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Notes on "Paperback Writer" and "Rain"
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This article is from Alan W. Pollack's groundbreaking series "Notes on the Beatles". Links in the orginal article is written in this colour: index to the series, while links I have added appears as standard links. Go here for more information on my site about the song
Notes on "Paperback Writer" and "Rain"
This double-A single marks one of *the* most significant nodal points in the compositional and recording development of the Beatles. After the just-in-time for Xmas release of Rubber Soul the Beatles took a four month break from the studio. They went straight to work on what was to become the Revolver album in early April '66, and the two songs on this single, released in June (two months ahead of the album) were recorded just a couple weeks into the new sessions.
The subject matter, musical style, and recording technique of both "Paperpack Writer" and "Rain" make them as qualitatively different from what we heard on the album which preceded them as they pressage the album which was yet to follow. The release of "Penny Lane" b/w "Strawberry Fields Forever" as an antecedent to the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP is the other major single of theirs to have this level of potent prescience in terms of an album in progress.
The other important angle to a study of this pair of songs is the extreme to which they bear comparison and contrast with each other. Each of these songs reflects so clearly its respective composer, and yet at the same time, there are similarities galore which reflect not only cross-influence, but I suspect, a subtle element of competetive looking over each other's shoulders. We've explored this notion several times before in this series, most notably in connection with "All My Loving/ It Won't Be Long" and "She Said She Said/ Good Day Sunshine."
So what are the similarities in this case ?
-Key -- both songs "sound" in the key of G, even though the backing track for R was recorded at a faster tempo and higher key, and slowed down during the mixing phase to playback differently.
-Post-processed special effects -- As Lewisohn puts it (Recording Sessions, p. 74), "both were chock full of all the Revolver technical advancements: limiters, compressors, jangle boxes, Leslie speakers, ADT." More specifically, "Paperback Writer" has the tape echo at the end of the alternate verse sections, and R, in addition to the modified tape speed, includes the much talked about played-backwards vocal in its outro.
Wall-of-sound texture -- Even without the special effects, both songs have a noticeably denser, punchier texture than virtually anything else done by the group up until this point, largely the result of the standout drumming, basswork, and heavily over-dubbed vocal harmony on both cuts.
-Drone-like harmony -- Neither song is literally built on a pedal point, though both of them use very few chords, and contain sustained passages over the I chord that lend a static feeling to the harmony overall. At other times, the Beatles could delightfully take you by surprise with a novel chord progression, but in this case they seem to be transfixed by an aesthetic of stasis.
Subject matter -- Neither is a love song. "Nowhere Man" was the only other time, to date, where they had tried anything like this, but from this point forward, this tendency to comment on things social or experiential would become increasingly pronounced.
And then again, there are those yin-yang/John-versus-Paul points of contrast between the two songs, and what's particularly delicious about some of these is that they are embedded within factors that would otherwise seem at a superficial level to be common denominators rather than points of departure:
- Tempo -- This pair of songs constitute what might be among the fastest and slowest ever songs done by the Beatles to-date. In the case of "Paperback Writer", listen to how fast the "1-2-3-etc." count-in is on the pair of bootlegs that are in the public domain (I use the latter term loosely :-)), and the fact that take 1 of the backing track breaks down because, as George notes on the tape, it keeps getting faster. In the case of R, John's ultra-slow harmonic rhythm and his scanning of the words (see the bullet on 'Prosody') manage to project an almost catatonically measured pace in spite of all furious activity in the textural foreground.
-Perspective on the respective subject matter -
Paul's essay is a gritty, journalistic slice of life on the sleazy side, starting off in the first person and cleverly shifting 'round to a self- referential third-person focus as the book is described. Indeed, you *must* see the photograph of Paul's manuscript for the lyrics, not only written out literally in the form of a letter (opening == Dear Sir [or Madam]), but *signed* by one "Ian Iachimoe." Talk about vague references or hard trivia questions; who's 'e, eh ?? :-) John, true to his own form, turns in an elliptical tirade in the third person about what "they" do when the metaphorical 'rain' comes; inscrutable on the surface but pregnant with deeply embedded meaning.
