193. The Beatles – Ticket to Ride (1965)

23 April saw the opening of the Pennine Way. The National Trail runs 267 miles from Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District, up to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. Three days later, Manchester United won the Football League First Division title. In other football news, Liverpool won the FA Cup for the first time, defeating Leeds United 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on 1 May. Elsewhere, on 7 May the Rhodesian Front, led by Ian Smith, won a landslide victory in the general election in Rhodesia.

Meanwhile, the Beatles were at number 1 for the seventh time, with their most adventurous single to date.

In February, they had begun filming, and recording the soundtrack album, for their second movie (their first in colour), provisionally called Eight Arms to Hold You. Just as weird as the title was the film itself. Once again directed by Richard Lester, this was a more surreal, loose, knockabout comedy than A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and with a bigger budget, too. Intended as a spoof of spy films, it essentially became an excuse for the Fab Four to travel to exotic locations. The Beatles spent most of the time stoned out of their minds, and would often struggle to stop themselves laughing while filming. In some scenes, their eyes are bloodshot from all the smoking they indulged in. Lads.

Fortunately for everyone, the Beatles on marijuana didn’t result in self-indulgent dribble. It made for their best film. That’s nothing compared to the impact on their music, though.

Ticket to Ride was the first track worked on for their fifth album. In 1980, Lennon claimed in Playboy that the song was pretty much his own. He also proudly stated it invented heavy metal. The jury’s out on both, but it began one hell of a creative patch. None of their singles had sounded like this, musically or lyrically. He said Paul McCartney was only responsible for Ringo Starr’s drum sound, whereas McCartney later stated they wrote it together in three hours.

Even if Lennon was right, you can’t underestimate the drums on Ticket to Ride, so McCartney clearly made an important contribution. Making Starr play in such a stop-start fashion created an epic, proto-pyschedelic sound, which isn’t that far removed from the still-startling Tomorrow Never Knows, created a year later. George Harrison once said that the drums were also influenced by the equally important jagged guitar riff, which he claimed ownership of, having played it on his Rickenbacker. Whoever came up with what, this track was breaking new ground.

Although the Beatles were innovative with their songwriting from the start, those first few years were often full of basic lyrics about love. Not this time. The combination of an adoration of Bob Dylan and drugs made the words in Ticket to Ride more adult, oblique and interesting. A woman is leaving the narrator, that much we know. So far, so ‘blues’. But where to? Some suggest the woman has become a prostitute. McCartney once claimed she’s simply off to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. I find the former more likely. The prefix of ‘I think’ adds so much to the song, without explaining itself. And although the narrator isn’t sure exactly whether he’s upset or not, he says his baby definitely isn’t. It was rare at the time to allow a woman in a break-up to have the upper hand in a pop song.

Ticket to Ride was also a first for the Beatles for the way in which it was recorded. They were taking an increased interest in the way their songs sounded, and from now on they would tape rehearsals and concentrate on backing tracks, before overdubbing more instruments and the vocals.

Although most of the rest of the album it came from was fairly straightforward, Ticket to Ride marked the start of the band’s psychedelic period, and that’s easily my favourite era of my favourite band. The slow pace of the drumming, combined with the drone of the guitars, gives it an Indian feel. It seems this was a coincidence rather than by design, as it was later, during the making of the film, that Harrison became interested in Indian music (it seems the decidedly un-PC comedy Indian characters in Help! had their uses after all). The middle-eight was your more standard Beatles fare, but I can still find the switch back to the main riff spine-tingling, even after all these years. The ‘My baby don’t care’ refrain in the coda is a thrilling climax, with great guitar licks from McCartney.

Ticket to Ride enjoyed a lengthy (by 1965 standards – most number 1s only lasted a week) three-week stint at the top. It was their longest track to date, running for over three minutes. Singles were getting longer, hair was getting longer, things were getting weirder. They promoted the song on Top of the Pops, and a brief clip of the performance was also shown on Doctor Who in May, as part of the story The Chase.

