Paperback WriterThe Life and Times of the Beatles, the Spurious Chronicle of Their Rise to Stardom, Their Triumphs and Disasters, Plus the Amazing Story of Their Ultimate Reunion is a 1977 novel by Mark Shipper. It's a farcical, absurdist Alternate History and Affectionate Parody of The Beatles. It also satirizes rock icons like Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, and more generally, the cliches of rock music journalism.
Mark Shipper conducts an extensive interview with Ringo Starr for a book about The Beatles, but loses his notes and has to make up his own story. In his version, popular Liverpool Teen Idol Paul McCartney joins his old childhood chums John Lennon, George Harrison, Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best and their band in 1960. After playing gigs in Germany (where Sutcliffe stays), the band gets booked at the Cavern Club, where local plumber Brian Epstein discovers them one night while repairing a clogged bathroom pipe, and becomes their manager. George Martin gives them a contract at EMI, and the band fires Best and hires Ringo Starr to replace him. After releasing their debut album We're Gonna Change the Face of Pop Music Forever, the band becomes a sensation in England. Then their song "I Want to Hold Your Hand" became a #1 hit in America, which they celebrated by firing Ringo (as a practical joke).
After triumphant appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, their debut film A Hard Day's Night flops. They climb back on top with Help!, a Cover Album that includes the landmark ballad "(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty", with its innovative use of a string quartet. But when John quips that the Beatles are "Bigger Than Jesus", it touches off a firestorm of controversy, including George angrily quitting the band. The wounds only heal (and George returns) when John explains that he meant that the Beatles were taller than Jesus was. After Growing the Beard with the classic album Meat--The Beatles, they set the rock world on its ear with the monumental Sgt. Pepper, an ambitious Concept Album about "seasoning discrimination" in the British armed forces.
But dark clouds are on the horizon: John starts dating conceptual artist Yoko Ono, and she seems to pull him away from the group. Their new business Apple has problems. Their double album Back in the USSR puts the intra-band tension beween the quartet out in the open. Finally after their Phil Spector-produced 1970 album The Beatles Break Up, they break up. But by 1979, their inconsistent solo careers and personal foibles lead them to reunite for a new album and tour. Can they re-spark the old magic?
We're gonna change the face of Tropes forever:
- Ambiguous Syntax:
- "Ringo Starr enjoyed one hit single after another in 1972," followed by a list of songs by other people that Ringo did in fact enjoy listening to. A Running Gag that Shipper even Lampshades.
- They do a song called "Introducing the Beatles", which is literally the Beatles introducing themselves to one other.
- The reaction to Venus & Mars by Wings—"Critics branded it 'flimsy, lightweight and soppy.'" Meaning music critics literally took an iron and branded those words on the front cover of various copies of the album.
- Anachronism Stew: A Running Gag is events happening much earlier than they could have in Real Life, like the band including "Happiness is a Warm Gun" on their first demo tape, getting offered "Bohemian Rhapsody" in 1963 and turning it down, and recording "The Ballad of John & Yoko" in 1965, leading to a wave of speculation over who or what "Yoko" was supposed to be.
- Bittersweet Ending: The album and tour are flops, but the guys realize they don't have to be prisoners of the past anymore.
- Caption Humor: Including several hilarious reinterpretations of famous photos in Beatle history.
- Cerebus Syndrome: The last part of the book is still funny, but the humor is less silly and more poignant.
- Cover Album: Because they'd worked so long on A Hard Day's Night, they didn't have time to write new songs for their 1965 album, which they called Help! because they needed other musicians to send them songs. It included oldies covers that the Real Life Beatles actually recorded (songs by Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Smokey Robinson and Larry Williams), contemporary hit covers (including "Lies" by The Knickerbockers. The joke is that it's a song that famously imitated The Beatles), and the original versions of songs that would become famous in later years by their writers, like "Peace Frog", "Knockin' Round the Zoo", and KC & The Sunshine Band's "(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty", which is this universe's analogue to "Yesterday".