Modality of the home key -- "Paperback Writer" is *quite* Mixolydian. For example, the tune places great emphasis on the melodic flat 7th, and the harmony includes I, ii, and IV but *not* V; if you check the bootleg take 1 you can actually hear them playing V in the intro and refrain sections but in the final mix it's deftly mixed out! "Rain", on the other hand, though it is harmonically much more clearly in the Major mode (check out the I-IV-V chord vocabulary), manages to convey a modal feel by virtue of its pseudo-pentatonic melody (note how the lead vocal contains no 2nd or 7th scale degree -
i.e. no 'A's or 'F's), and the open-fifth drone-like harmonies of its refrain sections.
- Prosody of the verbal delivery -- "Prosody" is a technical term describing the manner in which words are rhythmically declaimed together with accompanying music. In contrast, say, to the almost deadly four-square delivery heard in a song like "Yellow Submarine", "Paperback Writer" provides as good an example as you'll ever find of syllables pleasurably ricocheting off an underlying beat.
"Rain", in contrast, is performed in style in which the words seem to be intoxicatedly, and/or counter-intuitively fighting against the beat. The 'Master' (if not outright 'inventor') of this technique circa 1966 was Bob Dylan. To the extent that it would become a very Lennonesque trademark as well from this point on is, to me, evidence of a to-date uncharted, overlooked subtle point of Dylan's influence on the Beatles.
And on that note, let us move on, finally, to our closer look at each of these songs in turn.
KEY G Major METER 4/4 FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse' -> Refrain (intro) -> Verse -> Verse' -> Refrain (intro) -> Outro (fadeout)
General Points of Interest
Style and Form
This song is definitely in the top tier of Beatles' hardest rocking cuts. In addition to the fast tempo and gutsy backing track, the melodic flat 7th of the Mixolydian mode and the 12-measure verse lengths add a touch of the Blues.
The form is made curious by virtue of the acapella opening (see "Nowhere Man" ), the doubling up of the verses, and the recurrence of that unusual intro as a sort of refrain section.
I've commented elsewhere about how, whenever you have a song that starts off with a vocal pickup, the unedited studio tape *must* have on it some amount of pre-take cueing of the starting pitch for the singers. Take 2 of this song provides a perfect proof of this, where you can here them, just before the actual count-in singing the word 'Paperback ...' in a nervously tentative stage whisper.
Melody and Harmony
The tune has the bouncing rhythm and limited melodic countour of a patter song, or even "talkin' blues", though just the same, it does manage to fill out the full octave in a rather clever way.
Harmony is used quite frugally to static effect. To the extent that the V chord is supressed from appearing throughout, the sense of homekey is left to establish itself via the relatively weak plagal cadence of the IV chord, and a kind of drone-like, manifest insistence of the I chord.
The vocal parts are worked out and varied to an unusual extent. George and John's backing vocals play off of Paul's double-tracked lead vocal, sometimes antiphonally (the intro), sometimes in accompaniment (Frere Jacques), and yet at other times in chorus (the hook line at the end of each verse).
Alas, the vocal parts don't sound quite as *well rehearsed* as they are ambitious. After repeated close listenings to the recording you can't help notice the often ragged ensemble cutoffs at phrase endings or entrances.
The fancy vocal parts are just about upstaged by the much discussed Motown-like punchy bass part and the syncopated lead guitar riff. For that matter, you can't overlook Ringo's between-the-sections drum fills here. Though they were an trademark of the Early Beatles sound, they kind of disappear for the most part during Rubber Soul, yet make a welcome return on both sides of this single, and on many other Revolver cuts as well.
The intro is eight measures long:
|Acapella vocals----------------||Guitar riff-------------------| |C |G |a |- ||G |- |- |- | G: I V ii I
The first half is set for pseudo-acapella voices in a pattern of cascading antiphony that is something off the beaten path for these guys. The large number of overdubs makes it sound as though many more than just three people were singing; a modest anticipation of what would surface much later in the likes of "Because."
In the second half we suddenly are faced with almost the entire instrumental backing ensemble executing a double-barreled iteration of a really knockout ostinato riff for lead guitar and bass drum; one that I'd say is easily way up in there the same class with the one from "Day Tripper" in terms of both its distintive melodic contour and craggy syncopations that extend over one and a half of the ostinato's two-measure length.
