Paperback Writer

Paperback Writer single - United KingdomWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 13, 14 April 1966
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 10 June 1966 (UK), 30 May 1966 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, lead guitar, bass
John Lennon: backing vocals, tambourine
George Harrison: backing vocals, rhythm guitar
Ringo Starr: drums

Available on:
Past Masters
1

Paperback Writer was a standalone single released in June 1966, written by Paul McCartney and recorded over two consecutive days during the Revolver sessions.

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Paperback Writer is son of Day Tripper, but it is Paul's song. Son of Day Tripper meaning a rock 'n' roll song with a guitar lick on a fuzzy, loud guitar.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

At the start of The Beatles' career, Brian Epstein and George Martin had drawn up a plan of releasing four singles and two albums each year to sustain interest in the group and satisfy popular demand.

The release of Paperback Writer came 27 weeks after its predecessor, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out. It marked the end of the release plan, and saw The Beatles entering a phase where they were less motivated by commercial demands and more focused on musical development.

Paperback Writer was an attempt by McCartney to write a song based on a single chord - possibly influenced by Indian music, but most likely a result of their marijuana use; other songs from this period, notably The Word, If I Needed Someone and Tomorrow Never Knows, were similarly modelled.

John and I would like to do songs with just one note like Long Tall Sally. We got near it in The Word.
Paul McCartney

McCartney wrote Paperback Writer after reading a Daily Mail report about an aspiring author, and composed it on the way to Lennon's house in Weybridge.

You knew, the minute you got there, cup of tea and you'd sit and write, so it was always good if you had a theme. I'd had a thought for a song and somehow it was to do with the Daily Mail so there might have been an article in the Mail that morning about people writing paperbacks. Penguin paperbacks was what I really thought of, the archetypal paperback.

I arrived at Weybridge and told John I had this idea of trying to write off to a publishers to become a paperback writer, and I said, 'I think it should be written like a letter.' I took a bit of paper out and I said it should be something like 'Dear Sir or Madam, as the case may be...' and I proceeded to write it just like a letter in front of him, occasionally rhyming it. And John, as I recall, just sat there and said, 'Oh, that's it,' 'Uhuh,' 'Yeah.' I remember him, his amused smile, saying, 'Yes, that's it, that'll do.' Quite a nice moment: 'Hmm, I've done right! I've done well!' And then we went upstairs and put the melody to it. John and I sat down and finished it all up, but it was tilted towards me, the original idea was mine. I had no music, but it's just a little bluesy song, not a lot of melody. Then I had the idea to do the harmonies and we arranged that in the studio.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Paperback Writer reflected the can-do attitude of mid-1960s British society; the lyrics can be seen in the same context as Rubber Soul's similarly light-hearted Drive My Car. The backing vocals found The Beatles singing "Frère Jacques", and the powerful four-part harmonies of the chorus were swathed in tape echo. It showed the band becoming more confident by the minute; musically, lyrically, and willing to exploit their position as the figureheads of popular culture.

Promotional films

Four promotional films for Paperback Writer were shot on 19 and 20 May 1966. Two were in colour, and two were black and white. They was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg at Abbey Road and in Chiswick in London. One of the films was first broadcast on 9 June on the BBC television show Top Of The Pops, and another was shown on The Ed Sullivan Show in the US.

On 19 May performances of Paperback Writer and Rain were filmed in colour in Abbey Road's studio one. They were broadcast exclusively by The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS on 5 June. The Beatles also recorded a brief greeting for the host and his viewers, which began with the group holding transparencies of the infamous 'butcher' cover in front of their faces.

The idea was that we'd use them in America as well as the UK, because we thought, 'We can't go everywhere. We're stopping touring and we'll send these films out to promote the record.' It was too much trouble to go and fight our way through all the screaming hordes of people to mime the latest single on Ready, Steady, Go!. Also, in America, they never saw the footage anyway.

Once we actually went on an Ed Sullivan show with just a clip. I think Ed Sullivan came on and said, 'The Beatles were here, as you know, and they were wonderful boys, but they can't be here now so they've sent us this clip.' It was great, because really we conned the Sullivan show into promoting our new single by sending in the film clip. These days obviously everybody does that - it's part of the promotion for a single - so I suppose in a way we invented MTV.

George Harrison
Anthology

Two black and white performances of Paperback Writer, and one of Rain, were also filmed on 19 May. These were first broadcast on Goodbye Lucky Stars - the final edition of Thank Your Lucky Stars - and Ready, Steady, Go!.

The next day, 20 May, The Beatles were filmed by Lindsay-Hogg in the grounds of Chiswick House in west London. They mimed to the song in the statue garden, and were shot sitting in a bench by the conservatory. The clip was first shown on 2 June on the BBC music show Top Of The Pops.