The most famous performance of the song was in their second movie. By the time of its release it was known as Help!, and Ticket to Ride featured in a sequence in which the band learned to ski in the Austrian Alps while also avoiding the assassins attempting to steal Ringo’s ring. A highly influential part of the film, some say it was a big influence on the idea of music videos and eventually MTV.

As I mentioned in my blog for I Feel Fine though, the Beatles were already making promo films to save them having to be everywhere at once. That November, they made promos for their next single, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, and also made one for Ticket to Ride to feature on a festive edition of Top of the Pops. The foursome mimed in front of a backdrop of large tickets, with John, Paul and George sat in director’s chairs.

She Loves You is perhaps the greatest pop song of all time, but I think Ticket to Ride may be my favourite song of the early years of the Beatles. Time will never dull its magnificence.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (22 April-12 May)

Births:

Actress Anna Chancellor – 27 April 
Television presenter Alice Beer – 1 May 
Wrestler Darren Matthews – 10 May

Deaths:

Welsh novelist Howard Spring – 3 May

166. The Beatles – Can’t Buy Me Love (1964)

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16 April saw sentencing passed on 11 men for their roles in the Great Train Robbery, with seven receiving 30 years each. Two days later, Liverpool, by now considered the musical hotspot of the UK, won the Football League First Division title for the sixth time. On 20 April, the Queen’s new son’s name was officially registered as Edward, and that night was supposed to see BBC Two begin broadcasting. However, the start of Britain’s third television channel was scuppered by power cuts, and actually began a day later, with children’s show Play School becoming its first programme. BBC Television Service became known as BBC One.

Number 1 for three weeks in April, and the best-selling single of 1964, was the Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love. Significantly, other than the backing track for 1968’s The Inner Light, it was their only English-speaking track recorded outside of the UK. The Fab Four were in Paris at the time, performing 18 days of concerts at the Olympia Theatre. The West German branch of EMI, Odeon, were convinced the group would get nowhere in their country unless they re-recorded previous singles in German. The band believed otherwise, but reluctantly agreed to rework She Loves You as Sie Liebt Dich and I Want to Hold Your Hand as Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand. They got through these recordings so quickly, they had time to work on a new Paul McCartney composition (the band had a piano installed in one of their hotel suites so they could continue songwriting). Were the lyrics inspired by Kitty Kallen’s 1954 number 1, Little Things Mean a Lot? It’s a possibility. For the first time, a Beatles single featured just the one singer, and it tended to be that the singer was also the writer of the track. They also did away with their signature harmonies, although the early version featured on Anthology 1 in 1995 revealed they were originally intended. In this version, the bluesy feel is also more apparent. It’s an interesting version, but the finished product has more swagger.

Critics of Can’t Buy Me Love consider it something of a step back in the Beatles swift progression. Possibly so, but it’s as good as any of their early singles to me, and the ditching of the backing vocals, when so many other acts had began copying them, actually suggests a progression of sorts to me. The lyrics may seem somewhat trite, especially coming from a man who was already becoming very wealthy, but there’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly George Harrison’s stinging rockabilly guitar solo. I used to think this had been double-tracked, but it is in fact simply an overdub, recorded when back in England, over the top of the original, that you can hear in the background.