- Creator Breakdown: The big hit single from The Beatles Break Up is "The Long and Winding Road", which Shipper calls "ambiguous" despite critics interpreting it as a "cleverly disguised message" from Paul to the others.I'm ready to leave the group
And head down that long and winding road
To record a solo album in Scotland
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Their debut album (We're Gonna Change the Face of Pop Music Forever) and their farewell album (The Beatles Break Up).
- Filk Song:
- Footnote Fever: Some of the funniest parts of the book, in fact.
- Fun with Homophones: The famous George Martin/George Harrison "Well, for a start, I don't like your tie" exchange happens here in-universe, but in response Martin says "If you don't like my tie, how about a daiquiri or a margarita?"
- Jesus Was Way Cool: George contributes a song to the reunion album called "Disco Jesus".
- Le Film Artistique: In the book's universe, A Hard Day's Night is an odd experimental drama made up mostly of footage of Ringo silently reading books at a library, with the other Beatles as library employees. It's a Box Office Bomb.
- Looped Lyrics: In this universe, "A Day in the Life" had just one verse, repeated ad nauseum, including translations into different languages.Woke up
Fell out of bed
Tried to get up
So stayed on the floor
All day long
- One-Book Author: Mark Shipper had edited the early rock zine Flash and freelanced to various music magazines before this book. It turned out to be his only book. He eventually found a steady job writing material for morning radio DJs.
- The Pete Best: Invoked with the Trope Namer and with Jimmie Nicol (the drummer who replaced Ringo on tour), who go on to record an album of all-drum instrumentals called The Beatles Told Us to Beat It.
- Poe's Law: The Dylan/Lennon/McCartney collaboration "Pneumonia Ceilings" has been mistakenly listed in various sources as a real song. Apparently the trouble started when a well-regarded writer of books about Bob Dylan referenced the story without being aware that the source was a piece of satirical fiction.
- Punny Name: A bunch, like influential radio programmer A. Pauling Taste and nightclub owner "Two-Drink Minnie" Mumm.
- Running Gag: Many. Brian Epstein being asked to do plumbing jobs alongside his managing the band. An adviser getting paid huge amounts of money to come up with Captain Obvious titles for various projects. People who had very slight connections to the Beatles writing cash-in books about itnote , Bob Dylan making vague statements that are treated as profound, and dozens more.
- Serious Business:
- John spends time with the British army to research his role in How I Won the War and finds a pepper shaker labeled "For Sergeants Only—Not to be Taken from This Room." This inequality over the use of seasonings by the military inspires their Magnum Opus.
- Writing about the breakup, Shipper says "Historians could only recall two previous instances when the world had mourned a loss this deeply. One was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and, second, when Martin Landau and Barbara Bain left Mission: Impossible."
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: There's a huge subplot in the book that exists solely so Shipper can make one deliberately bad joke: John and Sonny Bono forming the Plastic Bono Band.
- Shown Their Work: Brian Epstein takes a cassette tape of The Beatles to George Martin in 1962, who tells him that he can't listen to it because cassettes haven't been invented yet. In fact, they were invented in 1963.
- Stylistic Suck: The lyrics Shipper makes up for fictitious songs are deliberately clunky (loaded with Painful Rhymes) and Played for Laughs.
- Suspiciously Similar Song: "Back in the USSR" is still a Shout-Out to The Beach Boys, but here it was originally called "Moscow Girls" and was literally just "California Girls" with new lyrics.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: The book was written in 1977, and the climax takes place in 1979.
- Unreliable Narrator: Used to great comic effect by Shipper.
- Waking Up Elsewhere: In the book's section about John's Lost Weekend years, it reports on his drinking binges—"Lennon himself remembers waking up in unfamiliar surroundings (elevators; telephone booths; Duluth, Minnesota; etc.)"
- Word Salad Lyrics: In the book's most famous episode, John and Paul hang out with Bob Dylan in a London hotel room and smoke weed with him, while Dylan explains that his lyrics don't really have any significance. He just writes the first thing that comes to mind. To prove this, the three collaborate on a deliberately nonsensical song with lyrics like:Pneumonia ceilings, pneumonia floors
Daddy ain't gonna take it no more
- Yoko Oh No: The Trope Namer is here, but John first meets her in 1964 when she's Mick Jagger's girlfriend, and he secretly writes "I Wanna Be Your Man" for her.