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

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

631224_02.jpg

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