After a couple of weeks away from social media and website duties (a flight back from Australia, a number of lyric projects, a general election, Christmas and New Year can quickly eat up your time!) I’m back today with the next in my series of 12 favourite album reviews – this time ‘Rubber Soul’ by The Beatles.
Favourite Beatles Album
When deciding which Beatles album to review I considered ‘Rubber Soul‘, ‘Sgt Pepper’ and ‘Abbey Road‘ who are all worthy of discussion in their own right. However, the historical significance of Rubber Soul, and its unique place within the The Beatles’ discography resulted in it getting the nod, ahead of its oft-celebrated successors. The link is here for your enjoyment; plug in.
Rubber Soul was released in 1965 as the 6th of The Beatles’ thirteen official studio albums, but signalled the beginning of a significant up-turn in their artistic development. Up until that point The Beatles had been a busy touring act, performing regularly all over the world and often squeezing the writing and recording of their albums into short periods of only a few days. Hardly conducive for deep creativity… Those early albums usually featured a combination of original Pop songs and Rock ‘n’ Roll covers, yet Rubber Soul was different. For the first time they were able to devote several weeks solely to being in the studio, without the distraction of concert, TV or radio commitments. Consequently The Beatles were able to dedicate more time and thought to the arrangements, and for only the second time, produce a record which featured only original material.
Growth of The Beatles – Instrumentally…
Not only did The Beatles have more time in 1965, but they were also five albums into their career, so sufficiently experienced to no longer feel inhibited by the studio. The arrangements were bolder, richer and with the help of ever-present pioneer producer George Martin, the boundaries of the studio were expanded. Martin himself famously recorded a piano solo at half speed in my personal favourite ‘In My Life‘ (see above) which when speeded up sounded remarkably like a harpsichord. Easy to achieve in today’s age of computer technology, but anything but obvious in 1965. New instrumental sounds were also explored; George Harrison played a sitar on a Beatles song for the first time with ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)‘ and McCartney played his bass through a Fuzz FX on ‘Think For Yourself’.
Beyond the arrangements on Rubber Soul, the lyrics are far edgier and more mature. Gone are the near-teeny-bopper love songs from earlier albums, replaced by exploration of themes such as miscommunication (You Won’t See Me), mistrust (Think For Yourself), and even downright spiteful anger (Run For Your Life). The guys are still talking about relationships… but rather the darker side of love that they’d have undoubtedly experienced by this point in their lives. In fact the closest thing we have to a ‘positive’ love song on Rubber Soul is the aforementioned ‘In My Life’ and even that’s far more sentimental and nostalgic, than loving or passionate.
Influence of Rubber Soul
I can’t deny what a huge influence The Beatles have been on my career and development as a musician. My love for harmony and backing vocals was developed from exposure to the music I grew up listening to via my parents’ LP collection – Queen, The Carpenters, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Meat Loaf. However I didn’t actually discover Rubber Soul until I found a second-hand copy in a charity shop in 2010, and by which time I was not only an adult, but had also been a professional musician for over 6 years. And it only takes a quick listen to something I was writing at the time (for example the Storey single, ‘Wander Free’ as seen above and then listen to ‘Nowhere Man‘) to hear how the ever more expansive three-part harmonies found on Rubber Soul, were creeping into my subconscious, even if I didn’t realise it at the time!
Self Deprecating Scousers
A final note about the ‘soul’ element of ‘Rubber Soul’. By the time Rubber Soul was recorded and released, soul music was truly a global phenomenon. Given the adventurous, inquisitive and evolutionary nature of The Beatles and their music – and with 1965 being a particularly fruitful year for soul artists (with The Temptations, Wilson Pickett, Four Tops, Otis Redding, and Smokey Robinson all released timeless songs) it was only natural that the sounds of this genre would find their way into The Beatles’ songs. The term ‘rubber soul’ was used in the same someone might say ‘plastic paddy’ to playfully suggest someone might be overplaying their Irishness (ie. tongue firmly planted in cheek) so through its use The Beatles are tipping their hat towards the influential soul artists of the day while lightheartedly mocking their own authenticity in the genre.
But Rubber Soul is by no means a pastiche soul record; yes there are elements throughout (compare the ‘chipped’ guitars of ‘The Word’ with those in the Motown classic ‘I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)‘ for example) but one of the enduring strengths of Rubber Soul (and of course The Beatles in general) is its originality – the band’s ability to take a sound of the time, twist it, turn it, and mutate it onto something beautiful and fresh for others to enjoy. They were expanding the palette of Pop and Rock ‘n’ Roll in real-time, and for that I will always be grateful. The biggest advantage The Beatles had in 1962? They’d never heard The Beatles!
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Another review soon. Take it easy…