217. The Beatles – Paperback Writer (1966)

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On 29 June, Barclays Bank introduced the Barclaycard, which became Britain’s first credit card in November 1967. Four days later, 31 arrests were made outside the US embassy when a protest against the Vietnam War turned violent.

At this point, the Beatles had finally got off the treadmill of one film, two albums and a million tours, when a planned third movie was cancelled. This afforded the Fab Four the chance to finally give album production more care and attention than they were used to. And to say Beatles fans felt the benefit was an understatement. The result was Revolver. John Lennon and George Harrison were now indulging in LSD, and the band entered their peak years of creativity. On April 3 they began the sessions with the album closer, the mind-blowing Tomorrow Never Knows. It had to be the last track, as nothing can follow it.

A week later they set to work on a new single. Paul McCartney’s Paperback Writer was an experiment in writing a pop song that didn’t concern love. There certainly hadn’t been a number 1 about writing a book before. McCartney has said in later years that he was inspired by reading an article in the Daily Mail (name-checked in the song) about an aspiring author. He’d also been considering writing a song based around one chord. He didn’t quite pull it off here, but he did come close. According to Lennon in 1972, he helped with some of the lyrics. He also described it as the ‘son of Day Tripper‘, and considering the similarity of the riff, he had a point.

There’s some dispute over who played what, but either McCartney or Harrison were behind the main riff. What is beyond dispute is Macca’s bass-playing. Lennon had complained about the lack of bass on Beatles records, and wanted to know why they couldn’t make it as loud as it sounded on soul records. They’d even considered recording Revolver at Stax Records’ studio beforehand. According to the late Geoff Emerick, who had just joined the production crew, Paperback Writer became their loudest single to date. They achieved this by using a loudspeaker as a microphone, directly in front of the bass speaker. A new piece of equipment featured in the mastering process too, known as Automatic Transient Overload Control. McCartney clearly decided to go all out, and provided his best bass line to date. It was also a sign of things to come as his bass-playing became busier over the next few years. I do think his bass skills are unsung.

While much more conventional than Tomorrow Never Knows, Paperback Writer is certainly their oddest single up to this point. It may not have the trippy sounds of Revolver‘s closer, or even the pioneering backwards vocals on the B-side, Rain, but few bands did harmonies as well as the Beatles, so to hear them pushed to the foreground so much, with echo laid on top, still sounds exciting. It’s an unusually messy recording by the Beatles’ standards, with Lennon and Harrison laughing their way through ‘Frere Jacques’ in the background. It bears no relation to the theme of the song, but somehow it fits. Apparently it was made up on the spot during recording.

I love this pre-Pepper, jangly era of songs like She Said She Said and And Your Bird Can Sing, and wish there was more of it. If you can, check out the mono version over the stereo, as the extreme separation on the latter spoils the effect, and it’s also missing some of the echo.

Due to the Beatles increasing studio experimentation, live promotion of their singles was becoming increasingly difficult to pull off. Another reason for them to be considering ending touring, no doubt. As with the last few singles, they recorded promotional videos for the A and B-sides. Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed all four, with the most famous being the colour films made around Chiswick House. The Fab Four did attempt a live performance on Top of the Pops that June, but the clip, along with so many, was erased from history.

Also seemingly forgotten about is the fact that EMI used the infamous ‘butcher’ images to promote the single. Later in 1966, Capitol issued a compilation called Yesterday and Today. The original cover was a bizarre photo of John, Paul, George and Ringo in white coats, grinning away with slabs of meat and decapitated baby dolls (an outtake is featured above). It understandably didn’t go down too well, and was quickly replaced. But the image had also been used for Paperback Writer in the UK. What had they been thinking?

