‘Paperback Writer’ was a standalone single released in June 1966, written by Paul McCartney and recorded over two consecutive days during the Revolver sessions. The song ‘Rain’ was on the b-side.

‘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.

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.

Paul McCartney's handwritten lyrics for Paperback Writer

Paul was correct in thinking that interviews with musicians would enable IT [International Times] to get record-company ads, but the paper was still broke and often unable to pay the printer or its staff. Paul helped out financially, and was thanked by being given a credit in the staff box under the name of ‘Ian Iachimoe’. This was the ‘secret’ name that Paul suggested his friends use when writing to him to make their letters stand out from all the fan mail. It was the sound of his own name played backwards on a tape recorder. He even used it himself: the original manuscript of ‘Paperback Writer’, which was written in the form of a letter, ends with ‘Yours sincerely, Ian Iachimoe’. Paul was happy to lend a hand in laying out the paper and there was one evening when Paul, together with the Beat poet Harry Fainlight, took time out before dinner to draw a half-page psychedelic ad for Indica Books in order to meet the printer’s deadline the following morning. It was published in issue 16. Such were the times.

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 Höfner. Its recording caused some headaches for the EMI 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 Beatles began recording ‘Paperback Writer’ in the evening of 13 April 1966, the day they also completed George Harrison’s ‘Love You To’.

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.

McCartney played the lead guitar on an Epiphone Casino, and Harrison used a Gibson SG Standard guitar. They also used these instruments for ‘Rain’ and on much of Revolver.

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