RUBBER SOUL (1965) – Phase II in The Beatles’ recording career

Why did this blog suddenly turn into a Beatles tribute? Click on the above image for the answer!

Rubber Soul – Released Dec. 3, 1965

Here’s where things start to get really interesting. The demarcation between The Beatles’ “innocent” pop period and “mature” experimental sound could not be clearer, and pop music was all the richer (and influential) for it. This was their first album since A Hard Day’s Night to contain all-Beatles material, and this album showed that they were ready to blossom in all their self-contained glory.

Drive My Car: This song is the starting gun to The Beatles’ “hallucinogenic” phase, when stimulants began to slow down their “Yeah, yeah, yeah” pulsations to a more thoughtful rhythm. This is a rock-‘n-roll shaggy-dog that builds to a beautiful punchline, with its “Beep-beep, beep-beep, yeah!” refrain and some lovely double-entendres zipping the song along like a vintage racer.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown): This famously cryptic song, which John Lennon wrote with the intent of describing an affair of his without his wife realizing it was about him, introduces the sitar to Beatles music. (However, the early version of Anthology 2 is more twangy than hypnotic, all but shrugging its shoulders at song’s end. From this version, one would never guess what a mesmerizing effect this Indian instrument would have on an unsuspecting music world.)

The song, one of a treasure-trove of Lennon’s best, effortlessly conveys the sense of mystery and resignation that entails a one-night stand. Strangely enough, some sources have maintained that the climactic lyric “I lit a fire” refers not to John lighting logs to keep himself warm but to his setting the woman’s house on fire out of spite; I had listened to the song for years and never considered such a thought. You be the judge.

You Won’t See Me: One of Paul McCartney’s more introspective Beatles songs (the lilting sense of rocking notwithstanding), concerning his comments to an unappreciative lover. Is it just me, or does the song’s rhythm deliberately slow down about halfway through — a reference, perhaps, to the slowing effect of the cannabis The Fabs were inhaling at that point?

Nowhere Man: Seen in retrospect, this song serves as either (a) a precursor to Paul McCartney’s The Fool on the Hill or (b) the theme song for Jeremy Hilary Boob (for a generation raised on the Yellow Submarine movie). Either way, the song wears pretty well, philosophically and musically (I always loved that little “ding” in the middle bridge, like an ultra-bright sunset light in a ’60s movie).

Think for Yourself: An early bit of Harrison preachery (it would get far worse in his solo years) saved by a rich tapestry of melody. This song was included on the Yellow Submarine Songtrack CD on the wispiest of pretexts (a single bar of the song was sung a cappella in the movie).

The Word: The word is “Love.” Now that’s all settled. Some soaring guitar work can’t quite disguise the fact that the lyrics are a little too explicit–not in a sexual sense, just that The Beatles’ love songs are far more effective when they’re more oblique. As with most ’60s music, it’s the outright “message” songs that are the most dated.

Michelle: An early bit of overrated McCartney romanticism a la Yesterday, but it holds up a lot better than many of his solo treks into bathos. The most obtrusive part is the nonsense French, which Paul later admitted that he and his buddies used to impress unsuspecting women. One would gather that The Fabs’ French followers are less than appreciative of this.

What Goes On: The very telling writing credit for this song goes to “Lennon/McCartney/Starkey.” Ringo has said that he’d try to write songs early in his career, “and the other guys would go into laughing jags telling me what song I’d rewritten.” Ringo’s first credited stab at songwriting is a logical extension of his connection with whiskey-laced country numbers such as Act Naturally and is more than passable on those terms (with modest metaphors such as “I could feel my future fold” like a bad poker hand). Pretty decent for a guy who could only re-write other people’s songs.

Girl: The Beatles unplugged, and never more beautifully so. John Lennon meticulously understates the pain of a hanger-on female, and the song’s only effects are a simple guitar, a suspiciously pot-sucking-like sound, and the endless “tit-tit-tit” background. (The latter two sounds could have gotten by Capitol Records execs only because they weren’t as in-your-face blatant as a certain butcher cover.) Just plain gorgeous.

I’m Looking Through You: One of Paul’s great metaphors, invisibility as a sign of two-facedness. Notice the barely audible background clapping; what would have been a front-and-center effect in one of their earlier audience-pleasers is buried here, to the same subtle effect as Paul’s bass-playing. (The version released on the American edition of Rubber Soul has an interesting false-start not captured on the British version.)

In My Life: For my money, the single most beautiful song The Beatles laid on tape. John Lennon’s masterfully understated lyrics and delivery mesh with Ringo’s subtle drumming and George Martin’s perfect bridge on the keyboard. A gratifying piece of music at every turn.

Wait: The darker side of early John Lennon songs is its total misogyny and paranoia (You Can’t Do That, Run for Your Life); the far more humanistic side is represented in this song, a slower and more thoughtful version of It Won’t Be Long. The song’s stance — asking his lover to wait for him if at all possible, rather than demanding it — is far more aesthetically satisfying, at least if you’re looking for romance.

If I Needed Someone: Another early George Harrison number where the musicianship far exceeds the quality of the lyrics. The message of this song: I’m already involved with someone, but leave your number and maybe you’ll get sloppy seconds. Unfortunately, it’s a perfect companion piece for this record’s closer (see below) and which stains an otherwise nearly perfect album.

Run for Your Life: It’s inconceivable that the same album that shows off John Lennon’s most thoughtful and romantic notions closes with yet another nasty piece of Lennon woman-hating. “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man” sounds more like the anthem of a generation of stalkers than the work of a master songwriter. One can almost picture the terrified woman running from the crazed singer — which might have been part of the point but wears a little less well in these times.

What do you think of Rubber Soul and/or any of its songs? Let us know in the “Comments” section below. Next up: the (IMHO) flawless Revolver.

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