Well, they had hired Australian photographer Robert Whitaker for a surreal unfinished project called A Somnanbulant Adventure. McCartney stated on the Anthology television series that they had worked with him before and knew he shared their sense of humour… but he doesn’t know what Whitaker was hoping to achieve. Lennon claimed it was a protest at the Vietnam War, which seems a bold statement for the Fab Four to have made at that point. On Anthology, George Harrison typically got straight to the point and said he found it ‘gross, and stupid’. To be fair to Whitaker, he has since said he agreed with the image being banned in its unfinished state as it wasn’t getting to the point he was trying to make… that the Beatles were ‘flesh and blood’.

No, I’m still no wiser either.

Further controversy was to come for the Beatles. In March, John Lennon had been interviewed by Maureen Cleave for the Evening Standard newspaper. While discussing the decline of Christianity, he said ‘We’re more popular than Jesus now.’ Nothing was said at the time it was published, but it would come back to bite them.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 June-6 July)

Deaths:

Writer Margery Allingham – 30 June 

207. The Beatles – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out (1965)

PEG6MOB.jpgAs Christmas 1965 approached, tension increased between the UK and Rhodesia, with Britain beginning an oil embargo on 17 December. America soon followed suit. Supporters of Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith attacked three visiting MPs on 12 January 1966.

22 December saw a temporary maximum speed limit of 70mph on the UK’s motorways. The limit became permanent in 1967. On the same day, Prime Minister Harold Wilson shuffled the cabinet and made Roy Jenkins the Home Secretary and the new Minister of Transport was Barbara Castle. Both MPs would be big names within Labour for many years to come.

It will be no surprise to see the Beatles were Christmas number 1 yet again. This was the third time in a row, and they overtook Cliff Richard as the British act with the most chart-toppers – nine at this point. Since their last single Help!, the Fab Four had met with their old hero Elvis Presley, played their famous Shea Stadium concert, and finally slowed down, with the intention of devoting more time than usual to their new album. With LSD added to their drug intake, in addition to their pot smoking, Rubber Soul was a big step forward. The Beatles drew on their favourite musicians of the time, including Bob Dylan and the Byrds, to create a more introspective sound, combining pop, rock and folk with their most thoughtful, insightful lyrics to date. In addition to album highlights such as Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), In My Life and If I Needed Someone, the band also recorded two non-album tracks to release as a single on the same day. Because there were disagreements over which track to prioritise, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out became the first ‘proper’ double-A-side single. Any followers of this blog will have seen we’ve had double-A-sides before, but in these instances, the second track listed was actually supposed to be a B-side, it’s just that demand resulted in the flip sides being promoted as strongly as the main track. That’s why you’ll see so many from Elvis earlier in the decade.

Day Tripper was recorded at Abbey Road on 16 October. The killer riff and majority of the song came from John Lennon, with Paul McCartney mainly helping with the verses. Seems to me this was Lennon’s attempt at coming up with a hook as good as the Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, and he came admirably close with this.

At the time, Lennon and McCartney were debating where to go next with their songwriting, having by and large exhausted the well of first-person love songs. One option, that fortunately didn’t last, was to write ‘comedy songs’. Not necessarily silly songs, but humourous tracks, occasionally with punchlines. Although the world can be glad they didn’t stick with that idea, to be fair, when the examples are Day Tripper, Drive My Car and Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), maybe it wouldn’t have been such a bad thing after all.

Lyrically, Day Tripper was their first single to mention drugs, albeit hidden in a not-subtle-at-all manner behind travelling references. The female character, perhaps like the one in Ticket to Ride, is sexually confident (in addition to being a ‘weekend hippy’), with the line ‘she’s a big teaser’ famously a cleaner version of the original ‘she’s a prick teaser’.

Although cleaner and sounding more ‘pop’ than (I Can’t get No) Satisfaction, the stereo mix of Day Tripper is rather sloppy. Of course, in 1965 stereo was considered less important than mono, but that’s no excuse for the brief accidental erasing of the guitar and tambourine tracks at 1.50. Once heard it’s impossible to not notice. Thankfully the error was rectified when the track was included on the 1 compilation in 2000 by taking the sounds from elsewhere in the track. Yet another classic mid-60s track, Day Tripper could easily have been a number 1 on its own.