37 responses on “Paperback Writer

    1. kelly

      Help! was a single worldwide, definately predates Paperback Writer, and (at least in my humble interpretation) isn’t necessarily a comment on a romantic relationship. In fact John has commented that he felt a little lost, overweight, and searching for meaning around this time.

    2. Dennis O’Dell

      Just read this on Facebook – but its says here Lennon didn’t play Guitar?? –
      “John Lennon’s Gretsch 6120 guitar, the instrument the rock legend used when recording The Beatles’ 1966 classic “Paperback Writer,” will hit the auction block next month”

  1. Ken Carpenter

    according to a pic in Beatles Monthly, Paul played Casino guitar and George played Burns Nu-Sonic bass on the original rehearsels and maybe the early recordings

  2. Luke

    I saw that photo too. Im not too sure myself who play what between those two in the final cut. One thing i know is George played lead live, which is a given.

    1. Asaf

      George joined Paul by playing the guitar riff simultansly on the recording session. It can be heard well on inside – Revolver tracks. Nowdays, Paul and his bandmate are seen and heard playing together

  3. scott

    Great song, great lyrics–but almost impossible to play/sing live, on stage, with the visible instruments (and people) only. I watched all the live performances of this song, inclusively the famous one in Japan where George waves to the public to make some noise (to cover the false notes).

    The question (dilemma?) would be: what do we prefer? An “artefact” or the ‘natural thing’? More precisely: a) an awesome manufactured product that supposes lots of double-tracking and overdubs, that can be listened only on the record (or cd, or mp3, or whatever) and cannot possibly be performed live or b) a spontaneous, live and lively (‘un-cheating’) experience? The elaborate composition, or the ineffable, unique, non-repeatable experience?

      1. Joe Post author

        For a start there are five people in McCartney’s band, including a keyboard player who can flesh out the sound a little. Plus they’ve got quite a bit of performing experience under their collective belt!

        I saw them do Paperback Writer in Cardiff earlier this year. It was great to see Paul play it on the same Epiphone Casino he recorded it with all those years ago.

        1. Deadman

          Another thing to consider is that PA systems, sound-mixing, and the provision of foldback are immensely superior now, whereas The Beatles had woefully inadequate amplification and mixing. Being able to hear your own voice really helps your singing.

  4. Amphion

    What you’ve got to understand Scott, is that by the time The Beatles got to recording Paperback Writer, touring for them had become something of a joke. As Paul would say in early 1967, “Performing has gone right down for us… whats the point if nobody can hear us.” and that was the problem. Girls screaming louder than the engines on a Boing 707 (Remember them). Also, as The Beatles were forfront of the evolution not only of pop/rock music,but they were the pioneers of many musical techniques and studio innovations which would come to fruition on ‘Pepper’ only so many months after Paperback Writer. They had access for the first time of four-track. I can go and buy a four track tape machine today. (In fact I have one), but back in 1966, a four track was quite the new thing, and The Beatles were happy to try new things which is what kept them ahead of the game.

  5. Day Tripper

    @scott

    You’re right. Their live performance of Paperback Writer was lousy.

    I like this song, but they have written much better songs than paperback writer.

  6. brian

    I love the guitar riff and the huge pulsating bass on this song. Also on the fadeout, there’s a moment where the guitar sounds almost scorching. Very cool!

  7. Jon S

    Paperback writer has always been one of my favorite Beatles songs. Since all I’ve ever had was the stereo version it was a song which was mainly a great vocals song and had a great guitar hook secondary. Until I bought the remastered mono box set last year. Paperback writer in mono is mainly a guitar song with great vocals secondary. The change is so dramatic it’s shocking. I never knew the mono version like that existed and I’ve got an extensive Beatles collection. The first heavy metal song ever. It flows so much better in mono it seems shorter than the stereo version but is 5 seconds longer. The vocals are better in stereo but all of that switching back and forth of channels breaks it up a bit. The price of the mono box set was worth it just for Paperback writer in mono.

      1. Jon S

        I’m happy someone else could here the difference between the stereo and mono versions. Lennon used to say that the mono versions were better than their stereo counterparts. I guess that’s what he was talking about.

  8. 2much4mymirror

    I believe Paul himself stated in his Barry Miles autobiography that John helped in the writing of this. He claimed 30% credit for “Rain” and gave John 30% of this.

  9. Beruang

    What kind of newspaper is/was The Daily Mail? Was it a trashy tabloid, equivalent in the States to The National Enquirer or The Star? Or was it respectable journalism, more along the lines of the NY Times or Washington Post?

