Paul McCartney said The Beatles went through a period in which they were writing songs inspired by the music of The Beach Boys. For example, one of The Beatles’ No. 1 hits features harmonies that are supposed to sound like The Beach Boys’. The song also features John Lennon and George Harrison singing a lyric from a famous children’s song.
Paul McCartney wrote this Beatles song because he was tired of writing love songs
During an interview with Billboard’s Rob Tannenbaum, Paul discussed his feeling about writing love songs. “Love is a great thing to write a song about,” he said. “‘You left me, I hate you.’ ‘I love you, please come to me.’ ‘Don’t go anywhere, because I’m coming.’ It’s what us humans are about.”
Despite this, Paul became sick of writing love songs. One of the songs he wrote when he grew tired of writing about love was “Paperback Writer.” The song details a novelist’s attempts to make it big.
How The Beach Boys inspired The Beatles’ song ‘Paperback Writer’
Paul said the vocal harmonies of The Beach Boys inspired the vocal harmonies in the song. Paul revealed “Paperback Writer” was part of a larger trend of The Beatles drawing influence from The Beach Boys. “Before that, we had been influenced by artists like Smokey Robinson and The Miracles or Phil Spector,” he said. “But at this point, it was The Beach Boys. ‘Paperback Writer’ is a nod to them, and to the idea that everyone wants to write a novel.”
According to the book The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Write — The Stories Behind Every Song, “Paperback Writer” was specifically inspired by The Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds. Notably, John and Paul were allowed to preview the album before its release. This was in the hope they’d create positive word of mouth for Pet Sounds.
The Beatles sang part of a children’s song in ‘Paperback Writer’
The Beach Boys were not the only musical inspiration behind “Paperback Writer.” John and George also sing “Frère Jacques” in the background of the song. This is a clear reference to the children’s song of the same name.
Tannenbaum asked Paul why John and George sang that lyric. “That’s a good question,” Paul said. “No idea! We threw in all sorts of stuff. Why did we say ‘Harold Wilson’ and ‘Edward Heath’ [in the background vocals of 1966’s ‘Taxman’]? We were completely free about throwing in an interesting idea.”
The way the public reacted to the song
“Paperback Writer” was a massive hit. The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 10 weeks. The song was a hit in the United Kingdom as well. The Official Chart Company reports “Paperback Writer” reached No. 1 in the U.K., remaining on the charts for 11 weeks. The Beatles did their best to mimic The Beach Boys’ harmonies — and the public seemed to enjoy it.