The outtakes reveal two subtle points about this intro:
- - The finished recording is mixed to sound as though the intro were performed "ad libitum", but the outtakes prove that it is very much done in tempo. Take 2 contains both a count-in *and* a metronomic tapping out of the beat on what sounds like a cymbal, not only through the entire first half of the intro but in every other 'refrain' where the acapella vocal section is repeated. Darn clever how this tapping track is so neatly mixed out of the final version.
- - The harmony of the acapella section sounds on the finished recording as I've diagrammed it above: just I, IV, and ii. In take 1, though, you can clearly hear a skeletal backing track (placed there, I assume, to provide sotto voce support for the singers at the vocal overdub stage) which shows that they originally intended to have a V chord in the fourth measure. Once you know it's there in the outtake, you start noticing how on the final version it's *there* as well, but somehow was mixed way down but not quite out, deftly, every time the phrase is repeated; there must be some pretty fast fingers on those faders.
The bass/guitar riff strikes with tremendous power when it is heard for the first time. The preceding acapella section, in spite of its being in the same fast tempo as what follows it, conveys, from its four-square and slow rhythmic pattern, a sense of pent-up potential energy that is mercifully unleashed when the riff kicks in.
The bass drumming that backs the lead guitar riff is so sharp that when the bass guitar finally enters at the tail end of this intro with a pickup to the intro you think for a second that maybe you're hearing an overdubbed second bass part; but it's not so.
The twelve measure length of this verse is phrased (AAB) like a blues frame even though the harmony doesn't fit the classic pattern:
2X -------------- |G |C |G |- | G: I IV6/4 I |C |- |G |- | IV I
The C chord in measures 2 and 6 is elusive, indeed. For starters, the bassline gives a pedal tone-like stress to the note G throughout the first eight measures, placing the C chord in the extremely weak 6/4 (aka 'second') inversion. Secondarily, the melody stresses the note D during measures 2 and 6, creating a sense of the C and G chords being superimposed over one another.
The second verse of each pair ends with that startling and unprecedented tape echo effect in measure 12. You'd think that the singers held their notes all the way through the end of the measure, and that the special effect consists of distortion being applied to what they had sung in real time. Surprisingly, take 2 demonstrates that the vocalists actually had cut off sharply at the end of measure 11; meaning that the measure's worth of echo was deftly spliced on as an extension of the original vocal.
George and John have a bit of fun in the second pair of verses, sneaking in a counter-melody backing part based on the nursery tune "Frere Jacques". In the second of the two verses, they step their vocals up a notch in pitch, thereby creating a subtle feeling at that point of intensification.
This is, in each case, virtually a note-for-note reprise of the intro. The recurring sudden change of pace between this section and the frantic bustle of the surrounding lends to the song an overall a wrenching subtext.
The outro is based on a variation of the antiphonal vocal of the intro. In the intro the 'answerer' had rhythmically imitated the "caller." Here, the answering part is modified to a more rejoinder- like snappy double time. This new pattern is repeated completely four times into a fadeout with all sound failing just after the start of the fifth iteration.
During the guitar riff half of the refrain that precedes this outro we find an example of the small rough edges they obviously thought weren't worth sanding off because no one would ever notice them. In this case, we hear a throat being cleared and someone (I believe it's George) making sure he has the right pitch he'll need to sing at the start of the outro; in falsetto, no less!
KEY G Major METER 4/4 FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain -> Verse -> Outro (fadeout)
General Points of Interest
Style and Form
For all of its musical and technical innovation, it's a bit ironic to note how standard is the form and harmonic content of this song.
Though no sitars or other ethnic 'world music' instruments are used here, the style of the song very much connotes the style of classical Indian music by virtue of the droning harmony and the, at times florid tune.
Melody and Harmony
As far back as "Love Me Do" (amazingly), John and Paul had stumbled onto a novel use of spicy little trills and langorously stretched out melismas that, along with sung open and parallel fifths, is truly one of the more subtle trademarks of their early "sound." Here, what is essentially the identical technique is pushed beyond the routine envelope to create an entirely new and exotically "foreign" effect.
Aside from ornamentation, the tune is structurally organized in a very "Indian" manner; with the appproximate two halves of the melodic octave each isolated to its own respective section of the song; the verse stays carefully within low G up to E, while the refrain deals with the upper end of the octave, from the high G down to middle C.
