Friday, May 16, 2008

The 'Paperback Writer' Session

Paul McCartney during a recording session for Paperback Writer, April 14, 1966As we walked down the corridor towards E.M.I.'s No. 2 studio (where else would one go when sitting-in on a Beatles' recording session), the commissionaire pointed out to us that the boys were in No. 3 instead. So we made our way back to the front of the building and as we approached the studio door, the red light went on--which meant that they were recording. So we waited for them to finish. Three minutes later we walked in.

On entering the studio, we found John and Paul surrounded by a mass of equipment--most significant of all, were their new massive amplifiers. Paul was clad in his distinctive casual recording gear of black trousers, black moccasion-type shoes, white shirt with fawn stripes, a black sleeveless pullover and to top it all--orange-tinted specs. John sported green velvet trousers, a blue buttoned up wool vest and black suede boots.

The basic track of "Paperback Writer" had been recorded the previous day, and now John and Paul were working out a detailed backing. Paul was perched on a stool thumbing away at a red and white Rickenbacker guitar, (moving with the music as he does on stage) whilst the lyrics boomed through the studio speakers--so we were very honoured at being the first to hear their new single besides George Martin and of course, the Beatles.

We then spotted Ringo's head behind the screen in the far corner--he was playing chess with Neil. So we walked over, "Who's winning?", I asked. "Neil's the expert", Ringo replied, and went back to the chess board to concentrate on how to get his king out of danger from an attack by Neil's bishop and castle.

The music stopped. George Martin came into the studio from the control room to have a tete-a-tete with Paul as to what they could do to improve the backing.

"What are you trying to do with this one?", I asked Paul. "Have you heard the lyrics?", came the reply. "Yes, I think it's very unusual". "The trouble is", said Paul, "That we've done everything we can with four people, so it's always a problem to ring the changes and make it sound different. That's why we have got all these guitars and equipment here." That must have been the understatement of the year, because the studio was littered with pianos, grand pianos, amplifiers, guitars, percussion instruments, and other odd bits and pieces which were strewn over the studio floor.

The studio was sectioned-off with brown canvas screens and what seemed like thousands of black cables running from the amps and other electrical equipment to the control room over the heavily marked wooden floor. To stop the echo, E.M.I. have covered some of the floor with old carpets.

The big heavy sound-proof door which stops any of the noise of the outside world seeping into the studio, burst open, and in strolled George looking very elegant in his Mongolian lamb fur coat with black cap and oblong metal specs.

He was obviously on top of the world and bubbling over with enthusiasm, ready to record a dozen numbers. He threw his coat along side Paul's fur jacket and got down to work out the backing with John and Paul.

John, George and George Martin huddled round Paul, who was seated at the piano trying to work out a bass bit, before asking George Martin to play it. John leaned on the piano while he listened to Paul's ideas for a while. Then he picked up his orange Gretsch guitar and proceeded to pick away at it. At the same time Paul transferred to a Vox organ.

Although John and Paul were both working on the song together, it was originally Paul's idea. He asked the engineer to play it back at half speed so that John and George could do some vocal bits.

They were now all set to go. George Martin gave the O.K. The recording light went on and the basic sound track was played back through the "cans" they each had clamped over their heads. They did several takes. John and George hit some very high notes, but their voices kept cracking. "I don't think I can make it", said George, "unless I have a cup of tea. Where's Mal?".

Right on cue at the end of the fourth take Mal emerged into the studio laden with tea, biscuits and something very special--toast and strawberry jam. Everything was immediately dropped and a sudden swoop was made on the toast and jam. Ringo, who was still in the corner trying to work out his next move, only got one piece of toast, so Mal offered to make another batch as it had proved so popular.

Meanwhile Beatles Book photographer Leslie Bryce was clicking away.

After the toast and jam had been devoured it was back to work. Paul suddenly got an inspiration--he dived across to the piano and started playing bits of "Frere Jacques", he was highly delighted at the thought of having it in the new single.

"O.K. let's try it", said George Martin. So John and George gathered round the mike and off they went. But it was a false start, Paul's head appeared over the top of the piano and he queried "Did you come in at the right place?". "We can't hear it properly", said John, "anyway I thought that was the end of it". George promptly told him it was the beginning!

After they had finished taping these bits, the tracks were played back into the studio while everyone listened in silence. George Martin was the first to speak--"I think that the best thing we've added are the 'Frere Jacques' bits". Ringo who had finally beaten Neil at a game of chess by check-mating him in several brilliant moves involving a queen, a bishop and a castle, said that he thought John and Paul sounded as though they were singing through water! Highly uncomplimentary, so Paul then made for the organ once again and started to work out a sound which resembled that of Scottish bag pipes.

John then came swooping across the studio and shouted out--"You've got it. You've got it". Paul then started dum-dee-dumming away at everyone else--it was just like a scene from "My Fair Lady"!

George Martin appeared over John's shoulder and said "I see what you mean". Paul announced that someone else should play it--meaning George Martin. John and George then went back to their mikes and added the vocals over the top.

After the first track Paul looked over the top of the piano and asked John and George if they were singing it right.

George turned round, lowered his glasses to the tip of his nose and looked down at Paul in a typical school-masterish fashion and said "To the best of our ability Paul!"

And so the boys went on--getting the sound that you will hear on "Paperback Writer".

It was a long session. It took something like ten hours to record because the Beatles insisted on sticking at it until they were completely satisfied that they can do no more.

When you listen to "Paperback Writer" bear in mind what went on beforehand to achieve this really great sound, and I'm sure you'll appreciate it all the more.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great, wonderful account. this picture is more evidence of Pauls' use of his Rickenbacker on 'Paperbackwriter/rain' !