The origins of We Can Work It Out probably came from McCartney’s now-troubled relationship with Jane Asher. He struggled to finish the song and took it to Lennon, whose ‘Life is very short…’ section was the perfect counterpoint to McCartney’s work. I have to agree with Revolution in the Head author Ian MacDonald that this song doesn’t spotlight the difference between Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting as definitively as some suggest. You can hardly call McCartney’s ‘do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?’ optimistic, for example. Nonetheless, the instances of the duo working together to such an extent shrank rapidly after We Can Work It Out, and this song is a great example of how well the duo complimented each other.

It was recorded four days after Day Tripper, with the rhythm track laid down in two takes. However, a further 11 hours were spent on the recording – the longest they’d ever spent on one song. During the session, George Harrison came up with the idea for Lennon’s section to be recorded as a waltz. The final ingredient, and the best, was the overdubbing of Lennon on a harmonium. This added texture to the single that pointed the way towards the future of the Beatles.

McCartney, Harrison and Starr felt We Can Work It Out was the better track to feature as an A-side, but Lennon felt strongly they should opt for the harder Day Tripper. EMI even originaly announced We Can Work It Out as the Christmas single, but Lennon’s stubbornness resulted in both tracks being joint headliners. Airplay and point-of-sale requests proved Lennon wrong, but I’m on his side on this one. Having said that, for my money one of the best Beatles covers of all time has to be Stevie Wonder’s We Can Work It Out in 1970.

Although they were at number 1 for the ninth time in a row, alarm bells rang within the media that they were starting to lose some of their popularity because the single didn’t shoot straight to the top in the first week of release, which had become the norm for the Fab Four. Despite this, the record was their best seller since Can’t Buy Me Love in 1964.

Before the release, the band recorded promo films with Joe McGrath to avoid having to appear yet again on Top of the Pops etc. The highlight of these videos is Lennon making McCartney laugh while pulling faces on the harmonium. Four days before the single knocked The Carnival Is Over from number 1, the Beatles performed their final UK gigs at the Capitol in Cardiff.

Also in the news that Christmas and New Year… the oil platform Sea Gem collapsed in the North Sea on 27 December, killing 13 of the 32 men on board. 3 January saw the debut of classic children’s TV series Camberwick Green, shown on BBC One as part of the Watch with Mother strand. The following day, over 4,000 people attended the funeral of BBC broadcaster Richard Dimbleby, who had died on 22 December. Such a gathering for the death of any broadcaster seems hard to believe.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 5 (16 December 1965-19 January 1966)

Births:

Northern Irish composer Martin Galway – 3 January 

Deaths:

Broadcaster Richard Dimbleby – 22 December
Politician Edward Davey – 25 December 

193. The Beatles – Ticket to Ride (1965)

23 April saw the opening of the Pennine Way. The National Trail runs 267 miles from Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District, up to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. Three days later, Manchester United won the Football League First Division title. In other football news, Liverpool won the FA Cup for the first time, defeating Leeds United 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on 1 May. Elsewhere, on 7 May the Rhodesian Front, led by Ian Smith, won a landslide victory in the general election in Rhodesia.

Meanwhile, the Beatles were at number 1 for the seventh time, with their most adventurous single to date.

In February, they had begun filming, and recording the soundtrack album, for their second movie (their first in colour), provisionally called Eight Arms to Hold You. Just as weird as the title was the film itself. Once again directed by Richard Lester, this was a more surreal, loose, knockabout comedy than A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and with a bigger budget, too. Intended as a spoof of spy films, it essentially became an excuse for the Fab Four to travel to exotic locations. The Beatles spent most of the time stoned out of their minds, and would often struggle to stop themselves laughing while filming. In some scenes, their eyes are bloodshot from all the smoking they indulged in. Lads.

