Paperback Writer

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"Paperback Writer"
US picture sleeve
Single by the Beatles
Released30 May 1966 (1966-05-30)
Recorded13–14 April 1966
StudioEMI, London
  • 2:18 (stereo version)
  • 2:26 (mono single version)
Producer(s)George Martin
The Beatles UK singles chronology
"Day Tripper" / "We Can Work It Out"
"Paperback Writer"
"Eleanor Rigby" / "Yellow Submarine"
The Beatles US singles chronology
"Nowhere Man"
"Paperback Writer"
"Eleanor Rigby" / "Yellow Submarine"
Music video
"Paperback Writer" on YouTube

"Paperback Writer" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles. Written primarily by Paul McCartney and credited to the Lennon–McCartney partnership, the song was released as the A-side of their eleventh single in May 1966. It topped singles charts in Britain, the United States, Ireland, West Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Norway. On the US Billboard Hot 100, the song was at number one for two non-consecutive weeks, being interrupted by Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night".

"Paperback Writer" was the last new song by the Beatles to be featured on their final tour in 1966.

Inspiration and lyrical themes[edit]

"Paperback Writer" was largely written by Paul McCartney, who based the lyrics on a challenge made to him by his Aunt Lil. McCartney recalled, "The idea's a bit different. Years ago, my Auntie Lil said to me, 'Why do you always write songs about love all the time? Can't you ever write about a horse or the summit conference or something interesting?' So, I thought, 'All right, Auntie Lil.' And recently, we've not been writing all our songs about love."[5] Disc jockey Jimmy Savile also recalled McCartney citing the song being inspired by a request from McCartney's aunt who asked if he could "write a single that wasn't about love".[6][7]

In 1966, McCartney discussed the song in an interview with the NME, with Alan Smith writing:

[McCartney stated:] "This came about because I love the word 'paperback.'" He seemed to savour the word and rolled it around his tongue. "Anyway, when we did the song, we wrote the words down like we were writing a letter. We sort of started off 'Dear Sir or Madam,' then carried on from there. If you look at the words I think you'll see what I mean, the way they flow like a letter. But that's it really, there's no story behind it and it wasnt inspired by any real-life characters."[8]

The song's lyrics are in the form of a letter from an aspiring author addressed to a publisher. In a 2007 interview, McCartney recalled that he started writing the song after reading in the Daily Mail about an aspiring author, possibly Martin Amis.[9] The Daily Mail was Lennon's regular newspaper and copies were in Lennon's Weybridge home when Lennon and McCartney were writing songs.[6]

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.'"[10] McCartney 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.[11]

Lennon told Hit Parader in 1972 that "Paperback Writer" was primarily written by McCartney: "I think I might have helped with some of the lyrics. Yes, I did. But it was mainly Paul's tune." Lennon also told Playboy in 1980: "'Paperback Writer' is son of 'Day Tripper', but it is Paul's song."


The Beatles recorded the track at EMI Studios in London on 13 and 14 April 1966. "Paperback Writer" is marked by the boosted bass guitar sound throughout, partly in response to John Lennon demanding to know why the bass on a certain Wilson Pickett record exceeded the bass on any Beatles records.[12] This changed with the "Paperback Writer" single.

The Beatles in 1965

"'Paperback Writer' was the first time the bass sound had been heard in all its excitement," said Beatles' engineer Geoff Emerick in Mark Lewisohn's book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. "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 electric current."[12] Further, McCartney's playing was more melodic and busy than on previous tracks.[13]

According to McCartney, the harmony vocals on the track were arranged during the recording session.[14] George Martin, the Beatles' producer, later commented: "The way the song itself is shaped and the slow, contrapuntal statements from the backing voices – no one had really done that before."[15] In their backing vocals over the third verse, Lennon and George Harrison sing the title of the French nursery rhyme "Frère Jacques".[16]

Emerick stated that the "Paperback Writer" / "Rain" single was cut louder than any other Beatles record up to that time, due to a new piece of equipment used in the mastering process, referred to as "Automatic Transient Overload Control", which was devised by the EMI maintenance department.[17]


In Britain, the single was promoted with a photograph depicting the Beatles draped with pieces of raw meat and decapitated baby dolls. This photograph was later used, albeit briefly, as the Yesterday and Today album cover in the US, and in that capacity it became known as the "butcher cover".[18] For the American release of the single, the picture sleeve depicted the Beatles playing live, but with Lennon and Harrison's images reflected so that it appeared they were playing left-handedly.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed four promotional films for the song shot on 19 and 20 May 1966. On the first day they recorded a colour performance at EMI Studios, for The Ed Sullivan Show, which was shown on 5 June, and two black-and-white performance clips for British television. The latter were shown on Ready Steady Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars on 3 and 25 June, respectively.