    It makes a difference to the meaning of the song. If the son is working at a trashy newspaper but aspires to write trashy novels, then it’s a comment on the limited vision of the author, and perhaps on trashiness in culture in general. But, if the son is working at a high-brow paper and rejects it for a career in pop culture, then that’s an anti-authoritarian comment.

    I guess a third interpretation is possible. (Heck, a million interpretations are possible.) The author of the letter could just be ignorant / foolish, and not recognize that stepping down from the Mail to paperbacks would be an incongruous move. He does, after all, make an earlier blunder in referring to “a novel by a man named Lear” — not realizing that Lear never wrote novels, and naively assuming that an editor would not have heard of one of England’s most famous authors.

    1. Joe Post author

      You can read about the Daily Mail here. In the 1960s it was a broadsheet; nowadays it’s a very right-wing tabloid, not as trashy as the News of the World or the Sun, but not far off. It quite often publishes anti-immigration and homophobic screeds aimed at a conservative middle Englander mindset.

      The Beatles seemed to read it fairly regularly – John Lennon wrote A Day In The Life while reading a copy. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the DM, though, with regards to the meaning of Paperback Writer. Many journalists will work for whoever wishes to employ them, regardless of whether they agree with the newspaper’s editorial agenda. Anyway, it’s only the job of the son of the book’s protagonist – hardly central to the song. I suspect McCartney just wrote down whatever came into his head regardless of a deeper meaning.

      1. Beruang

        Thanks! That helps a lot.

        I’m new on this site, so maybe I should state my prejudices up front. I studied poetry in college and after, and so I enjoy examining Beatles lyrics—not for their meaning, but for the effect they have. Certainly there are many other valid ways of enjoying the Beatles, and I do not pretend that my interpretations are the only ones possible.

        That being said, I have never found the argument “that’s the first thing that came to mind” to hold much water. The question, in “Paperback Writer” as in any poem, is *why* did that particular phrase come to mind? What effect does it have on the song? I mean, it would not have taken any more time or effort to write “his son is working for the Sunday Times,” but that would have altered the meaning. Even if we just shrug and say, “they wrote whatever felt right,” we still must ask, well, why does “Daily Mail” feel right here?

        The answer, I believe, lies with the son. The protagonist of the song wants to be a paperback writer, and he has written a paperback novel in which one of the main characters also wants to be a paperback writer. Thus, the fictional son is to some degree autobiographical. The fact that the author has placed his stand-in at a tabloid paper rather than at a tony one says something. You note that the Beatles all read the Mail; perhaps they saw it, and paperback novels, as more honest, more authentic expressions of culture than respectable, highbrow publications. (I gather from the Wikipedia entry that it was the paper of their socioeconomic class.) Or maybe they read it ironically, enjoying it for its trashiness. That would certainly fit with the ignorance / naiveté about Edward Lear.

        You might say I’m over-thinking things, but I would counter that, like so many of their lyrics, this one stands up to and rewards closer scrutiny.

        1. Alan Vaughan

          Just think of the Daily Mail as the most natural expression of a daily newspaper at the time. It represents, if anything, a normal or typical newspaper. For me, it represents, in the song, a regular, social norm of a job while the writer aspires to breaking out in a more self-driven, bigger and more creative way. “Another Day” reprises that day job kind of feel, one with which I perceive McCartney had a particular fascination, as he analysed their kind of life against lives most of us have.

          1. Martin

            Hi, I agree it is partly a class thing. The Sunday Times would not reflect the origins and aspirations of the character in the “story”. But I suggest that the other factor is that on those notes the assonant open vowels in Daily Mail just sing soooo much better than Sunday Times.

  10. robert

    I would bet Joe has it right – “his son is working for the daily mail – it’s a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer” the words just helped push the story forward.

  11. Marty Sugar

    I would make the suggestion that the Daily Mail was iconic, or maintained enough popularity for the verse to have mass appeal (without detracting from the story), in any era regardless of its editorial/political stance. After all, years later The Smiths (read: Morrissey) were singing about it too.

  12. wborys

    wow, talking about experimental technology- In Geoff Emerick’s book, he describes how he and Paul recorded the unique bass sound- instead of a microphone in front of the amp, he placed another loudspeaker, and the vibrating cone generated the electrical signal. Fed through the right EQ equipment, it produced the prodigious bass roar. I think this was used on ‘Rain’ also. Totally amazing how these folk (and studio gurus) created the music.

    1. Dennis O’Dell

      How can they say he played this guitar when it says here he didn’t play one?

      “John Lennon’s Gretsch 6120 guitar, the instrument the rock legend used when recording The Beatles’ 1966 classic “Paperback Writer,” will hit the auction block next month”

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