Paperback Writer - The Beatles

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"Paperback Writer" - The Beatles (1966)

There are a few versions of the origins of "Paperback Writer".

Journalist Steve Turner writes that a Radio Luxembourg disc jockey describes a story where he met McCartney backstage after a show and told him that “one of his aunts had just asked him if he could ever write a single that wasn’t about love. With that thought obviously still in his mind, he walked around the room noticed that Ringo was reading a book. He took one look and announced that he would write a song about a book.”

McCartney wrote this after helping some friends, including John Dunbar, set up the Indica Bookshop (in the basement was the Indica Gallery, where Lennon met Yoko Ono), in January of 1966. He was their first customer.

McCartney wrote in his autobiography:

“It was tilted towards me; the original idea was mine. A bluesy song- not a lot of melody.”
Lennon would refer to Paperback Writer as the “son of ‘Day Tripper’” – meaning a “dirty” sounding guitar lick.

The song is sung from the perspective of an author soliciting a publisher. A paperback is cheaper than a traditional hardcover book, and at the time was considered of lower quality and written for mass consumption. The implication is that the writer isn’t all that good.

Reviewers of "Paperback Writer" over the years have tended to cast it off as being a fairly weak song. Better lyrics were demanded. But it is not the lyrics that drive this song; it’s the sound; the vibrating feel of it. It’s George’s lead guitar riff, John’s tremolo rhythm, Ringo’s driving beat and Paul’s soaring bass playing. All playing in a state of “oneness” that only they have ever displayed.

Ringo’s bass drum was altered by stuffing it with sweaters and put the microphone an inch away from the drum. McCartney’s bass was boosted by using a bass speaker as a microphone and positioning it in front of the bass speaker. There was some concern that the heavy bass line would make record players skip. McCartney’s bass playing carried with it a very melodic style making the instrument more accessible to a wider audience. Suddenly, his bass became a vivid, unmistakable part of a new, bolder sound. A vanguard for the emerging psychedelic sound which they were chiefly responsible for creating.

Abbey Road studio engineer Geoff Emerick remembers:

“It occurred to me that since microphones are in fact simply loudspeakers wired in reverse why not try using a loudspeaker as a microphone? It seemed that whatever can push bass signal out can also take it in- and that a large loudspeaker should be able to respond to low frequencies better than a small microphone.”


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