By the time it was released, the British Invasion was in full swing, and Can’t Buy Me Love broke several records in the US chart, including becoming the only time an artist had three number 1s in a row, and the only time one act held the top five positions. This record in particular is unlikely to ever be broken. The song featured on the Beatles’ third album, A Hard Day’s Night, their first LP made up entirely of original songs, and made it onto the film soundtrack side. It featured twice in Richard Lester’s movie, which the band were in the process of filming when the single was released. Most famously, it was used in the surreal scene in which the group break free and run around a field. This was originally to feature I’ll Cry Instead, but it was understandably considered too downbeat. Once filming was complete, and with the UK, France and US conquered, it was time to take over the rest of the world.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 April) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Politician Nigel Farage – 3 April
Scottish historian Niall Ferguson – 18 April
Actor Andy Serkis – 20 April 

160. The Beatles – I Want to Hold Your Hand (1963)

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1963 had been an eventful year in many ways, particularly for pop music, and of course, the impact the Beatles had caused a sea change in the charts that hadn’t been seen since the advent of rock’n’roll. So it is entirely appropriate that the Christmas number 1 that year belonged to them. I Want to Hold Your Hand started a tradition, becoming the first of several festive chart-toppers for John, Paul, George and Ringo. It was also the song that transformed their fortunes in the US, and began the phenomenon known as the British Invasion.

Following the success of She Loves You, the Beatles played abroad for the first time since their Hamburg days, touring Sweden. They returned home to hundreds of screaming fans, and took on another triumphant tour of the UK, and their second album With the Beatles was released on 22 November. It became only the second album to sell over a million copies. In the sleeve notes, press officer Tony Barrow described the boys as ‘the fabulous foursome’, which became adopted by the media and shortened to ‘the Fab Four’. Unusually, EMI chose to keep one track back from the sessions in order to maximise its sales.

Allegedly, manager Brian Epstein was growing increasingly determined that the Beatles crack the US, and pressed Lennon and McCartney to write a single specifically with that in mind. Paul McCartney was now dating Jane Asher, and had moved into her family home at 57 Wimpole Street, London. I Want to Hold Your Hand was another collaborative effort, composed ‘eyeball-to-eyeball’ by John and Paul.  It was often the case at the time that the music took priority and random, almost bland phrases would be called out, and if they fitted, they stayed in the songs. The song’s title was likely in mind as they had recorded I Wanna Be Your Man as a showcase for Ringo on the new album.

The first track to be recorded using four-track technology, I Want to Hold Your Hand has a more subtle intro than She Loves You – it actually has an intro, for a start. All four band members provide the handclaps as the first verse begins. Lyrically, it’s rather bland, and polite, as was the fashion at the time. It’s not as clever as She Loves You, and at first you could be forgiven for finding it as safe and sexless as a track by Cliff Richard and the Shadows. However, musically we’re in more adventurous territory, and the way the whole track lifts when they first sing ‘I wanna hold your hand’ suggests hand-holding is just the start. This is backed up by ‘And when I touch you I feel happy inside’. Famously, ‘I can’t hide’ was misheard by Bob Dylan, who gave the Beatles cannabis after assuming the band were regular users – he thought they were singing ‘I get high’. On the whole, it’s inferior to She Loves You, but then again, most things were, and often still are.

Upon its release, I Want to Hold Your Hand had already had over a million advance orders in the UK. However, it found itself battling it out with the Beatles’ last single – Beatlemania was becoming such a force that She Loves You had returned to number 1 after You’ll Never Walk Alone. On 12 December the Beatles became the first act to knock themselves off the top of the charts, and stayed there until mid-January 1964. During this time, EMI and Brian Epstein convinced Capitol Records in the US to get behind the single. The band were becoming known in the US thanks to small labels like Vee-Jay releasing earlier material. It was released in America on Boxing Day, and eventually hit the top of the Billboard charts in February, where it remained until She Loves You overtook it. Beatlemania had hit the US, and gave the country a much-needed lift following JFK’s assassination.

Brian Epstein refused to let the group relax over Christmas, and so they found themselves headlining The Beatles’ Christmas Show, a variety show that ran for 16 nights over the festive period. A mixture of pantomime (hence the Fab Four’s bizarre outfits in the picture above) and music, the shows also featured Billy J Kramer with the Dakotas, Cilla Black and Rolf Harris. That Christmas also saw them release their first gift for fan club members, The Beatles’ Christmas Record.

