Who Really Wrote the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride”?

The mark of a great pop song is that it has several meanings or ways into the song, but everything in the song, every component, is synthesized seamlessly. By that definition, the Beatles’ single, “Ticket to Ride,” is a great pop song. And for more evidence, it was a No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 upon its release in 1965. Though, of course, it is not without its controversies.

Videos by American Songwriter

Who Wrote “Ticket to Ride”?

As the years have passed, this has become more and more of a controversy. As with almost all the songs from the Beatles, the track is credited to Lennon-McCartney. But who wrote what and how much of it, remains in question.

Released in 1965 on the album Help!, the song, which appears in the Beatle movie of the same name, was “three-quarters mine and Paul [McCartney] changed it a bit. He said, ‘Let’s alter the tune,'” said John Lennon. Some 15 years later, though, not long before he died, Lennon changed his own tune, saying that McCartney only came up with how Ringo should play the drums in the song.

[RELATED: 4 Songs You Didn’t Know Sampled The Beatles]

Then 17 years after that, in 1997, McCartney said in his authorized biography, Many Years From Now, that he and Lennon penned the song together. “We sat down and wrote it together … give him 60 percent of it … we sat down together and worked on that for a full three-hour songwriting session,” said McCartney. In the end, it would seem Lennon was the driving force, but McCartney had more to do with the final product than he, at times, wanted to admit.

What Does it Mean?

The song, on its face, is about a girl who has a ticket to leave and is doing so. She departed the singer. But what is Lennon really getting at with the track? Well, McCartney, ever the more family-friendly Beatle, has said in his biography the title refers to a “British Railways ticket to the town of Ryde on the Isle of Wight.”

Lennon, however, offered a different idea. He said it had to do with, well, a clean bill of health for Hamburg prostitutes of the 1960s. Of course, as any Beatle fan knows, the Fab Four spent a lot of time honing their sound and live sets in Hamburg, Germany. So, that may be more accurate. A “ride” at that time was also a slang term for sex. As some have speculated, perhaps the song is about a woman leaving a man to become a prostitute. Or perhaps more likely, it’s about a boy who fell in love with a prostitute he was seeing, but now she has to leave.

Sings Lennon, I think I’m gonna be sad, I think it’s today, yeah / The girl that’s driving me mad is going away.

She said that living with me is bringing her down, yeah / She would never be free when I was around

In the end, Lennon sings, chest poking out:

I don’t know why she’s riding so high
She ought to think twice, she ought to do right by me
Before she gets to saying goodbye
She ought to think twice, she ought to do right by me

[RELATED: Meaning Behind the Song: “Something” by the Beatles]

Final Thoughts

No matter the specific context, a song about a lover leaving is timeless. In a strange way, the phrase ticket to ride seems timeless. Likely because of that duel meaning. It’s dramatic, fixed on departure, it’s lost love, and, in a vague way, it sounds sexual, the meaning bolstered by the fact it’s in a blues-rock song.

In the end, it’s a song about loss. As all great songs are.

Photo by King Collection/Avalon/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

The Story Behind Accidental Duo Loggins and Messina