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Paperback Writer

The history of this classic Beatles song

By

The original US 45 sleeve for

The original US 45 sleeve for "Paperback Writer"

source: rarebeatles.com

Paperback Writer

Written by: Paul McCartney (90%), John Lennon (10%) (credited as Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: April 13-14, 1966 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: April 14, 1966, October 31, 1966
Length: 2:15
Takes: 2
Musicians: John Lennon: harmony vocals, rhythm guitars (1964 Gretsch 6120 "Nashville")
Paul McCartney: lead vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S)
George Harrison: harmony vocals, lead guitar (1962 Gibson Les Paul (SG) Standard)
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig), tambourine
First released: May 30, 1966 (US: Capitol 5651), June 10, 1966 (UK: Parlophone R5452)
Available on: (CDs in bold)
  • Hey Jude, (US: Apple SW 385, UK: Parlophone PCS 7184)
  • The Beatles 1962-1966, (UK: Apple PCSP 717, US: Apple SKBO 3403, Apple CDP 0777 7 97036 2 3)
  • Past Masters Volume Two, (Parlophone CDP 7 90044 2)
  • The Beatles 1, (Apple CDP 7243 5 299702 2)
Highest chart position: US: 1 (June 25, 1966; July 9, 1966), UK: 1 (two weeks beginning June 23, 1966)
History:
  • The inspiration for this rocker of Paul's is open to debate. Influential British DJ Jimmy Savile has claimed that Paul saw Ringo (or Savile himself) immersed in a book and decided to write a song about one; recently, McCartney himself claimed the inspiration came after reading about a upcoming young author in Britain's Daily Mail newspaper. However, Paul has been known to embellish the meanings and origins of his songs, and so the most reliable creation story is probably his first claim in 1966, which is that his Aunt Lil, sick of seeing him write love songs, challenged him to try something different.
  • The song's lyrics take the form of a letter from an aspiring author to a publisher, as his original handwritten lyrics reveal (the letter begins "Dear Sir or Madam"). Even more so than now, a "paperback" book was considered an inferior knock-off of a hardcover novel; the implication in the lyrics is that the writer in question is a hack, creating a b-grade "potboiler" for mass consumption. (Note that the book is described by the author himself as "a dirty story of a dirty man," leading some to believe the subject is actually literary pornography!)
  • The song was finished quickly and recorded in only two takes: the first take, which broke down under George's complaint that it was "too fast," was recorded after completion of "Love You To," the keeper of a second take was outfitted with a double-tracked vocal by Paul the next day, before work began on the song's b-side, "Rain." (The October '66 mix is a stereo mix designed for inclusion on album compilations.)
  • In order to get a fuller bass sound, heard in American soul records but almost never in British rock, engineer Ken Townshend devised a method of using a loudspeaker for a microphone and then positioning it in front of the bass amp. (The "mismatching impedance" caused by the two conflicting signals led to a reprimand from EMI.) The legendary opening guitar riff gets its full sound from John and George playing it at the same time on two different instruments.
  • The "man named Lear" mentioned as the book's inspiration is almost certainly Edward Lear, a favorite author of John's whose books of poetry, along with the paper Daily Mail (also mentioned), could often be spotted in the studio. (It's unclear whether or not John, who helped polish off the lyrics, added these references.) Their American label, Capitol, worried about both references translating to American audiences, but it only made the song more exotic.
  • As often noted, the backing vocals sung by George and John in the third verse are actually the children's rhyme "Frere Jacques," altered to fit the song's chords.
  • Although not the first song recorded and released by the band to have nothing to do with love, it was their first Number One song of this kind -- an important nod to the future of the band and rock in general.
Live versions: June 24, 1966 (Circus-Krone-Bau, Munich, Germany), June 25, 1966 (Grugahalle, Essen, Germany), June 26, 1966 (Ernst Merck Halle, Hamburg, Germany), June 30 - July 2, 1966 (Budokan Hall, Tokyo, Japan), July 4, 1966 (Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, Manila, Philippines), August 12, 1966 (International Amphitheatre, Chicago, IL), August 13, 1966 (Olympia Stadium, Detroit, MI), August 14, 1966 (Municipal Stadium, Cleveland, OH), August 15, 1966 (Washington Stadium, Washington, DC), August 16, 1966 (Philadelphia Stadium, Philadelphia, PA), August 17, 1966 (Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Canada), August 18, 1966 (Suffolk Downs Racecourse, Boston, MA), August 19, 1966 (Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis, TN), August 21, 1966 (Crosley Field, Cincinnati, OH), August 21, 1966 (Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO), August 23, 1966 (Shea Stadium, New York, NY), August 25, 1966 (Seattle Coliseum, Seattle, WA), August 28, 1966 (Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, CA), August 30, 1966 (Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA)
Trivia:
  • Although promo photos and videos taken at the time show George Harrison holding a Nu-Sonic brand bass, it was not used during the actual recording, nor does George play bass on the track.
  • The infamous "Butcher Cover" photo, featuring the group surrounded by raw meat and baby doll parts, was originally first seen in UK print ads for "Paperback Writer," though it became best known as the original cover of the US-only compilation Yesterday and Today.
  • This was the last original Beatles composition ever played by the group onstage, and the second-to-last song played at their final concert (Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA, August 30, 1966). However, "I Want To Tell You" was the last song recorded by the band to eventually be played during that set.
  • A misheard "Paperback Writer" was the inspiration for the Monkees' song "Last Train to Clarksville." Indeed, the outro of "Clarksville" can be sung over the outro of "Writer." (Try it!)
  • This was the last song played during the funeral program for beloved sci-fi writer Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy).
Covered by: The Bee Gees, The Charles River Valley Boys, The Cowsills, Floyd Cramer, Eric Johnson, Kris Kristofferson, Nashville Superpickers, Kenny Rogers, The Shadows, Sweet, Tempest, 10cc
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