Friday, May 1, 2009

Paperback Writer

Here's the thing: I work in publishing, and I've had the chance to read a few book proposals in my time. And in "Paperback Writer" Paul hits several points that are indeed in practically every book proposal I've ever read. Brief plot summary: check. Mention of literary influences: check. Expressed willingness to revise: check. Promise that it will make a million (that Oprah will read it, that it will change the lives of the young people, that the author is the next J.K. Rowling, etc.): check. Whiff of quiet desperation: check and check.

Though of course "Paperback Writer" is the best book proposal I've ever encountered, or at least the most pleasurable TO encounter. The folks who caught the promo video on Ed Sullivan in June of 1966 must have thought so too.

(Note that this clip goes straight into their other video, "Rain," which, for me at least, is for another day. But what a sweet, sweet day that will be.)

That video is pretty cool, what with the sunglasses and the laid-back feel and Paul singing with a cutely chipped tooth, fresh from his recent moped accident. (You know, the one that killed him?) But there's another one that's even cooler. This video was shown on Top of the Pops on the BBC just a few days before the one above. (By the way, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, of later Let It Be fame, directed both of these, as well as a couple more for different shows that I can't seem to find.)

If you're not the kind of fan who finds the Beatles all snuggly and adorable on a personal level, then feel free to continue on to the next paragraph. But if you are... squee! Don't you think this is, like, THE most adorable they ever got? John, especially, is at his prime here. Yow. Phew. Deep breaths.

So anyway, "Paperback Writer." Apparently borne of Paul's auntie's desire to hear something other than a freaking love song for a change, the song is about a subject that was odd for them at the time and continues to be so. Paul can write stories, of course-- "Eleanor Rigby," "Rocky Raccoon," yada yada-- but this particular story's not actually that engaging or relatable. It's just sort of funny, if purposeless. (Purposeless enough that John and George seem to be openly making fun of it with their backup singing on "Frere Jacques.")

So they made up for that by rocking the hell out of the actual music, most notably the bass. Even if you listen to a recording that's crappy, you can't help but pick up on the fact that the bass has been turned up to 11. Actually, what they did was set up a loudspeaker in front of the bass speaker such that it acted as a microphone. Paul was also playing a different bass, a Rickenbacker of some sort, rather than his standard Hofner, which I guess was more suited to produce the gut-thumping sound they clearly were looking for. It sounds neat, doesn't it?

The thumping bass is part of what gives "Paperback Writer" the heavy, dense sound that was fairly new for the Beatles up to this point. I've seen this song (along with its B-side, "Rain") called the first truly psychedelic Beatles music, which I can see. To put it in context, this was the newest Beatles material since December of 1965, when Rubber Soul and the "We Can Work It Out"/"Day Tripper" double-A side single were released in the same day. That was some majorly groundbreaking stuff. But a lot happened in the intervening six months, and "Paperback Writer" is already something else again. "Paperback Writer" is all about the interplay between the gorgeous chocolate-syrupy a capella vocal chords on the chorus, and the messy swagger of the guitar lick that crashes into them with that kickass riff. And then it's all about the killer bass and about a ton and a half of reverb. Yup, "psychedelic" about sums it up. They seem to be playing around with a lot more here-- more sound, more production, more experimentation, more vision. Man, don't you love middle-period Beatles?

Of course, the incredible work they were doing in the studio frequently didn't translate well into live performances. Here they are trying it out live in Japan.

I mean, they're trying, but the problems so evident here helped convince them to quit touring just a couple months after this single was released. So "Paperback Writer" really does represent a seismic shift-- it must be the latest period song that ever made it into their live set. Which marked the end of an era, and the beginning of a whole new one.

"Paperback Writer," released in the U.K. as a single c/w "Rain," June 10, 1966; in the U.S. May 30, 1966.


  1. Those clips are awesome; gonna watch 'em at home with the little guy tonight. George looked exactly like a Gallagher brother. Although you'll probably tell me it's vice versa ...

  2. It is rad that you are raising a small Beatles fan. Rock on.

    Aren't the Gallagher Brothers the ones in Oasis? That band? That sucks? Eh, I'll take your word for it.

  3. I think I'm using the Beatles to teach him about time. He doesn't entirely get how it is that this all happened 40 years ago, and that the Beatles don't exist anymore. And if that spurs you to write a "Yes, Virginia, there are Beatles" post, so much the better. Papa says "If you see it on A Year in the Life it's so."

  4. Hi Meg,
    Thanks for the link to my new Beatles History website...'I'm glad you think it rocks...I'd like to promote your site in return...can you contact me through my site?

    Woody Lifton

  5. Didn't know Paul play a Rickenbacker on PBW. It sure sounded great. Interesting that on tour in Japan, and in the other lip-synced video clips you posted, that Paul is back to playing the Hofner. If he cared enough about the "sound" to record PBW with the Rickenbacker, one would think he would perform the song live with it as well. Perhaps he borrowed it for the session. (smile)

  6. Most likely! Also, on tour his Hofner was such a trademark, you know? Just another thing that limited them while touring, really-- they didn't feel as though they could play around with the timbres that different instruments would lend them.

  7. This is another song, by the way, that sounds very different in mono. My poor wife; Sept. 9 is her birthday, but I'm going to spend all the money for presents for me.