Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Great Albums: Rubber Soul by The Beatles

For the third installment of The Great Albums series, it's more than about time we get to that inevitable of greatest albums lists inclusions - The Beatles. But let's not get too obvious and begin with the iconic band's best album (ya gotta guess what that is). Instead let's opt for the band's fifth best album (or, at least one of the band's five musical masterpieces - we'll assign grades at a later date) - 1965's game-changer, Rubber Soul. This is the album that was the turning point in The Beatles career, sending them off from the bubblegummy pop era of their early days to the mature groundbreaking band of the late sixties - the band that influenced pretty much every musical act to come after them. This is the album that changed it all. This is the album that led to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper and The White Album and so on and so on. And it all came from Bob Dylan turning the Fab Four onto the wonders of marijuana.

The Beatles have a canonical catalog of thirteen albums. These are their twelve UK studio albums (the US counterparts were mostly hated by the band due to Capitol Records changing songs and switching up the intended order) along with the soundtrack to their self-produced film, Magical Mystery Tour. With each album prior to this one, from Please Please Me to With the Beatles to A Hard Day's Night to Beatles for Sale to Help!, the band was growing as both musicians and songwriters, but it was Rubber Soul that jump cut them from talented pop band to iconic music makers. This was the album that showed the world a whole new Beatles - a giant shift in their natural progression that pretty much put the already super-popular group into a new mode of musical respectability. From their new found maturity in songwriting (from boy/girl pop songs to more nostalgic and/or nuanced kind of relationship songs) to their growing experimentation with new musical styles and instruments (Norwegian Wood is considered the song that gave rise to the sitar craze of the late 1960's), Rubber Soul was indeed what one would call (and I do call it thusly in my opening paragraph) a real game-changer. Hell, even their famous album cover (done by photographer Bob Freeman) was a warped picture of the band (done by accident btw), which ends up showing their stretching in musical prowess. See, you can read into anything - even an accidental photo warping.

Let's take a look at the fourteen tracks on the album, shall we? First up is the bottom-heavy lead-in of Drive My Car, with McCratney and Harrison doubling tracks to give it an Otis Reddy-esque deep driving bass sound. A song taking a look at gender roles and sexism, Drive My Car also happens to be an old blues euphemism for sex. Yup, that's right, the supposedly squeaky clean Beatles (not that they actually were so squeaky behind their image) opened up their game-changer with a song blatantly about having sex. Next up is probably one of the band's greatest musical achievements, and seemingly so simple at that. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) was a song that John Lennon had written about the many affairs he had while married to first wife, Cynthia. Sophisticated and deep, it is also the first major release western song that used the Indian sitar in its recording. It is also one of the few Beatles songs to be done in triple time. Meanwhile, You Won't See Me, track three, is a song about Paul McCartney's troubles with then girlfriend, Jane Asher. At 3:22, it was the longest song yet recorded by the band. Track four, written by Lennon, is one of my all-time favourite Beatles songs. Nowhere Man is most notable, at least in a songwriting manner, as being one of the first Beatles songs to not be about love or romance or some such thing. The band was indeed maturing, and Lennon's philosophical bent came out strong in Nowhere Man. George Harrison's Think For Yourself is another song that had nothing to do with love. Of course, the band followed this up with The Word, a classic silly love song. Side one then ends on the most beautiful of love songs, Michelle. Subtle and simply brilliant.

Then to change things up once again, the band opens side two with what is basically a country/rockabilly song. What Goes On in Your Mind was written by Lennon waaay back in his Quarrymen days, but wasn't recorded until here, with an added middle eighth by Paul, and vocals by Mr. Ringo Starr himself. Meanwhile, Girl, with its Greek influence and lines like "Was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure" may be one of the saddest love songs the band had done up until this time. Next up comes I'm Looking Through You, another questioning love song Paul had written about soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, Jane Asher. This is followed by the best song on the album, and one of the finest songs ever written by John Lennon. Steeped in nostalgia and melancholy, the song is basically about Lennon's childhood and young adult life in Liverpool. The line "Some are dead and some are living / In my life, I've loved them all" is his take on the loss of friend (and one time Beatle) Stu Sutcliffe in 1962. Originally Lennon had written lyrics about the bus route he took as a young Liverpudlian, but tossed them aside, stating "the most boring sort of 'What I Did On My Holidays Bus Trip' song" and he changed them. After the Harrison song, If I Needed Someone, probably the weakest spot on the album (sorry Georgie), the band closes out the album with John Lennon's least favourite Beatles song (it was George's favourite on Rubber Soul btw), and the song he claims to have most regretted writing and recording. Personally, I like the rather antagonistic Run For Your Life, even if the later peacenik Lennon did not.

So, that's Rubber Soul, one of the finest, and one the most important albums ever made. A truly deserving addition to The Great Albums series. Many say that Sgt. Pepper or Revolver were the band's most important albums, but I think that if not for Rubber Soul paving the way, they may never have come to be, so doesn't that make Rubber Soul all that more important? An older friend of mine who was actually around when these albums were first being released (I would not come around for another two years after Rubber Soul, but thanks to my mother and aunt, would grow up on The Beatles) told me something interesting once. He said "We weren't ready for Rubber Soul, but it got us ready for Revolver. We weren't ready for Revolver either, but that got us ready for Sgt. Pepper, and we really weren't ready for that." I think that about sums it all up. I'll be back with a new installment of The Great Albums series, and this time, after the three inaugural segments being English, we will cross the pond and get into some real down home American rock and roll. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.


  1. HELP! made the leap into 'maturity' before Rubber Soul did.

    It can't get any better than Help, Ticket to Ride, and Yesterday.

  2. The end times are here. We agree!

  3. Dear Andrea,

    As Mr. Knox says in his post, each and every album was a progression, but yes, Rubber Soul went well beyond Help!. Help! did have some great songs, but not necessarily any more mature ones. At least not in the way Rubber Soul had done.

    To name drop just a bit, one of my father's good friends was a man by the name of Pete Shotton. Mr. Shotton was a very close friend of one Mr. John Lennon. I have heard wonderful stories about the Beatles days. I am stating this not just to sound important and/or special, though that is an added bonus, but because it makes my opinion seem to weigh just that much more.

    There you go.

  4. No reason to be rude Mr. Cocksbottom. But yes, I do agree. Help! did add a little musically from before, but as far as songwriting and musical experimentation go Help! was really no different than what came before. With that said, I do quite love the album Help!, and You've Got to Hide Your Love Away and I've Just Sen A Face are two of my favourite Beatles songs.