Wednesday, January 28, 2015

5 Rubber Soul (1965) The Beatles



If you're going to draw a line in the Beatles career between their earlier Beatlemania phase when they wore identical suits and sang "Yeah Yeah Yeah oooh" songs on guitars; and their later experimental, long-hair phase, then Rubber Soul is generally thought to be the first album to come from the second period. It still harkens back to the Beatlemania days but there is definitely a looking ahead to the immediate future when the studio became their playground and they could spend weeks producing something they considered a work of art. It's clearly the sound of a two song writers who have almost exhausted their supply of pop tunes and are starting to move into a more serious musical phase.

While it's not quite as good as Revolver, which followed it a few months later, Rubber Soul is still a fantastic piece of pop/rock songwriting and proof that four mop tops from Liverpool could mature into songwriters rivaling anyone else around.

Drive My Car

Throughout their entire career, Paul never stopped being able to write fresh and original rock and roll and Drive My Car is proof that he had developed an uncanny ability to produce incredibly catchy hooks. "Beep Beep a Beep Beep Yeah" was weirdly thrilling back in 1965 and still great today. Paul also plays the guitar solo and could have played all the other instruments. John and Paul were pretty much independent entities in their own right at this point and we should be grateful that they took so long to realise it.

Norwegian Wood

Apparently a song about an affair that John had which he wanted to write about in oblique and obscure terms in order not to alert his wife who he must have thought was incredibly naive. It's John trying to sound like Dylan which apparently annoyed more than flattered Bob who wasn't a fan of being imitated. I read Paul's interpretation of the lyrics in a biography of him recently and have to say I was kind of shocked. According to McCartney it's about a guy who spends the night in a girl's house but because she refuses to have sex with him he burns her house down. I always thought the "I lit a fire" at the end of the song refers to a fireplace but according to Paul it's a premeditated act of arson caused by bottled up sexual frustration. Either way it's a beautiful tune and a fabulous song. But if it's okay with you I'll keep my visual image of a guy lighting a fire in a fireplace instead of burning down a girl's house because she wouldn't let him into her bed.

You Won't See Me

This is the first track on Rubber Soul that takes a new listener by surprise. Those who have never heard Rubber Soul before know the first two tracks but when they encounter track three they can appreciate how good the Beatles really are. By this stage they're not padding their albums with covers from their live act or filler tracks they know aren't as good. You won't see me is a great piece of mature pop writing which is the first indication that the Beatles aren't just collecting songs together, they're making an album.

Nowhere Man

Rubber Soul doesn't just point The Beatles in new musical directions it also shows an indication of their new lyrical paths. Their earlier songwriting efforts had been mainly about girls and how they were great/unreliable/unobtainable/going out with someone else. Nowhere man is about John's battle with despondency and a lack of purpose. The frantic Beatles existence that he'd been leading for a few years had served to distract him from his unhappiness but the relative relaxed schedule of the Rubber Soul sessions forced him to confront his issues and Nowhere Man is the result. It's a great song and a pointer to more personal and reflective lyrics ahead from its writer.

Think for yourself

George would later become a great songwriter who wasn't just capable of holding his own against the other two he was capable of producing the album's highlight. It wouldn't be long before he would write songs of the standard of Something and While My Guitar Gently Weeps but at this point he's nowhere near that level of ability. Think is an okay song but it's nobody's favourite Beatles track and the weakest moment on the album so far.

The Word

A John and Paul track and another of those songs which comes as a pleasant surprise to anyone who hasn't heard the album before. It's also a song whose charms increase the more you hear it. I like it a lot more now than I did when I first had Rubber Soul in heavy rotation on my old tape deck. The Word is another pointer towards things to come. Love isn't just something that drives romances now it's a big ideal that John and Paul consider important. They're becoming hippies.

Michelle

One of those Beatles tracks which appears regularly in playlists for middle of the road, easy listening radio stations. It's a harmless little love ballad which is easy to scoff at but charmingly addictive when you're actually listening to it.

What Goes On

The album's lone clunker. What Goes on is Ringo's vocal contribution to the album and a long way from his finest moment. It's just quirky enough not to be an instant skip in the CD age but it's certainly the lowest moment on the tracklisting.

Girl

People might like to think The Beatles are a group of boys singing about teenage things. They want to hold your hand and they keep talking about dances. They seem to have the interests of teen boys at heart. But Girl sounds grown up and almost sleazy. It's definitely a song produced by a bunch of males who aren't talking about girls they met at a dance and want to hold hands with.

I'm looking through you

This is the song I'd probably put up as proof that Rubber Soul is one of the all time great albums. It wasn't a single, it doesn't get the instant recognition that Drive My Car or Michelle gets, it's not likely to appear on a Beatles Best of compilation but it's a fantastic song. If anyone else had written it you'd hear it as a single but because the Beatles were churning out great hits at a constant rate, it's tucked away here as an album track.

In My Life

While so much of Rubber Soul looks forwards to what would come, this gorgeous song looks backwards to what has gone before. It's the most fantastic piece of musical nostalgia in which Lennon recalls those who have touched him in the past. Unlike a lot of Lennon compositions which tend to be personalised to the point where the only people who can really lyrically empathise with them are males who happen to be in love with a girl named Yoko, In My Life is general enough that pretty much anyone who remembers a place and can divide their friends into an "alive" and "not alive" column can feel the song speaks directly to them.

Wait

Unlike future recording sessions, which had the luxury of a relaxed time behind them, Rubber Soul had a definite release date in mind and had to be ready in time for the record company to put it out before Christmas. John and Paul didn't have enough songs to fill the track listing and while they could have thrown in a cover it would have felt like a retrograde step. Consequently Wait, a discarded track from the Help sessions was dug out, dusted off and slapped in the middle of side two where it was easier to hide. Wait isn't a terrible song by any stretch of the imagination but you can see why it didn't make the cut the first time around and if John and Paul had been given more songwriting time it wouldn't have made it this time around either.

If I needed someone

George's second songwriting effort on the album is better than his first but still a distance off being as good as the sort of stuff John and Paul were churning out.

Run for your Life

Is this the worst Beatles track ever? Quite possibly, especially when the lyrics are concerned. Its basically about a complete bastard who tries to keep his girlfriend in check with threats of violence. It certainly doesn't sound like the caring and sharing John Lennon that we like to think spends all his time giving peace a chance and imagining things. It's a nasty song without much to redeem the bitterness in the lyrics and it's a huge pity that they chose this as an album closer because it sends the listener away with a unpleasant taste in the mouth.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I advise music fans just discovering the Beatles to focus on the early albums (up to A Hard Day's Night) and the last albums (Abbey Road and Let It Be). The middle albums are not as good, especially Revolver and Rubber Soul."

-That's becoming an increasingly unpopular view, it has to be said

So is Rubber Soul the best Beatles album ever? Or does something else deserve the title? Let me know below

2 comments:

  1. That Amazon review . I just dont believe it. From here on in starts a run of unbelievable quality albums only equaled by the Stones late 60s early 70s output and Dylans mid 60s run. Oh and the Tom Lehrer ones . Oh and the late 80s Michael w Smith ones too. And the Amy Grant .....

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  2. It seems like you like this album a lot, but it doesn't come off as a Top 10 album ever the way you describe it. What do you think of the placement of this album? Where does it rank amongst your favorite Beatles albums?

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