The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the Los Angeles area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some L.A. TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. This edition we discuss one of your screwy scribe’s favorites The Beatles’ Rubber Soul.
Whether one resides in Los Angeles or Liverpool, most folks already know that The Beatles were a British rock band founded in Liverpool in 1960. They were one of (if not THE) most critically and commercially successful bands in history. The line-up from 1962 on included: John Lennon (rhythm guitar/vocals), Paul McCartney (bass, guitar/vocals), George Harrison (lead guitar/ vocals) and Ringo Starr (drums/ vocals). Born of skiffle music and 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, the band would go on to work in many different genres including elements of pop, psychedelic, country and even classical music. They were first just leaders of the British Invasion but went on to become musical legends that embodied the ideals the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s.
Rubber Soul was The Beatles’ sixth studio album. It was released in 1965 on the UK Parlophone label with a running time of almost 36 minutes. (The original UK release contained 14 tracks while the US only contained 12.) It was produced by George Martin and was recorded in just a bit over a month in order to make the Christmas market.
The title Rubber Soul was inspired by a description of Mick Jagger’s singing style as “plastic soul” overheard by McCartney. Lennon later confirmed this saying: “That was Paul’s title . . . meaning English soul.” McCartney uses the phrase at the end of take 1 of “I’m Down”: “Plastic soul, man. Plastic soul . . . “
It was the first album on which the Fab Four were in complete creative control during recording, with enough studio time to develop and refine new sound ideas. The songs were more sophisticated and sometimes ambiguous. In addition to their usual instruments The Beatles would add some new instruments such as harmonium, piano, cowbell, maracas, Hammond organ and most notably the sitar.
The original UK release included 14 tracks with a total running time of almost 36 minutes. It opened with the upbeat “Drive My Car”. This was a clever, satirical piece about sexism.
The second selection is “Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)”. This was the first song to actually use a genuine sitar (played by Harrison). It was the start of a trend that led to new musical genres including raga rock, Indian rock and world music.
This was yet another example of how their material now contained nuances and were sometimes even downright negative. It was also the first song to be so obviously lyrically-influenced by Bob Dylan. This track tells a tuneful tale of a failed relationship between Lennon and an unnamed girl in which the girl simply goes off to bed early and Lennon goes “off to sleep in the bath”.
The Beatles first example of more complex songwriting could be found in “You Won’t See Me”. The downbeat plot here proved they had moved beyond their basic boy-girl love stories and roadie Mal Evans sat in on Hammond organ. “Nowhere Man”, in fact, was the first Beatles’ tune to not concern a subject other than relationships.
Harrison’s first contribution here is the thoughtful, challenging “Think For Yourself” which once again exemplified a more diverse choice of topic. It also featured McCartney on fuzz bass and Starr’s first use of maracas and the tambourine. The next number is “The Word”.
“The Word” would be one of the earliest to voice the now typical drug-inspired “peace and love” sentiments found in psychedelic rock. This cut would also feature an innovative production technique. Martin not only played harmonium but employed electronic sound processing to significantly compress and equalize the piano here. This specific effect would become popular in the genre of psychedelic rock as well.
The side would conclude with the classically melodic “Michelle”. This would feature McCartney’s first use of French-like guitar lines as well as bilingual lyrics. Side two would also include noteworthy music.
Side two opened with the first ever Lennon-McCartney-Starkey (Starr) composition “What Goes On”. Starr not played the drums he also sang lead vocals and once more brought in the tambourine and maracas. It was followed by the downbeat perhaps slightly bitter although complex cuts “Girl” and “I’m Looking Through You”. The latter song not only featured Starr on Hammond organ but also introduced yet another new form of percussion—Starr tapping his finger on a matchbook.
“In My Life” followed. Producer Martin not only played piano but also struck upon yet another production innovation. While the finished product sounds like a harpsichord it was not. Martin was unable to mimic a baroque style of music and still match the specific tempo of the tune. To compensate Martin recorded with the tape running at half-speed then played it back at normal speed during the mixdown making it sound like a harpsichord.
