it. It was pretty much a work job that turned out quite well…

John just didn’t take the time to explain that we sat down together and worked on that song for a full three-hour songwriting session, and at the end of it all we had all the words, we had the harmonies, and we had all the little bits.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

McCartney also explained how he was particularly proud of the double-time coda in ‘Ticket To Ride’:

I think the interesting thing was a crazy ending: instead of ending like the previous verse, we changed the tempo. We picked up one of the lines, ‘My baby don’t care’, but completely altered the melody. We almost invented the idea of a new bit of a song on the fade-out with this song; it was something specially written for the fade-out, which was very effective but it was quite cheeky and we did a fast ending. It was quite radical at the time.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The first Beatles single to be longer than three minutes, ‘Ticket To Ride’ was heralded by the music press upon its release as a departure from the group’s familiar territory. Certainly its unusual drum patterns and downbeat lyrics were a departure from The Beatles’ usual upbeat optimism.

‘Ticket To Ride’ was slightly a new sound at the time. It was pretty fucking heavy for then, if you go and look in the charts for what other music people were making. You hear it now and it doesn’t sound too bad; but it’d make me cringe. If you give me the A track and I remix it, I’ll show you what it is really, but you can hear it there. It’s a heavy record and the drums are heavy too. That’s why I like it.
John Lennon, 1970

The song’s meaning has been subject to a number of interpretations over the years. While ostensibly about a liberated girl choosing her own path in life, a pair of incidents in The Beatles’ past may have inspired the song in part.

McCartney’s cousin Bett and her husband Mike Robbins owned a pub on Union Street in Ryde, on the north coast of the Isle of Wight. In the early 1960s Lennon and McCartney hitch-hiked to stay with them, and several years later the journey inspired a pun on the phrase ‘ticket to Ryde’ in the song.

I remember talking about Ryde but it was John’s thing.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

McCartney was more forthcoming about the Ryde connection in his 2021 book The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present:

John and I always liked wordplay. So, the phrase ‘She’s got a ticket to ride’ of course referred to riding on a bus or train, but – if you really want to know – it also referred to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, where my cousin Betty and her husband Mike were running a pub. That’s what they did; they ran pubs. He ended up as an entertainment manager at a Butlin’s holiday resort. Betty and Mike were very showbiz. It was great fun to visit them, so John and I hitchhiked down to Ryde, and when we wrote the song we were referring to the memory of this trip. It’s very cute now to think of me and John in a little single bed, top and tail, and Betty and Mike coming to tuck us in.

Another suggestion is that the title refers to sexually-transmitted diseases, and was inspired by the prostitutes encountered by The Beatles during their time performing in Germany.

The girls who worked the streets in Hamburg had to have a clean bill of health and so the medical authorities would give them a card saying that they didn’t have a dose of anything.

I was with The Beatles when they went back to Hamburg in June 1966 and it was then that John told me that he had coined the phrase ‘a ticket to ride’ to describe these cards. He could have been joking – you always had to be careful with John like that – but I certainly remember him telling me that.

Don Short, journalist
A Hard Day’s Write, Steve Turner

John Lennon's handwritten lyrics for Ticket To Ride

‘Ticket To Ride’ was the soundtrack to a key scene in the Help! film. Filmed on the ski slopes of Obertauern, Austria on 20 March 1965, it was a forerunner of the music videos which would later become widespread.

It also became part of The Beatles’ live repertoire in 1965, particularly on their summer tour of America. They played it during their final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and at their Shea Stadium and Hollywood Bowl concerts.

A version of ‘Ticket To Ride’, recorded for the British television show Blackpool Night Out, was included on Anthology 2. Another recording, taped for the radio show The Beatles Invite You To Take A Ticket To Ride, was included on Live At The BBC.

In the studio

Recorded in an afternoon session on 15 February 1965, at the first session for what became the Help! album, ‘Ticket To Ride’ marked a departure from The Beatles’ previous method of recording.

Although completed in just two takes, the first of which was a false start, ‘Ticket To Ride’ was the first Beatles song to be built from the ground up. Whereas in the past they’d rehearsed and recorded what amounted to an ‘as-live’ performance of their songs, from February 1965 they adopted the practice of recording just the rhythm tracks, and then building from there.

As such, although only two takes of ‘Ticket To Ride’ were needed, the song underwent a number of overdubs, revisions and experiments during the three hour session. They initially recorded drums and bass on track one of Abbey Road’s four track machines, then overdubbed rhythm and lead guitars (the latter played by Paul McCartney), John Lennon’s lead vocals, and then finally tambourine, guitars, backing vocals and handclaps onto track four.

‘Ticket To Ride’ was The Beatles’ first song to feature McCartney on lead guitar. He played the lines, which can be heard in the fade-out, on an Epiphone Casino hollow-body electric guitar. Lennon played a Fender Stratocaster, and it is likely that George Harrison played a Rickenbacker 360 12-string.

Chart success

‘Ticket To Ride’ was released on 9 April 1965 in the UK, and on 19 April in the US. Both editions were coupled with ‘Yes It Is’ on the b-side.

The single topped the charts in many countries. It spent three weeks at the top of the UK charts, and one in the US.

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Next song: ‘Act Naturally’
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