The harmonic budget is frugal to the extreme of creating, what I can only assume is, an intentionally static effect. You'd expect the use of I-IV-V throughout this song to create a much more non-modally inflected sense of G *Major* as the home key than was the case in "Paperback Writer". It's intruiging, though, to contemplate how the even more widespread use in R of superimposed chords and the ornamentalized melody manage to over-ride the sense of clear Major mode and suggest something Modally tangy in flavor, even though the 'letter' of the musical text does not support this notion!
Both vocal and instrumental tracks on this song were subjected to speed changes in between original recording and mixdown for mastering, and this detail accounts for, as much as any other factor, the psychadelic, surreal quality that surrounds the whole of it.
Lewisohn (ibid.) tells us that the backing track was performed in fast tempo (and, implicitly, in a higher key than G), so that it could be slowed down on playback to what we have on the final recording; thus altering not only the pitch but the 'textural' sound of the ensemble. The vocals (at least John's lead) were manipulated in the opposite direction (though Lewisohn inadvertantly tries to confuse us on this point); in other words, John sang for the recording in a slower tempo and lower key, so that on faster playback his 'Mickey Mouse' vocal not only presents him uncharaceteristically beyond his normal upper range, but also with an eerily hyperactive vibratro in his throat.
John's double-tracked lead vocal is accompanied by George and Paul in the verses, and by John Himself in the refrains. The backers starts in the second verse, where they either echo and comment on what the lead sings or else they "emboss" what he sings by harmonizing right along with him.
Ringo has a veritable field day on the drums and cymbals throughout. Also, even on this relatively 'progressive' track, they take the time to bother with one of their so typically fussy tambourine parts; on all four beats in the intro, on alternate even-numbered beats in the first pair of verses and the refrains, and shaken on every eighth note of the measure in verses three and four.
We have here as attention-grabbing an opening in its own way as is the acapella vocal opening of "Paperback Writer"; a ra-ta-tat half-measure's fanfare of solo snare drums, followed by four measures of the drone-like guitar vamping on the I chord (equally reminiscent of both tamboura and pipes) that pervades the piece.
The lower reaches of the arrangement definitely sounds as though there are some kind of open fifths at play; whether they are sounded entirely by the bass guitar, or are a composite of bass and lead guitar is not easy to ascertain given the level of distortion applied to the finished track.
The verse is an asymmetrically phrased nine measures in length; parsed as 5 (actually 3+2) + 4:
|G |C D |G |C D |G | G: I IV V I IV V I |C |- |G |- | IV I
Uneven phrase lengths are another good example of an offbeat compositional technique that had been a manifest part of the Beatles arsenal from the very beginning, and yet, it is used here in the (shall we call it) Late- Middle-Period to very different effect than it had been back in the days of "Love Me Do", "P.S. I Love You", and the like.
Toward the end of the second verse there's quite a blooper. It's hard to unravel what was the respective cause and effect of it, but it sounds like between John's behind-the-beat delivery of the words and a hesitating screw up of the bass part by Paul right where the chord is supposed to change back to G in measure 8, they manage to add a dizzying excess pair of beats or so and still keep going. I suspect that this was unplanned but kept in the final version anyway because of its serendipitously appropriate off-kilter effect in context.
Measures 6-7 feature an implied superimposition of G over the C chord similar to that seen in "Paperback Writer".
Near the beginning of the third verse (~1:20 into the track) there is what sounds like a faintly sounded "cueing beep". Was this supposed to be a half-hearted anticipation of the similar effect near the mid-point of "Tomorrow Never Knows" (you know, the thing that sounds like 'at the tone the time is ..."), or is this some kind of subtle clue that this song actually dates from the Twickenham _Get Back_ sessions of 1/69 ? (JUST KIDDING!)
The refrain is twelve measures, and is built out of a repetition of the same (again, non four-square) six-measure phrase: --------------------- 2X ---------------------- |G |- |C |- |G |- | I IV 6/4 I
This section conveys a sense of ecstatic slowing down even though the tempo here is the same as it was for the verses. This effect is created by the change of beat for the first four measures from its erstwhile bounce to something more plodding and regular, combined with the suddenly with the slower harmonic rhythm of the section and the yawningly stretched out vocals. At the end of this section, the illusion of speed change is spun in the opposite direction by the way in which you feel an acceleration when the bouncier beat resumes in the final two measures.
