Rubber Soul

The Beatles

Apple / Capitol Records, 1965

http://www.thebeatles.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/05/2001

I never joined the "cult of the Beatles" in my musical explorations like so many people over the years. Oh, I like the Beatles, and even own some of their albums in the Pierce Memorial Archives. But I never raised them up to god-like status - quite possibly because I didn't live through the whole Beatlemania scene. (By the time I was born, the Fab Four had been officially separated just a few months.)

That said, I think that anyone who picks up Rubber Soul, the Beatles' 1965 release, recognizes that this album is something very special. Coming off their virtual conquering of America, not to mention several other countries, Rubber Soul was the first disc that seemed to give the Beatles room to experiment musically. If anything, this album is the spark that would set off the explosion that was Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or the untitled "White Album".

Believe it or not, this is one Beatles album I don't own; I happened to have checked it out of my local library when word came that George Harrison had passed away. Yet one might be surprised when they first play this disc that they're more familiar with the bulk of the material than they may have expected. If, like me, you're a child of the '70s and have grown up listening to either classic rock or oldies stations on the radio, you may not recognize Beatles songs like "The Word," "Wait" or "Run For Your Life" by the titles, but the moment these songs start playing, the light bulb of recognition turns on. I was surprised, albeit pleasantly, to find an air of familiarity with this album on first listen.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

I spoke of experimentatin earlier; while the Beatles didn't totally eschew the two-minute pop ditties on Rubber Soul, they used this album to prove they could write songs in other flavors as well. And, in a sense, it has to make you wonder in awe how much these four mop-tops had grown as musicians in just a few years. Harrison introduced the sitar to a whole generation (long before Ravi Shankar's set at Woodstock) by using it as - egads! - a lead instrument on "Norweigian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," a strange combination that is absolutely magical. Long-time readers may know that I don't like it when classic rock radio takes a good song and kills it with overplay. Somehow, though, I never get tired of hearing the magic that is this song.

We could spend the entire review talking about the best-known songs from Rubber Soul - "Drive My Car," "Michelle," "Nowhere Man" (which I can't picture anymore without the ugly little animated guy from Yellow Submarine dancing in my mind - yeech) - but the song that sticks out the most for me is the surprisingly poignant "In My Life". In this all-too-brief span of just under two-and-a-half minutes, John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrap up a lifetime's worth of reminiscing and maturity in a manner that is rarely achieved in any art form. I will boldly go out on a limb and declare this to be the best Beatles song ever written.

Yet Rubber Soul is actually more than the traditional radio fodder. It is a surprising snapshot of the artists in transition. If you listen closely, you can hear the shift in musical style that Harrison was soon to take up in his track "If I Needed Someone". (It's not as evident, though, in "Think For Yourself".) You can hear Lennon and McCartney trying to push their own limits on tracks like "I'm Looking Through You" and "Michelle," both challenging the pundits who thought that the Fab Four could only write power-pop ditties. Songs like "You Won't See Me" might surprise you, showing themselves to be old friends rather than nuggets waiting to be unearthed in your musical quest.

There is but one stumbling point on Rubber Soul - namely, the sole contribution that drummer Ringo Starr makes with "What Goes On". This has nothing to do with Starr's songwriting ability or vocal talents; if anything, blame on this track is shared with Lennon and McCartney, who also wrote the song. Simply put, it's not the strongest material on the disc, nor is it the strongest material ever to come from these songwriters' pens. Plus, as noted here before, Starr was more competent of a singer and songwriter than many people are willing to give him credit for - which is possibly why I find myself disappointed with this effort.

I admitted before that I presently don't own Rubber Soul. Something tells me that's gonna change real soon. I've been notoriously hard on many Beatles albums on these pages - something which has, surprisingly, earned me very few death threats. However, in the case of Rubber Soul, I'd dare say that if you can own only one Beatles album, if this one isn't the disc you'd choose, you'd better give it strong consideration.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A-


Comments

This is where the Beatles we know and love arrive. Sure, they had penned several GREAT songs in their earlier years, and they had several good albums, but this is the first record from Paul, John, George and Ringo that is consistently excellent.








© 2001 Christopher Thelen 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.