Elsewhere that Christmas, Doctor Who introduced the Timelord’s most infamous villains to TV screens. The famous sink plunger stalked assistant Barbara at the end of the first episode of The Daleks on 21 December. And New Year’s Day 1964 saw the start of another television – and musical – milestone, with the very first episode of Top of the Pops. DJ Jimmy Savile introduced the show live from Manchester, and it featured tracks from the Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, Dusty Springfield, and of course, the Beatles. The show became an institution, and mirrored whatever was happening in the charts every week until that same disgraceful human being, Jimmy Savile, was the last person seen on screen on the final weekly episode in 2005.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 5 (12 December 1963-15 January 1964)

Births:

Comedian Caroline Aherne – 24 December 
Comedian Bill Bailey – 13 January 

158. Brian Poole and the Tremeloes – Do You Love Me? (1963)

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Knocking the Beatles’ She Loves You from the top on its first stint was Do You Love Me? by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes on 10 October. Someone who may have been asking himself the same question that day was the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. The Conservatives were plummeting in opinion polls, thanks in large part to the Profumo affair, and Macmillan had only just scraped through a parliamentary vote on his leadership. The 69-year-old had been struck down with prostate problems on the eve of the Conservative conference a few days earlier, and was operated on for prostate cancer. Although his doctor said he would be well enough to continue to run the country, Macmillan decided he had been offered a way out. He officially resigned from his hospital bed on 18 October, and was succeeded a day later by Alec Douglas-Home. This proved controversial, as Douglas-Home was sitting in the House of Lords. To become Prime Minister, he renounced his peerage. A rather stiff, old-fashioned figure, like Macmillan before him, Douglas-Home looked decidedly outdated compared to Labour leader Harold Wilson, who was quickly gaining popularity.

Decca Records, the label of Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, must have been relieved when their act toppled the Beatles from number 1, as they had famously opted for them and turned the Fab Four down at auditions held on the same day – New Year’s Day 1962. As a London-based band, with a radio following, it had made commercial sense to do so.

Singer Brian Poole (b. 1941) grew up in Barking, east London. He met two Alans, Blakley and Howard, at secondary school, and a shared love of rock’n’roll saw the original formation of the Tremeloes in 1956. Poole took on vocals and guitar, with Blakley also on guitar and Howard on bass. Guitarist Graham Scott also joined up, with the line-up completed by drummer Dave Munden in 1957. Then known as just the Tremeloes, they quickly amassed a strong local following. Upon signing with Decca, they insisted the band became Brian Poole and the Tremloes, to follow prevailing fashions. Like other Merseybeat acts, they were in awe of rock’n’roll, Motown and other soul records, and their first single was their version of the Isley Brothers’ Twist and Shout, which came after the Beatles made it their album-closer on Please Please Me. They decided to cover similar ground with their follow-up, taking on the Contours’ classic from 1962.

Motown CEO Berry Gordy Jr had written Do You Love Me? with the Temptations in mind, but was struggling to find them. In the meantime he ran into the Contours and they performed a run-through. They were on the verge of being dropped, so were keen to make it theirs, but some band members believed it to be a pale imitation of Twist and Shout. They soon changed their tune when it became a huge hit.

Brian Poole and the Tremeloes clearly saw no problem in Do You Love Me? being so similar to their debut and were right to do so. The similarity is too close for my liking though, particularly near the end as they scream and shout their way into the chorus in exactly the same way the Beatles did in Twist and Shout. Ultimately, this number 1, although fast-paced and a very good facsimile of the Merseybeat sound, is a little bit too like a karaoke version for my liking. Poole doesn’t have the vocal prowess of Billy Gordon, and his spoken-word introduction is a little cringe-worthy. There’s some nice flourishes from the rhythm section, though.

The original has of course remained popular due in large part to its appearance in 1987 hit film Dirty Dancing. For me though, it tends to conjure up images of a young Jason Bateman as a werewolf in shoddy sequel, Teen Wolf Too, which came later that year.

