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Music

The Beatles’ first number one hit that wasn't just about love

The Beatles changed the face of pop music almost instantaneously with the release of their early singles like ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’, leading toward the 1963 debut album named after the latter. 

With the smell of success across the Atlantic tugging at their nostrils, they took no pause for thought and launched into their second album, With the Beatles, released in November 1963. The album held George Harrison’s first solo songwriting submission in ‘Don’t Bother Me’ and set them up nicely for their first visit to the US in February 1964.

By the time they hit the wider US audience in 1964, with their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, The Beatles were finally established as a global phenomenon. They weren’t your everyday rhythm and blues group; these four cheeky chaps from Liverpool had something unique that would undoubtedly capture and transform a generation. 

As they progressed toward their third album, A Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles showed a marked development as they finally detached themselves entirely from the safety of cover songs for their hit film soundtrack. The first two albums had been scattered with a number of covers, including those of Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson and The Marvelettes. 

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Although the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership was coming into full bloom by this point, they were still yet to diversify their thematic muse from the tried and tested subject of love. 

The long-haired hippies we ultimately bid adieu to in 1970 were associated with their yellow submarines, apemen, meter maids, octopus gardens, tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Considering the well-kempt image and lovelorn material of the band just six years before, fans were taken on quite the journey over the latter half of the decade. 

While it wasn’t solely The Beatles who steered this change in songcraft, they certainly championed it. The avant-garde word arrangement ideas of the Beat Generation seemed to have finally sunk through to the psyche of blooming hippie culture as the baby boomers found passion in abstract concepts and bright colours. 

The transition of The Beatles’ music from the early lovey-dovey classics to the psychedelic material of the later albums came on slowly, with the critical point often placed between the release of Rubber Soul in 1965 and Revolver the following year. The former showed a song-stock still mainly focussed on love while dipping a cautious toe in the bathtub of psychedelia in some areas. The latter, on the other hand, shook off most direct relation to love, and with songs like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’, had well and truly taken a soak in psychedelia. 

In 1966, The Beatles also celebrated the refreshing release of their first-ever number one single that wasn’t related to love, ‘Paperback Writer’. The single, released on June 10th, was written primarily by McCartney after he had helped some friends set up the Indica Bookshop, which was in the basement of the Indica Gallery where John Lennon first met Yoko Ono

After helping to set up the shop, McCartney became its first customer and wrote ‘Paperback Writer’ as a homage to some of his most beloved authors, which included Martin Amis and his bandmate Lennon, who had already penned two books of his own, In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works.

The mid-era Beatles hit stood as a stand-alone transitional single marking the movement from the band’s early style to their later style. After ‘Paperback Writer’, it was evident that a number one hit could be written about pretty much anything. 

Discussing the single, McCartney once explained that his aunty had been bugging him for months, challenging him to “Write a song that wasn’t about love.” So he ostensibly wrote ‘Paperback Writer’ just to get her off his back. “We always try to do something different,” Paul continued. “And this idea’s a bit different. Years ago, my Auntie Lil said to me, ‘Why can’t you ever write about a horse or the summit conference or something interesting? So I thought, ‘All right, Auntie Lil. I’ll show you.”

Listen to the landmark single, ‘Paperback Writer’, below.