Hello there! This week we will resume our series Tim’s Cover Story Goes To The Movies, where we review a song that was featured in a film.
This week’s blog entry is Ticket To Ride. This is a great pop song by The Beatles. We will review their original song and discuss its inclusion in the movie Help! We will then discuss covers by Vanilla Fudge and by the Carpenters.
The Beatles, Ticket To Ride and the film Help!
The song Ticket To Ride was one of the tunes written for the Beatles’ second feature film, Help! There is some disagreement about the authorship of the song. While John maintained that he wrote the song more or less single-handedly, Paul’s contention is that the two of them composed the song together: he reckoned the contributions as about 60% John and 40% Paul.
Ticket To Ride continues the Beatles’ move towards progressively more complex and nuanced songs. Both the melody and lyrics are significantly more sophisticated than in the group’s first albums. Also, this was the first song where the Beatles adopted what became their standard practice of laying down the rhythm or backing tracks first, and then overdubbing vocals and lead guitar afterwards.
In addition, the coda of the song (“she ought to think twice, she ought to do right by me”) switches tempo and provides yet another change in style.
Released as a single in April 1965, Ticket To Ride was the Beatles’ seventh consecutive #1 hit in the U.K. and their third straight in the U.S. The Beatles also performed it live in their Shea Stadium concert and at the Hollywood Bowl.
Below is a photo of the Beatles in 1962, when they were recording a program for TV GRANADA. From L: Ringo Starr; George Harrison; Paul McCartney; John Lennon.Embed from Getty Images
Now we will shift to the movie Help! and eventually show the clip from that movie featuring the song Ticket To Ride.
Help! was filmed and released in 1965. Like The Beatles’ first picture, A Hard Day’s Night, it was directed by Richard Lester.
However, because of the commercial success of the first Beatles film, Help! had a significantly larger working budget. It was filmed in color and shot in various locations, including Obertauern in the Austrian Alps and the Bahamas.
The original title for the film was Eight Arms To Hold You. However, after John Lennon wrote the song Help!, the title of the film was changed. Apparently the film was inspired in part by the absurd shenanigans from the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup.
Before he became the Beatles’ producer, George Martin produced records for the cast of the BBC production The Goon Show. Martin had thus worked with both Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers on Goon Show records. Some of the wackiness in Help! can be traced directly to influences from The Goon Show.
The plot of Help! is so silly that there is little point in recounting many details. However, I will try to give a brief summary. The premise is that an Eastern cult is about to sacrifice a young woman to the goddess Kali.
However, at the last moment the sacrifice has to be postponed as the intended victim is not wearing a required sacrificial ring. As it happens, a fan had mailed the ring to Ringo Starr. So various clan members set off to extract the ring from Ringo, by any means necessary.
Through a series of farcical events, members of the cult fail to recover the ring. Also, Ringo is unable to remove the ring, which is stuck on his finger. The Beatles recruit a scientist and his assistant to expand the molecules in the ring so it will fall off. The scientists fail, but they too join the chase to steal Ringo’s magical ring.
The pursuit of the Beatles takes place across various countries. At some point, the Beatles end up in the Austrian Alps, where they are being pursued by both the Eastern cult and the mad scientists.
The song Ticket To Ride plays as The Beatles attempt to ski in the Alps, but frequently fall down. There are some whimsical scenes as the boys horse around on the slopes.
Ticket To Ride begins with a George Harrison solo, played on his 12-string Rickenbacker guitar. The tune is also notable for Ringo Starr’s highly creative drum licks. Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon each contribute some rhythm guitar parts.
At some point in the video a grand piano suddenly appears in the snow, and the Fab Four clown around while singing. The music video is wonderfully enjoyable, bringing to mind some of the most effective moments from A Hard Day’s Night. To my mind, the funniest moment in this clip occurs while Ringo plays with a duck’s head that he has carved out of snow.
Shortly before the Beatles began working on Help!, they had discovered marijuana. During filming of the movie, they were apparently smoking weed for breakfast every morning. Thus, they had some difficulty remembering their lines, and would break out in giggles at inopportune moments. In fact, the Beatles later described Help! as being filmed “through a haze of marijuana.”
