Saturday, July 9, 2022


My view, of course, but I would argue resolutely that the opening of the Beatles  1965 hit "Paperback Writer" is one of the greatest intro guitar figures in rock history. I doubt I'm alone in this view: this tune prefigures a lot of non-metal hard rock that came after it. It's easy enough to imagine Van Halen or Dixie Dregs easily refitting the song for even more guitar slam-dunkery. And beyond the guitar-rock bona fides, it has the additional advantage of being quite literate. McCartney and Lennon are said to have written the lyrics together, and it's remarkable that the subject of the song is a hack writer who maintains he can compose any sort of pulp fiction, on demand, for a fee. I was attracted to it because I was reading numerous novelizations of TV shows and popular films at the time, cheap paperback spinoffs, and I wondered who these folks were that scribed this stuff. I wondered how, in my mid-teens, I could get in on the action.

What I particularly like about how these verses work is that the character is allowed to tell his story. Just the way he describes what he's able or willing to do to get the job reveals a personality in a few deftly stated details. This is much better than, say, "Nowhere Man", an attempt at a "message" song ala Dylan ; I never liked that tune principally it was a ham-handed handed attempt to "tell it like it is". Who the narrator is, certainly not the nowhere man himself, is caustic, critical, judgmental, with none of the faults outlined being convincing in any regard. And the turn around, that little "twist", the "Isn't he a bit like you and me?" line where we learn that we all share the same vanities and inanities of personality, was a hokey, easy and dumb sounding morale of the story as has ever been conceived by major songwriters. "Paperback Writer", though, is a minor masterpiece, and is effective for the same reason an Elmore Leonard crime yarn is: character driven, personality revealed through dialogue, no authorial intrusion instructing a reader (listener) what to think. The song shows, it doesn't tell, and it rocks.

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