Written by: Berry Gordy Jr

Producer: Mike Smith

Weeks at number 1: 3 (10-30 October)

Births:

Northern Irish footballer Alan McDonald – 12 October 

157. The Beatles – She Loves You (1963)

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She Loves You. Just over two minutes of guitar-based pop ecstasy, combining innovative lyrics with a simply joyous racket. It may well be the greatest song ever, let alone one of the greatest number 1s of all time. The significance of She Loves You is impossible to measure. From Ringo’s first drum roll, straight into that rapturous chorus, to the final chord, it’s just perfect.

Riding high after their first number 1, From Me to You, John and Paul began writing the follow-up on their tour bus after a concert on 26 June in Newcastle, and continued it back at their hotel, before completing it the following day at McCartney’s home. Paul originally had in mind a call-and-response song, along the lines of Bobby Rydell’s Forget Him. John said it was also Paul’s inspired idea to sing the song from the perspective of a third party. The idea of singing about someone else would eventually become an often effective way of differentiating the author of Lennon-McCartney songs – John tended to write about himself, Paul was interested in characters. The triumphant ‘yeah yeah yeah’ may have come from John, who later wondered if Elvis’s All Shook Up had given him the idea. The Everly Brothers’ Temptation may also have been an influence. The first person to hear She Loves You was McCartney’s father, Jim, when his son and John performed it on acoustic guitars. He liked it, but wasn’t happy with the use of ‘Americanisms’ – wouldn’t they rather change the words to ‘Yes, yes yes’? Understandably, this was laughed off.

Less than a week later, the Beatles assembled at Abbey Road to record this fourth single. Despite its obvious hit potential, there were some issues. Engineer Norman Smith saw the chorus lyrics on paper before hearing it, and wondered what the hell they were playing at, but soon changed his tune during the recording. George Martin thought Harrison’s suggestion to end on a major sixth chord was corny, but again, the proof was in the performance. Mixed on a two-track recording machine, in mono only, She Loves You was a primitive recording, but the instruments were mixed higher than before, creating a beefier sound.

Lyrically, She Loves You was a big step up from previous material. The lyrics detail a go-between in a love split. Some take the view that this person is envious of the girl’s love for his friend, which is an interesting theory, but one I don’t agree with. To me, it’s somebody telling a friend to sort himself out, she’s in love with him, and he should realise how lucky he is, because isn’t love amazing? It’s all there in the thrilling ‘Ooos’, re-used from From Me to You, that roll into the choruses. Obviously, Ringo’s prowess as a drummer is an argument that will never go away, but his thrashing around after that first chorus at the start is just brilliant to my ears.

Before it had even been heard, the highly-anticpiated fourth single by the Beatles was always going to be a hit. Thousands had pre-ordered it way in advance of its release, before even hearing how good it was. She Loves You spent six weeks at number 1, becoming 1963’s best-seller, their biggest single and eventually, the biggest-selling single of the 60s. After four weeks at number 1, it remained in the top three until it returned to number 1 for a fortnight at the end of November, coinciding with the release of second album With the Beatles, that eclipsed Please Please Me at number 1. It was finally toppled by the Beatles following single, I Want to Hold Your Hand. Beatlemania erupted in those last few months of the year, and She Loves You was their signature track. The song left a cultural legacy that few have ever bettered. The Beatles would go on to write better lyrics, and create more sophisticated music, continuously moving the goalposts while doing so, but if you were to try an explain to an alien or an idiot what pop music was in the 20th century, I defy you to find a more appropriate example than She Loves You.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 6 (12 September-9 October, 28 November-11 December) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE DECADE*

Births:

Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker – 19 September
Footballer David Seaman
Actress Lysette Anthony – 26 September
Ski jumper Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards – 5 December

Deaths:
Motorcycle racer Peter Craven – 20 September