Although the reception of film critics to Help! was rather harsh, today many people credit the movie with being an inspiration for music videos. The movie contains some great Beatles tunes, including the title song, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, You’re Gonna Lose That Girl, and The Night Before.
As for the particular song Ticket To Ride, it is generally considered a real gem, and in terms of musical creativity represents a significant step forward.
For example, music critic Ian McDonald
describes it as “psychologically deeper than anything the Beatles had recorded before … extraordinary for its time – massive with chiming electric guitars, weighty rhythm, and rumbling floor tom-toms”, and he views the production as a signal of the band’s next major change of musical direction [to songs inspired by Indian music].
In 2014, USA Today chose Ticket To Ride as their candidate for the best Beatles song ever. I would not go that far, but hey, one has so many Beatles gems to choose from!
Filmmaker Bob Rafelson had been trying for a couple of years to pitch a TV show about a rock quartet modeled after The Beatles, but found little interest in his concept. The unexpected commercial success of A Hard Day’s Night gave Rafelson more ammunition for his idea.
In 1965 his TV show The Monkees finally got the green light. In early Monkees episodes, the zany plots of the show and the tongue-in-cheek music videos were closely modeled after the Beatles movies.
After the movie Help!, the Beatles would take a radically inventive turn. They would first incorporate Indian-inspired music into their songs, following a trip to India to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Then they would stop touring and produce only studio work.
Following their incredible, mind-blowing albums Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album and Abbey Road, the Beatles would break up and break our hearts in the process.
But the magical music that they produced still lives on and continues to amaze us. Plus, the individual Beatles continued to produce some exceptional music even after their breakup. Thanks for the ride, boys.
Vanilla Fudge and Ticket To Ride:
Vanilla Fudge was one of the early heavy-metal groups. Their reputation seems to be fading into obscurity now, as they lasted for only a few years before disbanding.
In 1965, organist Mark Stein and bassist Tim Bogert formed a band called The Electric Pigeons. They were inspired by the group The Rascals, who had crafted a distinctive sound in which the organ played a prominent role.
Stein and Bogert soon added guitarist Vince Martell and drummer Carmine Appice. The group were signed to a record contract by Atlantic Records and their legendary founder, Ahmet Ertegun.
Below is a photo of Vanilla Fudge from 1968. From L: Mark Stein; Carmine Appice; Vince Martell; Tim Bogert.Embed from Getty Images
However, there was a hitch: Ertegun hated the name The Pigeons (the group had dropped “Electric” from their name), and insisted that they change it. After some discussion, the group settled on “Vanilla Fudge.” The name referred to their status as white soul musicians.
As an interesting side note, the Vanilla Fudge manager was Phillip Basile, who was reputed to be a member of the New York Mafia Lucchese family.
Vanilla Fudge had one big hit, their song You Keep Me Hangin’ On. This was a slow heavy-metal cover of the tune popularized by The Supremes. That song made the top 10 in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
Although Vanilla Fudge had no more chart hits, and they broke up in 1970, nevertheless they had an impact on rock music. The sound of the British heavy-metal band Deep Purple was strongly reminiscent of that from Vanilla Fudge.
Furthermore, when they first toured The U.S. early in 1969, Led Zeppelin opened for Vanilla Fudge at a few concerts. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin has remarked that his band was keenly aware of Vanilla Fudge and its style of music.
So here is Vanilla Fudge in a cover of the Beatles’ Ticket To Ride.
This is from a concert in Akron, Ohio in 2011. The band turns the Beatles tune into a heavy-rocking blues song. As you can see, the organ plays a major role in the group’s sound.
Vince Martell rocks out on guitar and lead vocals, while he is joined by Mark Stein on organ and Pete Bremy on bass (the original Vanilla Fudge bassist Tim Bogert retired in 2009). Carmine Appice thumps away on the drums. Right at the end of the song, the group indulges in an extended blues riff.