The time warp effect is pushed still one step further in the second refrain by the addition of slow triplets to the bassline in the first four measures. Yet *again* one more example of a technique we've seen in so many earlier Beatles songs, that is recycled here to a different, more strange effect than usual. Looked at from the opposite perspective, you might say that while a song like "Rain" makes you 'know' we're not in Kansas any longer, it still does seem like the Boys sure wanted to take along a lot of their same old clothing for the big trip.
We have the same "elusive" kind of C6/4 chord in this refrain as we saw in "Paperback Writer". This time, also it is superimposed over open fifth G Major drone in the lower parts.
The outro commences with what seems at first like an ad-libitum "general pause" and a short passage for drums and bass guitar. If you count along carefully you discover though that the entire thing is quite in tempo, and exactly three measures long.
What follows at this point is the unprecedented (and in retrospect, historically signficant) trailing vocal of John's, dubbed over the backing track by playing a tape of his earlier vocal in reverse. The actual splicing and mixing in of this special effect was done *very* smoothly, especially by the standards of '66 technology. No pops, no clicks, no sudden change of ambience, etc.
If you have any doubt about the technique used here, you can either spin your turntable backwards, or transcribe the trailing vocal part and sing *it* yourself in reverse. The only suspicious thought I have concerns the sustained sung note 'C' which occurs fairly well into the fadeout, and which, for the life of me, I cannot find the counterpart of in the original "forward" vocal.
Some Final Thoughts
As ground-breaking as this single was, it somehow didn't turn out to be so record-breaking on the charts. Don't get me wrong; by the standards of mere mortals, the single did just *fine* in terms of chart position and copies sold. But by the standards of Beatlemania, it didn't come close to some of the really big hits. Wha' happened !? Were these two songs, at the time, perhaps a bit *too* original, or could it have been the opposite -- were we all becoming a bit blase where the Beatles were concerned ?
I can only speak for myself, and indeed, I'll be the first one to admit my own experiences may not be typical; ... but I know they're mine :-) A warning though -- unbridled soppy nostalgia runs rampant in the next couple paragraphs. You may want to turn back now.
The first time I heard "Paperback Writer" was from a jukebox in the Seagull Coffee Shop, on Brighton Beach Avenue (under the 'El', and not far from the boardwalk), sitting with a group of extended friends at a couple of tables pushed together, all of us wallowing in the euphoria of a terminal case of High School Senior-itis; and this new song by the Beatles was our soundtrack that late spring afternoon . It's strange how after all these years I can still remember pausing for a moment to acknowledge it with a head nodding "oh well, will you listen to that!", but then also quickly diving back into the conversation that had been interrupted. Funny how I can't remember a thing about the contents of that conversation, yet I do remember the music; vividly!
Within two months, things changed radically. I remember coming home from my stint as music counselor at a "sleepaway" camp, flipping on the newfangled 'stereo' receiver I had been given as a graduation present by my parents, tuning in the radically new upscale *FM* rock station (Scott Muni on WNEW, no fooling) and hearing for the first time the Boys' *really new* double-A side; "Yellow Submarine" b/w "Eleanor Rigby". By this time, NO ONE was blase about it any more, or in the least.
But at this, all excess reminiscence aside, I'm getting way ahead of our story :-).
Regards, Alan (firstname.lastname@example.org) --- "When you're not thumping them pagan skins, you're tormenting your eyes with that rubbish." 122293#91 ---
Copyright (c) 1993 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.
These articles were originally posted in the News Group rec.music.beatles. The content from this newsgroup is archived at http://www.recmusicbeatles.com/, and Alan W. Pollacks "Notes On" series can be found at http://www.recmusicbeatles.com/public/files/awp/awp.html. I used to link to the versions published in Soundscapes before I decided to include them on my own site.
If you want to learn more about the musical side of song writing, chord progressions, harmony and theory through The Beatles songs (and/or The Beatles in particular), I recommend the following book:
Artist: Dominic Pedler
Arranged by The Beatles
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