On 20 May, a second colour film was made at Chiswick House in west London.[19] The Beatles mimed to the song, and they were shown in and around the conservatory in the grounds of the house. The clip was first broadcast in black and white on BBC-TV's Top of the Pops on 2 June.[20] The 20 May promo clip was included in the Beatles' 2015 video compilation 1, and both the 19 May colour film and the 20 May film were included in the three-disc versions of the compilation, titled 1+.[21]

The Beatles appeared on Top of the Pops to mime to "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" on 16 June. The band were introduced by DJ Pete Murray. This television appearance – which was the Beatles' only "in person" appearance on the BBC's flagship pop music show of the era – became infamous due to the BBC's decision to wipe the master recording to free up expensive video tape for re-use. In 2019, 11 seconds of the performance was unearthed by a collector;[22] over 90 seconds' worth was found in the same year.[23] The appearance also showed how difficult the Beatles found it to mime to their material, and the band failing to take their performance seriously.[citation needed]


"Paperback Writer" was released as a single in the US by Capitol Records on 30 May 1966, with the catalogue number 5651 and "Rain" as the B-side.[24] It was subsequently released in the UK by Parlophone on 10 June 1966, with the catalogue number R 5452.[24] It later appeared on the 1966 UK compilation album A Collection of Beatles Oldies and the 1970 US compilation album Hey Jude.[24]

"Paperback Writer" has appeared on subsequent re-releases including 1962–1966 (1973), a re-released single (1976), Past Masters, Volume Two (1988) and 1 (2000). The single was released as part of a Record Store Day reissue in 2010.[25] In 1995, a mix of the song featuring only vocals was among several tracks that were in the running for inclusion on the three Beatles Anthology compilation albums but were ultimately passed over.[26]


There is some dispute over who played what on "Paperback Writer". In the July 1990 and the November 2005 issues of Guitar Player magazine, McCartney stated that he played the song's opening riff on his Epiphone Casino guitar,[27] and photos from the recording session seem to be consistent with this.[28] In the 2005 edition of his book Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald gives Harrison as the sole lead guitarist,[29] and Kenneth Womack similarly lists McCartney only on bass and lead vocal.[30] Robert Rodriguez and Walter Everett each credit McCartney as the player of the song's main guitar riff, and state that Harrison added lead guitar "fills" over his initial rhythm part.[31][32]

The following line-up is per Rodriguez:[31]

Charts and certifications[edit]

Cover versions[edit]


  1. ^ Scott Miller, Music: What Happened?, (125 Records, 2010), ISBN 0-615-38196-0, P.39.
  2. ^ John M. Borack, Shake some action: the ultimate power pop guide, (Shake Some Action – PowerPop, 2007), ISBN 0-9797714-0-4, P.175.
  3. ^ DeRogatis, Jim. Turn on Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock. p. 48.
  4. ^ Icons of Rock. ABC-CLIO. October 2007. pp. 170–. ISBN 978-0-313-33845-8.
  5. ^ Badman 2001.
  6. ^ a b Turner 2005, p. 101.
  7. ^ Fontenot 2008.
  8. ^ Smith, Alan (16 June 1966). "Paul Speaks Out!". New Musical Express. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  9. ^ Colapinto 2007.
  10. ^ Aldridge 1990, p. 24.
  11. ^ Pollack 1993.
  12. ^ a b Lewisohn 1988, p. 74.
  13. ^ Hertsgaard, Mark (1995). A Day In The Life. New York: Delacorte Press. p. 180. ISBN 0-385-31377-2.
  14. ^ Miles, Barry (October 1997). Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now. Henry Holt & Co. ISBN 0-8050-5248-8.
  15. ^ "100 Greatest Beatles Songs: 35. 'Paperback Writer'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  16. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. 196.
  17. ^ Emerick 2006, p. 117.
  18. ^ Ayoub 2008.
  19. ^ "Shooting the "Paperback Writer" promotional video" at
  20. ^ The Beatles Bible 2008.
  21. ^ Rowe, Matt (18 September 2015). "The Beatles 1 To Be Reissued With New Audio Remixes... And Videos". The Morton Report. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ [2]
  24. ^ a b c Lewisohn 1988, pp. 200–201.
  25. ^ Beatles, The – Paperback Writer / Rain (Vinyl) at Discogs
  26. ^ Badman, Keith (2001). The Beatles Diary Volume 2: After the Break-Up 1970–2001. London: Omnibus Press. p. 542. ISBN 978-0-7119-8307-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  27. ^ "McCartney And His Casino on Cover of Guitar Player". 25 October 2005. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
  28. ^ Babiuk, Andy. Beatles Gear. pp. 179, 182, 183.
  29. ^ MacDonald 2005, p. 195.
  30. ^ Womack 2014, p. 710.
  31. ^ a b Rodriguez 2012, pp. 115–16.
  32. ^ Everett 1999, pp. 42–43.
  33. ^ Kent, David (2005). Australian Chart Book (1940–1969). Turramurra: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-44439-5.
  34. ^ " – The Beatles – Paperback Writer" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  35. ^ " – The Beatles – Paperback Writer" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  36. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 5702." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  37. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Paperback Writer". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  38. ^ " – The Beatles – Paperback Writer" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  39. ^ " – The Beatles – Paperback Writer". VG-lista. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  40. ^ "SA Charts 1965–March 1989". Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  41. ^ "Swedish Charts 1966–1969/Kvällstoppen – Listresultaten vecka för vecka > Augusti 1966" (PDF) (in Swedish). Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  42. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  43. ^ "The Beatles Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  44. ^ Hoffmann, Frank (1983). The Cash Box Singles Charts, 1950-1981. Metuchen, NJ & London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. pp. 32–34.
  45. ^ "Offizielle Deutsche Charts" (Enter "Beatles" in the search box) (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  46. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1966/Top 100 Songs of 1966". Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  47. ^ Archived 17 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 24, 1966
  48. ^ "American single certifications – The Beatles – Paperback Writer". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 14 May 2016. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH.