John Lennon took the twelve-string arpeggio George Harrison had played at the fade-out of “A Hard Day’s Night” and slowed it down for the haunting sparkle of “Ticket to Ride.” The drone of the rhythm guitar is the first hint of musical influence from Britain’s former colony India. The Beatles also started experimenting with drums. Paul McCartney demonstrated the unusual beat he had in mind, and let Ringo Starr take it from there. Starr’s off- kilter, rolling drums on “Ticket to Ride” cap a massive sound that Lennon later proudly deemed “pretty fuckin’ heavy for then.” For an added twist, they kick the tempo up to double-time just before the fade-out. But perhaps the biggest departure is the downbeat mood. Though the group had released dark album cuts, until then, their singles—their main statements to the world—were happy. “Ticket to Ride” was the first time a sad song actually made the A side.
The Beatles’ recreation regimen had consisted of amphetamines, whiskey, and Coca-Cola, but after meeting Bob Dylan, they switched to marijuana, which made them feel more relaxed. But marijuana is a hallucinogen, amplifying whatever emotion the smoker is in, and Lennon had been troubled by a difficult childhood. He was abandoned by both parents and given to his aunt; he then suffered the early deaths of his mother, best friend, and favorite uncle. The speed (stimulant), booze (depressant), and thrill of success had blocked all this out, but marijuana brought more complex moods to the fore.
“Ticket to Ride” continues the theme of “I’m a Loser” as Lennon’s woman leaves because she can’t be free while living with him. The idea in itself was somewhat unusual for the time, as it implies divorce, separation, or “living together,” still years away from being accepted. In their early days, the Beatles played the red light district of Hamburg, Germany, where the doctors examined the hookers and issued cards to indicate that they had a clean bill of health. Lennon dubbed these “tickets to ride.” McCartney’s cousin had a pub in the town of Ryde, England. There was also an old African American spiritual called “If I Have My Ticket, Can I Ride?” Given the Beatles’ love of puns, the title probably reflects all meanings.