The Beatles were true pioneers in every sense of the word, their pop sound was just one piece of their charge to stardom. A band who helped introduce the world to the magical realm of pop music – and the encompassing world of screaming teens it brought with it – successfully managed to change culture forever in the process of their creativity. However, one genre of music that they are definitely not linked to is heavy metal.
The aficionados among us may well point to the band’s track ‘Helter Skelter’ as a link between the Fab Four and the thunderous genre that took root in the seventies and eighties. However, the band’s leader, John Lennon, once branded another one of their songs as “the first heavy metal record”. Looking back, he may well have a point.
The Fab Four and heavy metal seem like chalk and cheese. With their beautiful signature melodies and wonderful harmonies being a world away from the industrial world of heavy metal, it’s a topic which would come to fruition in the late ’60s and really take off thereafter. The genre began to grow as an entity as artists revolted against bands like The Beatles and their cultured performance and rather than trying to follow suit—or the four suits as perhaps is more applicable—the spin-off rock sound gathered pace away from the accessible sonics of the Liverpudlians.
‘Helter Skelter’ is often perceived as being The Beatles’ ‘heavy metal’ song and is dramatically unlike the majority of their work — turning heads galore upon its release in 1968 as McCartney tried to make a song so filthy in sound that it would make The Who blush. However, Lennon said that a Beatles song from three years prior to that release, in 1965, was actually “the first heavy metal record”.
The track that Lennon was referring to was ‘Ticket To Ride’, a number which sounds incredibly tame in comparison to what is expected from heavy metal music today. However, the genre didn’t even exist in 1965 and there is a slight glimmer of truth to the Beatle’s claim, especially when you break the song down. There are elements of the track, as it begins to wind down, which sees the song flipped from pop ditty into chaotic madness. It may seem like nothing now but this was simply unprecedented 55 years ago.
“It’s a heavy record, and the drums are heavy too. That’s why I like it,” Lennon suggested in 1970, which he would echo once more a decade later to Playboy’s David Sheff in 1980: “That was one of the earliest heavy-metal records made. Paul’s contribution was the way Ringo played the drums.”
‘Ticket To Ride’ was later described as being ‘radical’ by Paul McCartney: “I think the interesting thing is the crazy ending instead of ending like the previous verse, we changed the tempo. We picked up one of the lines, ‘My baby don’t care,’ but completely altered the melody,” Macca said in 1994 before adding: “We almost invented the idea of a new bit of a song on the fade-out with this song… It was quite radical at the time.”
Although listening to the track now it doesn’t sound anything like what we perceive as so-called ‘heavy metal’ today, the frantic finish to the song does contain the embers of the genre which would soon take over. While The Beatles may not be the direct lineage of the genre, it’s hard to ignore the aspects seen in this song and many of their other tunes as influencing those soon to be icons of heavy metal.
Listen to ‘Ticket To Ride’ below to decide for yourself whether it is a ‘heavy metal’ record.