Fortunately for everyone, the Beatles on marijuana didn’t result in self-indulgent dribble. It made for their best film. That’s nothing compared to the impact on their music, though.

Ticket to Ride was the first track worked on for their fifth album. In 1980, Lennon claimed in Playboy that the song was pretty much his own. He also proudly stated it invented heavy metal. The jury’s out on both, but it began one hell of a creative patch. None of their singles had sounded like this, musically or lyrically. He said Paul McCartney was only responsible for Ringo Starr’s drum sound, whereas McCartney later stated they wrote it together in three hours.

Even if Lennon was right, you can’t underestimate the drums on Ticket to Ride, so McCartney clearly made an important contribution. Making Starr play in such a stop-start fashion created an epic, proto-pyschedelic sound, which isn’t that far removed from the still-startling Tomorrow Never Knows, created a year later. George Harrison once said that the drums were also influenced by the equally important jagged guitar riff, which he claimed ownership of, having played it on his Rickenbacker. Whoever came up with what, this track was breaking new ground.

Although the Beatles were innovative with their songwriting from the start, those first few years were often full of basic lyrics about love. Not this time. The combination of an adoration of Bob Dylan and drugs made the words in Ticket to Ride more adult, oblique and interesting. A woman is leaving the narrator, that much we know. So far, so ‘blues’. But where to? Some suggest the woman has become a prostitute. McCartney once claimed she’s simply off to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. I find the former more likely. The prefix of ‘I think’ adds so much to the song, without explaining itself. And although the narrator isn’t sure exactly whether he’s upset or not, he says his baby definitely isn’t. It was rare at the time to allow a woman in a break-up to have the upper hand in a pop song.

Ticket to Ride was also a first for the Beatles for the way in which it was recorded. They were taking an increased interest in the way their songs sounded, and from now on they would tape rehearsals and concentrate on backing tracks, before overdubbing more instruments and the vocals.

Although most of the rest of the album it came from was fairly straightforward, Ticket to Ride marked the start of the band’s psychedelic period, and that’s easily my favourite era of my favourite band. The slow pace of the drumming, combined with the drone of the guitars, gives it an Indian feel. It seems this was a coincidence rather than by design, as it was later, during the making of the film, that Harrison became interested in Indian music (it seems the decidedly un-PC comedy Indian characters in Help! had their uses after all). The middle-eight was your more standard Beatles fare, but I can still find the switch back to the main riff spine-tingling, even after all these years. The ‘My baby don’t care’ refrain in the coda is a thrilling climax, with great guitar licks from McCartney.

Ticket to Ride enjoyed a lengthy (by 1965 standards – most number 1s only lasted a week) three-week stint at the top. It was their longest track to date, running for over three minutes. Singles were getting longer, hair was getting longer, things were getting weirder. They promoted the song on Top of the Pops, and a brief clip of the performance was also shown on Doctor Who in May, as part of the story The Chase.

The most famous performance of the song was in their second movie. By the time of its release it was known as Help!, and Ticket to Ride featured in a sequence in which the band learned to ski in the Austrian Alps while also avoiding the assassins attempting to steal Ringo’s ring. A highly influential part of the film, some say it was a big influence on the idea of music videos and eventually MTV.

As I mentioned in my blog for I Feel Fine though, the Beatles were already making promo films to save them having to be everywhere at once. That November, they made promos for their next single, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, and also made one for Ticket to Ride to feature on a festive edition of Top of the Pops. The foursome mimed in front of a backdrop of large tickets, with John, Paul and George sat in director’s chairs.

She Loves You is perhaps the greatest pop song of all time, but I think Ticket to Ride may be my favourite song of the early years of the Beatles. Time will never dull its magnificence.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (22 April-12 May)

Births:

Actress Anna Chancellor – 27 April 
Television presenter Alice Beer – 1 May 
Wrestler Darren Matthews – 10 May

Deaths:

Welsh novelist Howard Spring – 3 May