Although they disbanded in 1970, some or all of the members of Vanilla Fudge regrouped on several occasions. They united for a tour after the release of their Greatest Hits album in 1982. They also reunited in 2005, 2008 and 2011.
Vanilla Fudge were big fans of the Beatles, and issued several Beatles covers, including Ticket to Ride and Eleanor Rigby. Although the reputation of Vanilla Fudge has dimmed by now, the final episode of the HBO show The Sopranos featured their cover of You Keep Me Hangin’ On.
So, we wish the members of Vanilla Fudge continued success. They now can frequently be heard in concerts that feature members of other 60s groups such as The Doors, Steppenwolf and The Yardbirds.
Carpenters and Ticket To Ride:
Siblings Richard and Karen Carpenter became soft-pop superstars by combining Richard’s sophisticated orchestral arrangements with Karen’s wonderful throaty contralto vocals.
Below is a photo of Richard and Karen Carpenter from a 1976 concert in London.Embed from Getty Images
Between 1969 and 1980, the pair produced an astonishing number of top-40 easy-listening hits. Like his contemporary Burt Bacharach, Richard Carpenter fashioned a ‘signature sound’ by blending classically-inspired combinations of strings, woodwinds and brass.
Richard himself played keyboards on Carpenters’ songs and particularly favored the Wurlitzer electric piano, though he would also switch to grand piano, Hammond organ or harpsichord for various songs.
The duo also produced vocal tracks by overdubbing Karen’s and Richard’s voices to produce background vocals to complement Karen’s singing. Karen’s voice was distinctive and unforgettable – what she lacked in power she made up for with a three-octave vocal range, perfect pitch and a beautiful lower register that was highlighted by Richard’s arrangements.
Karen first appeared as the drummer in a jazz trio with Richard. She then began to be featured as a vocalist as well, but initially considered herself as “a drummer who sang.” Karen gradually gave up drumming when her vocals became the pivotal highlight of the group’s songs.
Here are the Carpenters in a live performance of Ticket to Ride. This is from a 1972 concert in Australia.
Isn’t this beautiful? This performance is somewhat rare in that Karen is still playing the drums. I think this may be the first song where I really noticed Karen Carpenter’s terrific low voice, which is just perfect for this tune.
Also, note Richard Carpenter’s innovative arrangement. He starts out with an electric piano solo that shows a classical influence. Then Karen Carpenter begins with her vocals, while Richard chimes in on the chorus.
Richard slows down the pace of the tune and converts it to a languid, mournful dirge. The first half of the song is basically just Karen and Richard, but they are joined by a full orchestra and chorus at the end. The combination of the arrangement and Karen Carpenter’s vocals is beautifully creative and hard to resist.
While they were a hot item, the Carpenters spent an enormous amount of time on the road, often performing up to 200 shows per year from 1971 to 1975. The grueling travel schedule eventually caught up to them. In January 1979, Richard checked into a rehab facility for treatment for addiction to Quaaludes.
However, it was Karen’s eating problems that proved disastrous for her. She suffered from anorexia nervosa, a terrible body image disorder where a person believes that they are overweight, regardless of how much weight they lose. In the most severe cases, patients could starve to death while still maintaining that they needed to lose more weight.
This situation was particularly difficult for Karen Carpenter, because at that time the affliction and its symptoms and treatment were not widely understood. In Karen’s case the disorder was also associated with obsessive purging to lose weight.
Her problem first surfaced when she collapsed during a performance in 1975. A couple of years later Karen began working with a psychotherapist, and she entered a treatment facility in fall 1982. Two months later she left the facility claiming that she was cured, despite pleas from her family and friends to remain in treatment.
In February 1983, Karen Carpenter died from heart failure that occurred as a side effect of anorexia nervosa. It brought a tragic end to a most promising career.
However, the publicity from Karen Carpenter’s situation helped to bring about a heightened public awareness of eating disorders. Within a short period of time, a number of entertainers and celebrities publicly disclosed their own struggles with eating disorders, including Princess Diana.
Karen Carpenter’s untimely death was a grim reminder of the power of anorexia and similar eating disorders. But the Carpenters left behind a legacy of beautiful, haunting music.