“Wait” came next. In truth, this may have been the first recording on which Starr used tambourine and maracas because this was a “leftover” from the Help! LP. The only reason The Beatles agreed to have this track on Rubber Soul was because this project was short a song. With Christmas coming they slotted this one in on the playlist rather than write and record a new number.
Harrison contributed yet more composition to the platter. It was titled “If I Needed Someone”. It was yet another example of a song that welcomingly strayed off the previous simple love songs The Beatles had earlier written.
It was followed by the closing cut, “Run for Your Life” which was a Lennon-led song about potential betrayal. This UK release was said by some to demonstrate the influence of “soul” in the record’s title. The same would not be said of the US version released a few days later.
Rubber Soul would be the ninth Capitol Records record and the 11th official US release. Just like all the other pre-Sgt. Pepper Beatles LPs, this one was also significantly different than the UK release. It was two cuts shorter—clocking in at just under half an hour–and was intentionally re-worked to make the platter appear to be of a folk rock recording.
It was meant to cash in on the influence Dylan was having on the group as well as the success of the 1965 American music genre. (The gamble would work as critics would quickly compare this record to Dylan and The Byrds.) The upbeat “Drive My Car” was cut and replaced with “I’ve Just Seen a Face” another UK Help! leftover.
A different version of “The Word” also appears here. It includes Lennon’s double-tracked vocals, an extra falsetto harmony, a longer fade and some other production differences. On some US pressings “Michelle” features louder percussion as well as a longer fade-out. Finally, “Nowhere Man” would also be cut from the first side of the US version.
Side two was also changed. “What Goes On” was replaced the final UK Help! remainder–“It’s Only Love”. “I’m Looking Through You” includes false starts from the UK stereo mix and is still somehow slightly shorter. Finally, Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone” would also fall beneath the ax.
Regardless of the changes (or perhaps partially because of them) the album was both a critical and commercial success. It would take the number one slot in the UK in 1965 and early in 1966 in the US and Australia (among other places). It camped out on the UK charts for 42 weeks.
In the US it replaced the band’s previous platter Help! on Christmas day holding the top slot for six weeks on a 59 week run. The LP sold more than 1.2 million copies in the first nine days it was out. (To date it has sold over six million copies in the US.)
The Beatles’ ability to surpass their teen pop stardom and to go on to become deeper, more introspective artists was praised by critics the world over. Rolling Stone magazine marveled that they could write more adult subject matter and yet not sacrifice “a whit of pop appeal.” The arrangements are refreshingly varied: the instrumental keynote to “In My Life”, the touch of Greek in the refrain of “Girl”, the contrapuntal vocal work of “You Won’t See Me” and the sitar in “Norwegian Wood”.
The release of this record was almost an event that aided in creating a self-conscious rock community. In fact artists such as Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys often acknowledge the importance of the album. Wilson noted that this was probably the first time that the focus was taken off of making hit singles and put on making a real album free of filler.
The record would be released in CD form in both the UK and US in 1987—over two decades after its original release. It would include the 14-cut UK line-up. While the album had been previously available as an import the UK version would also be released on vinyl and cassette tape that same year. It would take to the charts again for three weeks. Another decade would pass and the album would once again make a comeback climb onto the charts.
The new millennium would witness no change in popularity. Rubber Soul has been slotted into numerous “best” album lists since 2001. 2003 would see Rolling Stone once again honoring the album with a number 3 ranking on their list of 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2009 a re-mastered CD version of the UK release—using the 1987 martin remix—hit music stores worldwide.
At present several professional sources have given the album a five-star rating including –but not limited to—Rolling Stone, Blender, MSN Music, Q, and Allmusic. The Beatles’ Rubber Soul/Cap. SW-2442 is considered to this day to be one of the greatest albums in music history . . . and deservedly so.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.