"Paperback Writer" was one of the last new songs by The Beatles to be featured in concert, as it was included on their 1966 tour. A film was shot 20 May 1966 at Chiswick House in London to promote the single on BBC-TV's Top of the Pops. Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed it. The film was shown June 9, one day before the UK release of the single. The video was broadcast in the U.S. on The Ed Sullivan Show in the late spring.
Although the song was not included on an original Beatles album, it was included in several compilation albums:
- A Collection of Beatles Oldies... but Goldies
- Hey Jude
- The Beatles 1962-1966 (Red Album)
- Past Masters, Volume Two
The track was recorded between 13 April and 14 April of 1966. The song, written in the form of a letter about an aspiring author to his publisher, was written three months after McCartney helped John Dunbar and others set up the bookshop for Indica Gallery.
It is marked by the boosted bass guitar sound throughout. McCartney boosted the sound of the bass by "using a loudspeaker as a microphone and positioning it in front of the bass speaker." What American musicians like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett had used heavy bass sound before and now The Beatles were catching on, with tracks like this and "Drive My Car".
The song is one of The Beatles' most distinctive forays into "mod" rock and owes much to the contemporary work of The Who, with its distorted circular guitar hook, high-pitched harmonies, and pounding drums, complete with tambourine touches à la "I Can't Explain". Other noteworthy aspects of the song include its distinctive à cappella intro, which reappears after each verse, and the distorted guitar riff that explodes from it leading into the next verse. A similar melody can be heard in another McCartney number, "Got to Get You into My Life".
One of McCartney's aunts reportedly requested that he write a song with some other theme than boy–girl relationships. British disc jockey Jimmy Savile claimed that McCartney's inspiration came from seeing drummer Ringo Starr reading a book. "He took one look and announced that he would write a song about a book," he said. In a 2007 interview, McCartney recalled that he wrote the song after reading in the Daily Mail about an aspiring author, possibly Martin Amis.
The song's lyric is in the form of a letter from an aspiring author addressed to a publisher. The author badly needs a job and has written a paperback version of a book by a "man named Lear." This is a reference to the Victorian painter Edward Lear, who wrote nonsense poems and songs of which John Lennon was very fond (though Lear never wrote novels). The Daily Mail was Lennon's regular newspaper and was often in the studio when The Beatles were writing songs.
Aside from deviating from the subject of love, McCartney had it in mind to write a song with a melody backed by a single, static chord. "John and I would like to do songs with just one note like 'Long Tall Sally.' We got near it in 'The Word.'"
He also claimed to have barely failed to achieve this goal with "Paperback Writer," as the verse remains on G until the end, at which point it pauses on C. The backing vocals during this section are from the French children's song "Frère Jacques".
In Britain, the single was promoted with the infamous "butcher cover" art, depicting The Beatles with raw meat and decapitated baby dolls tossed about. This photograph was also originally used as the cover for the Capitol U.S.-only album Yesterday and Today. The image was soon replaced with a normal picture of the band as it had caused great controversy in America. For the American release of "Paperback Writer" single, the cover depicted The Beatles playing live, but with John Lennon and George Harrison's images reflected so that it appears that they are playing left handed.
In popular cultureEdit
- The song's title was used by rock writer Mark Shipper as the title of a humorous, semi-biographical novel (Ace Books, 1978) that retold the Beatles' story, distorting the events for comic effect.
- In the liner notes for The Monkees' box set Listen to the Band, it is revealed that the song "Last Train to Clarksville" was inspired by this song, when the composer heard the end of "Paperback Writer" on the radio and misheard the lyrics as "Last train to... something..."
- Radiohead's song "Paperbag Writer", the B-side on the "There There" single, is meant as a playful allusion to "Paperback Writer". Both songs are dominated by bass.
- British science fiction writer and humanitarian Douglas Adams was very fond of this song, to the point of having it played at his funeral.
- Glam-rock band Sweet covered the song, but it stayed unreleased until the 2004 edition of their debut album Funny How Sweet Coco Can Be.
- Musician Eric Johnson covered the song on his internet-only release, Souvenir.