Rubber Soul

The Beatles

Apple / Capitol Records, 1965

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The Beatles mark the point where popular music changed forever; Rubber Soul marks the point where the Beatles changed forever.  Five albums (depending on how you count Capitol’s notorious U.S. reissues) into their storied career, the four boys from Liverpool were still caught up in the collective public madness known as Beatlemania, but were beginning to imagine a way out. 

The first thing they resolved to do was to improve both the quality and the quantity of their own songwriting.  Their early albums focus on melody- and harmony-rich guitar pop, filled out with covers of classic r&b and early rock tunes – a frothy brew, but more career-making than ground-breaking.  Rubber Soul was the band’s first great leap forward, a determined move into new song forms, more mature and abstract lyrics, and more original instrumentation and arrangements.

“Drive My Car” opens the album strong with Paul’s bounding, assertive bassline propelling the song.  The dual John-Paul lead vocals are a perfect illustration of why this band was always bigger than the sum of its parts.  Neither could have done this song the justice that they do together, and when George joins in to punch up certain lines and hit the “beep-beep-mm-beep-beep-yeah” background vocals, it’s magic.

“Norwegian Wood” is where things take a bigger turn, as John delivers an emotionally complex lyric over his own intricate, rather Greek-sounding acoustic guitar as George doubles the melody line on a sitar.  In 1965 maybe 100 people in North America had any idea what a sitar even looked like; on Rubber Soul the Beatles tried it and various other experiments out on a batch of pop songs guaranteed to be heard by millions.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The heart and soul of this album, though, lie in John’s other two main compositions.  “Nowhere Man” -- by most accounts, the band’s first recorded non-love song -- expresses the alienation intrinsic in having literally millions of people crave your presence and a bare handful understand you at all.  And “In My Life” is a jewel of a song, a deeply personal statement about growing up and understanding what is and isn’t important in life, featuring an out-of-left-field and utterly perfect piano-that-sounds-like-a-harpsichord solo on the bridge.

As for the album tracks, “You Won’t See Me” is a throwback to the guys’ earlier poppy-love song tendencies, albeit with a vocal arrangement that’s creative even by Beatles standards.  The similarly retrograde arrangement of “The Word” obscures what was lyrically the initial appearance of the hippie-philosophizing “All You Need Is Love” Beatles (“The word is” – of course – “love”).  “I’m Looking Through You” shows the Beatles were listening to a lot of Byrds and Dylan during the period, and features a nice turn on Hammond organ by Ringo.

Among the other notable tracks, “Girl” is an odd little concoction, a number that was often suspected of being about pot given its rather dependency-minded lyric and what sound like sharp inhales on the chorus.  Lennon always insisted, though, that it was simply a pastiche of a number of girls he’d known, and that the really notable thing about the song was that the boys got away with singing “tit-tit-tit-tit” for background vocals.  “Michelle” is a rather cloying McCartney love song that I must recuse myself from critiquing further due to an unfortunate incident in high school involving a young lady of the same name.  Rubber Soul also saw growth in George Harrison’s songwriting, evidenced by the funked-up rhythm and political message of “Think For Yourself” and the chiming guitars of the Byrds-styled “If I Needed Someone.”

As part one of the explosive trilogy of growth that was Rubber Soul­-Revolver-Sgt. Pepper’s, Soul is not without weak spots.  Having Ringo sing a country number probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but “What Goes On” is waste of his talents, and no amount of embellishment-by-percussion (cymbals, tambourine, shakers) could salvage “Wait.”  As for closer “Run For Your Life,” the vocals are a nice throwback to the classic r&b covers the Beatles opened their career with, but the lyric -- which Lennon later derided as among his worst -- is right out of a bad stalker movie (“I’d rather see you dead little girl / Than to be with another man / You better keep your head little girl / Or you won’t know where I am”).

These few missteps only serve to accentuate the numbers that evidence the challenge the Beatles had put before themselves, to continue growing and become a band that measured itself in terms of artistic accomplishments as well as material success.  Rubber Soul was their first big step in that direction.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A-



© 2006 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Apple / Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.