Paperback Writer was performed during The Beatles’ last tour in 1966. It was the penultimate song played at their final concert on 29 August, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.
We were just a little dance-hall band and we never really thought of augmenting ourselves. We thought, ‘Well, we can’t. We’ll do it to the best of our ability until the point where we can’t really do it, and then we’ll miss it out.’ So around this time we were starting to miss out a lot of record tracks on live shows.
Paperback Writer, for instance, was all double-tracked, and it sounded pretty crummy on stage. So what we did with it, in the American tour at least, was get to the point where it was particularly bad, and then we’d do our ‘Elvis legs’ and wave to the crowds, and they’d all scream and it would cover that. As Paul has said, the screaming did cover a lot of worrying moments.
In the studio
Paperback Writer is most notable for its heavy bass line, played by Paul McCartney on a Rickenbacker in place of his usual Hofner. Its recording caused some headaches for the Abbey Road technicians, who were subject to strict rules about how microphones and amplifiers should be used.
The song threw away the rulebook. A speaker was used as a microphone, positioned in front of the bass amp for extra boost. Then it was mastered using another Abbey Road invention – the Automated Transient Overload Control (ATOC), which allowed extra bass without risking the stylus jumping on playback.
Paperback Writer was the first time the bass sound had been heard in all its excitement. For a start, Paul played a different bass, a Rickenbacker. Then we boosted it further by using a loudspeaker as a microphone. We positioned it directly in front of the bass speaker and the moving diaphragm of the second speaker made the electrical current.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
It took them two takes to record the rhythm track; afterwards they added a series of overdubs. These continued on the following day, on which the distinctive backing vocals and bass were recorded.
Paperback Writer had a heavier sound than some earlier work – and very good vocal work, too. I think that was just the way it worked out, that the rhythm was the most important part of their make-up by this time.
It did, however, reach number one, both in the band’s home country and in the United States, West Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Norway. In America it spent two weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.