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"Paperback Writer" is a 1966 song recorded and released by the Beatles. Written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon[5] (credited to Lennon–McCartney), the song was released as the A-side of their eleventh single. The single went to the number one spot in the United States, United Kingdom, 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.



  • 1 Recording
  • 2 Song lyrics
  • 3 Promotion
  • 4 Personnel
  • 5 Release
  • 6 Promotional films
  • 7 Cover versions
  • 8 Notes
  • 9 References


The track was recorded between 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 far exceeded the bass on any Beatles records.[6] This changed with the "Paperback Writer" single.

"'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."[6]

The harmonies - “Then I had the idea to do the harmonies and we arranged that in the studio,” Paul continues. George Martin went on record to describe the “contrapuntal statements from the backing voices – no one had really done that before” and admitted that The Beach Boys were “a great inspiration” with regard to this song. With “Sloop John B” just entering the British charts and The Beatles being just given a preview of the entire Pet Sounds (1966) album, the trademark Beach Boys harmonies were emulated for “Paperback Writer”.[7] The background vocal harmonies at the beginning of the third chorus are provided by Lennon and George Harrisonwho sing the title of the French nursery rhyme "Frère Jacques". These harmonies occur at a little over one minute into the track.[8]

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.[9]

Song lyrics[]

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.[12] The Daily Mail was Lennon's regular newspaper and copies were in Lennon's Weybridge home when Lennon and McCartney were writing songs.[10]

The song's lyrics are 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 book based on a book by a "man named Lear". This is a reference to the Victorian author and artist Edward Lear, who wrote nonsense poems and songs of which Lennon was very fond (though Lear never wrote novels).

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.'"[13] 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. The backing vocals during this section are from the French children's song "Frère Jacques".[14]

The paperback writer in the song is, in part, a reference to Lennon's friend Royston Ellis.[citation needed]

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." ("son of Day Tripper" meaning a rock 'n' roll song with a guitar lick on a fuzzy, loud guitar.)[citation needed]


In Britain, the single was promoted with a photograph depicting the Beatles draped with joints of raw meat and decapitated baby dolls. This same photograph was later used, albeit briefly, as the Yesterday and Today album cover in the USA, and in that capacity it became known as the "butcher cover".[15]

For the American release of the single, the cover depicted the Beatles playing live, but with Lennon and Harrison's images reflected so that it appeared they were playing left-handedly. (See the image at the top of the page).

The promotional film for the song, one of the first of its type, shot amongst ornate garden statuary, was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who went on to direct the Beatles' final film, the documentary Let It Be(1970).[16]


There is some dispute over who played what on "Paperback Writer". In the July 1990 and the November 2005 issues of Guitar Player magazine, Paul McCartney stated that he played the song's famous opening riff on his Epiphone Casino guitar,[17] and photos from the song's session seem to be consistent with this.[18] McCartney is also widely credited for the song's iconic bass line, but photos from the session show George Harrison playing a Burns Nu-Sonic bass, not an electric guitar.[18]

  • Paul McCartney – lead vocal, bass guitar[19]
  • John Lennon – backing vocal, rhythm guitar
  • George Harrison – backing vocal, lead guitar
  • Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine
Personnel per Ian MacDonald


Country Title[21]
US "Paperback Writer"

b/w "Rain"

  • Label: Capitol 5651
  • Released: 30 May 1966
  • Format: single
UK "Paperback Writer"

b/w "Rain"

  • Label: Parlophone R 5452
  • Released: 10 June 1966
  • Format: single
UK A Collection of Beatles Oldies... but Goldies
  • Label: Parlophone R 5452
  • Released: 9 December 1966
  • Format: LP
US Hey Jude
  • Label: Apple SW-385
  • Released: 26 February 1970
  • Format: LP

"Paperback Writer" appears on subsequent re-releases including 1962–1966 (1973), a re-released single (1976), Past Masters, Volume Two (1988), and 1 (2000). The single was later released part of a Record Store Day reissue in 2010.[22]

Promotional films[]

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 Abbey Road Studios, for The Ed Sullivan Show, which was shown on 5 June, and two black and white performance clips for British television. These were shown on Ready Steady Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars on 3 and 25 June, respectively.

On 20 May, another colour film was made at Chiswick House in west London. 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.[23] The Beatles made their only live appearance on Top of the Pops to mime to "Paperback Writer" and "Rain". They were introduced by DJ Pete Murray. This session is famous for being wiped by the BBC when they were cleaning tapes for re-use. The session showed how difficult it was for the Beatles to even mime to their later material – they had difficulty in taking their performance seriously.[citation needed]

Cover versions[]

  • Tempest covered the song on their 1974 album Living in Fear.
  • Kris Kristofferson recorded a version of the song for the 1995 Beatles tribute album Come Together: America Salutes The Beatles.
  • Sweet covered the song and released it as a limited single in 1973. The cover version doesn't appear on any original Sweet album, but is included on the 2004 re-release of their 1971 debut album Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be.
  • Eric Johnson covered the song on his Internet release Souvenir (2002).
  • Les Fradkin recorded an instrumental version for his 2005 album While My Guitar Only Plays.
  • The Cowsills recorded the song for their 1969 live album The Cowsills in Concert.
  • In 1969, Gershon Kingsley recorded a version featuring the Moog synthesiser on the album Music to Moog By.
  • ApologetiX parodied the song as "David & Goliath" on their debut album.
  • Italian rock band The Bastard Sons of Dioniso covered the song on their 2007 acoustic album Even Lemmy Sometimes Sleeps.[24]
  • The Bee Gees recorded the song in 1966 in Australia. It was first released on the album Inception/Nostalgia in 1970.