Desolation and self-flagellation gnawed at the edges of Beatles for Sale, but it wasn’t until “Ticket to Ride” that the band tried crafting an arrangement to match the darkness of the subject matter. And certainly, compared with A Hard Day’s Night‘s thematically similar “I’ll Cry Instead” (John Lennon gets rejected, vacillates between despair and contempt), “Ticket to Ride” is depression in audio form. The lead guitar sketches the same figure over and over; the bass refuses to shift from the note where it’s gotten comfortable; the drums lumber sideways and crooked, anything to avoid taking a single step forward. But for a song that’s supposed to be such a drag, “Ticket to Ride” is remarkably buoyant. The brightness of the 12-string Rickenbacker and the countryish harmonies shine through the fog of self-pity and gloom, and even the off-kilter rhythm section manages a danceable groove. Surely part of this peppiness was with an eye to the charts – dirges don’t make for good number-ones, especially when they’re meant to be promoting frenetic comedies. Yet The Beatles weren’t afraid to go full-downbeat on fellow Help! track “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” and they’d top the charts again a few months later with a record even more melancholy and decidedly un-rock and roll.
More likely, then, is that the tension between lethargy and dynamism is intended to cover all the emotions that come with the end of a relationship, especially one that’s lasted far longer than it should’ve. Lennon’s first line is the tentative “I think I’m going to be sad,” and he probably is, at least at first. But it isn’t long before that sadness revs up into self-righteous self-pity (“and she don’t care!”). He then spends the second verse puzzling over his girlfriend’s stated reasons for leaving, unsure of whether to feel remorse for his behavior or to scoff at her unreasonableness. The more he thinks about it, the more his blood starts to boil, and the music follows suit, swapping out the lopsided drums for the frantic pulse of the tambourine. The bridge is the angriest part of “Ticket to Ride” – “she oughta think twice, she oughta do right by me” sounds suspiciously like a veiled threat – but the surge in tempo and the glee in Lennon and McCartney’s voices also make it the liveliest. (There is some perverse pleasure in feeling like the one wronged.) Then it’s back to the verses, only this time around, the musical repetition feels less like the numbness of depression than a reminder of the grind of a romance gone stale. Lennon’s re-examining his earlier sentiments from a different perspective: “I think” is now a stifled laugh; “she says that living with me is bringing her down” sounds more wry than resentful. When the coda kicks into double-time, Lennon’s falsetto cries of “my baby don’t care!” are self-mocking, as if unable to believe he could have ever cared either.
Not all of the emotions Lennon courses through in “Ticket to Ride” are attractive, but the frankness is astonishing. No longer did the band seem concerned with adhering to whatever The Beatles were supposed to sound like. Instead, they showed a willingness to branch out into darker subject matter and sonic experimentation. (Lennon would later jokingly claim “Ticket to Ride” as the first heavy metal song, but the droning bass and clattering, off-kilter percussion sound more like a precursor to the band’s flirtation with raga rock.) “Ticket to Ride” doesn’t just feel like a dividing line for The Beatles, though, but for the British Invasion as a whole. The chipper rock and roll revivalism of the first wave was falling from favor; bluesy hard rock and baroque pop were on the horizon. It would be nearly two months before another British single topped the Hot 100, this time by a band much tougher and rawer than any of the early comers. Even so, “Ticket to Ride” proves The Beatles were more than capable of surviving the transition. 9
Hit #1 on May 22, 1965; total of 1 week at #1
135 of 1009 #1’s reviewed; 13.38% through the Hot 100