They eventually reconvened at Abbey Road Studios on April 6th to begin work on their next album. One week into these sessions, they came up with the two songs on this single. By the time the single came out, it had been a full six months since Rubber Soul - the longest stretch between releases to date in the UK during their career. And, in that six-month span, they had taken a quantum leap forward.
Paperback Writer - This McCartney composition opens with layers of voices overlapping and singing the title phrase. The band then enters with George playing the latest in a series of original guitar riffs followed by a new and improved bass sound from Paul. Engineer Geoff Emerick had worked with the group sporadically over the years, but he was now assigned to them full-time and began to work wonders with their sound in the studio. His promotion was perfectly timed with what would prove to be the most experimental phase of their career.
The lyrics take the form of a letter to a publisher, with the writer shamelessly hawking his tawdry tale. "It's a dirty story of a dirty man/And his clinging wife doesn't understand..." Gone is any pretension of a love song. From this time forward, seemingly any subject can be fodder for a Beatles' song. Adding to the wackiness of this production are John and George's backing falsetto vocals, which enter for the third verse. Listen closely - apropos of nothing, they are merely singing the words "Frere Jacques" over and over.
This is the only song from 1966 (and, therefore, the very last song) that they added to their concert line-up, and though it was not terribly complex, it was rather difficult to perform live given the limited technology available at the time.
Rain - Any fans who were confused or uncertain about what the Beatles were up to on the A-side were completely baffled by Lennon's B-side. Considered by many to be one of the best, if not the best, B-side the group ever recorded, Rain is about states of mind. Hmm...wonder what prompted this composition? And yet, as far back as There's a Place on the very first album, John had written about his mind being a refuge from reality - long before his introduction to LSD, or even marijuana.
The band's introduction to the song sounds muddy, underwater. They were playing with vari-speed, as George Martin had done for his piano solo on In My Life, only here they were doing the opposite of what Martin had done - they played the backing track at a fast tempo, then slowed the tape down before adding the vocals, thus making the musical backdrop sound...well, drugged.
The last verse is unintelligible, because it is the first use of backwards tape by the group. Two conflicting stories are given as the inspiration for this. One is that John was very high when he got home, mistakenly put a tape of the day's work on his tape player backwards and was fascinated by what he heard. Another is that Martin simply played a backwards tape for him and John simply had to use the effect immediately. Whatever the truth is, we can be thankful that the others talked John out of releasing the entire vocal track backwards, as he reportedly desired.
Perhaps the single was off-putting to some fans, because even though it did go to number one in the UK, it had the lowest sales of any Beatles' single since Love Me Do.
In addition to being a number one single in the US, both of these songs were re-released at the end of the group's career in February of 1970 on the compilation album Hey Jude.