Paul McCartney had two pieces of the puzzle: a riff and a theme. More specifically, he had a challenge set by his aunt: “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.'”
Never one to shy away from some good provocation, McCartney searched for the proper setting to pair with his indelible guitar riff. The lick was dirty and fuzzy, not unlike a souped up version of the band’s previous single ‘Day Tripper’, which John Lennon acknowledged when he called the song the “son of ‘Day Tripper’” in 1980. Almost as if he delighted in the contradiction, McCartney chose a mundane topic to focus on: writing a book.
‘Paperback Writer’ came quickly, with McCartney fleshing out the song’s psychedelic arrangement in quick succession. When he stepped into the studio during the band’s sessions for Revolver, all that needed to be done was to figure out an intro. McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison came up with the layered harmonies that give the song its distinctive hook.
Hearing ‘Paperback Writer’ without those harmonies is a bizarre listening experience, but it just goes to show how many memorable elements the song is made up of. From McCartney’s wild boosted bass lines to Ringo Starr’s runaway locomotive drumming, ‘Paperback Writer’ remains one of The Beatles greatest contributions to pop, hard rock, and psychedelia.
It all does come back to that guitar riff, however. Every song needs an anchor, and the noisy ragged riff that cycles throughout the song just might be the coolest sounding riff in the entire Beatles catalogue. It’s certainly the heaviest that The Beatles had gotten up to that point, letting the distortion and feedback propel the song to exciting new heights. Lennon might have claimed that ‘Ticket to Ride’ was the first heavy metal song, but ‘Paperback Writer’ might take the cake on the riff alone.
Listen to Paul McCartney’s isolated guitar work on ‘Paperback Writer’ down below.