September 8, 2016

The Beatles closed out 1965 road-weary from what would turn out to be the last full calendar year they would spend on the road. The group was already tired of the incessant touring and not having sufficient time in the studio to explore the new directions and influences they were seeing all around them (musically and otherwise). Given all this, and the pressure being put on them by EMI to get a release out in time for the Christmas shopping season, their ability to put forth as strong a release as Rubber Soul and the single “Day Tripper” b/w “We Can Work It Out” is nothing short of remarkable.

What’s unusual about an album that most critics put near the top of the best work the band ever did was the fact that there were actually two versions of Rubber Soul: the proper British version released on EMI/Parlophone:

1. Drive My Car
2. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
3. You Won’t See Me
4. Nowhere Man
5. Think For Yourself
6. The Word
7. Michelle
8. What Goes On
9. Girl
10. I’m Looking Through You
11. In My Life
12. Wait
13. If I Needed Someone
14. Run For Your Life

…and the American version released on Capitol:

1. I’ve Just Seen A Face
2. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
3. You Won’t See Me
4. Think For Yourself
5. The Word
6. Michelle
7. It’s Only Love
8. Girl
9. I’m Looking Through You
10. In My Life
11. Wait
12. Run For Your Life

The primary reasons behind these two very different releases (which, BTW, had been occurring from the group’s signing with Capitol Records) is that traditionally British albums had fourteen tracks, American albums typically topping out at twelve. What this ended up doing was giving Capitol a great deal of creative license when it came to pressing Beatles albums; by plucking tracks from one British release or another, you could actually create a whole new release – one that not only had little in relationship with its British counterpart artistically, but also afforded it the opportunity to sell an entirely new Beatles album from the various pieces and rake in the profits.

(It also enabled Capitol to gyp the American music buyer by releasing a version of Help! with only one side of actual Beatle tracks, the other side featuring “exclusive instrumental music” from the movie. This is where the creative messes known as “Beatles VI” and “Yesterday and Today” (infamous for its original “butcher” cover came from. This practice of butchering – pun intended – the British releases for the purpose of capital gain – puns everywhere! – wouldn’t end until the release of Sgt. Pepper.)

But I digress.

More importantly, Capitol Records executives at the time (rightly or wrongly) had awakened to the folk-music craze (ironically, already starting to die out) and the rising popularity of Bob Dylan, so, wanting to capitalize (again, no pun intended) on this wave, chose to replace the more up-tempo tracks on the British version of Rubber Soul with songs having a more mellow, folkish feel to them; hence, the addition of “It’s Only Love” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face” from the British version of “Help!”). As you can see, this created a whole different perception of Rubber Soul to the U.S. record-buying public than what UK record-buyers would snap up. And it would have significant implications, as you will see.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll stick to the British version in terms of musical content, but also recognize the influence of the American version, since both are significant. In both regards, I don’t think you can beat this Rolling Stone feature celebrating the 50th anniversary of Rubber Soul – it really does cover all the bases.

So why does Rubber Soul come in at #3 on my list? First of all, there are gems all over the place: Lennon’s contributions of “In My Life”, “Nowhere Man”, “Girl”, and “Norwegian Wood” are all classics, making this one of, if not the, strongest input he ever delivered for a single Beatles album. Also notable, however, are the first inklings of George Harrison’s increasing influence on the group’s artistic output. Prior to Rubber Soul he’d only been tossed a bone here and there by Lennon and McCartney while he learned the craft of songwriting, but here, in addition to the cutting “Think For Yourself” (made even more so by McCartney’s fuzz bass) and the elegant pop of “If I Needed Someone”, it’s the sitar backing “Norwegian Wood” giving that song its signature touch that would start people thinking of George as a creative force as well.

As it would turn out, Rubber Soul would have a huge impact on none other than The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. I’m not sure, actually, whether it was the British or the American version he would have initially been exposed to, but my guess it was the softer, mellower (and, BTW, pot-influenced) folk-themed release created by the Capital executives that would have impressed him as the album making a cohesive statement from start to finish, thus inspiring him to try and achieve something along the same lines. This would result in the release of the band’s iconic Pet Sounds the following year.

You can’t really appreciate the fullness of Rubber Soul without also considering its companion single release “Day Tripper” b/w “We Can Work It Out”. The single, one of the best the band ever released, shows both Lennon and McCartney at the top of their game. “Day Tripper” is a straight-forward, out-and-out rocker, but it would be “We Can Work It Out” that would be the more interesting, for it not only featured a true collaboration between the two (actually taking two separate songs they had been working on individually and putting them together) but it illustrated the different aspects of the Lennon and McCartney personas, presaging how their own relationship would fall apart and drive the band apart just a few years’ hence to its ultimate dissolution.

Here you have McCartney playing role of conciliator, his sentiments both rational and hopeful…

Try to see it my way
Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?
While you see it your way
Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone
We can work it out

Think of what you’re saying
You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s alright
Think of what I’m saying
We can work it out and get it straight, or say good night
We can work it out

…while Lennon’s bridge is impatient, cynical, and frustrated:

Life is very short, and there’s no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend
I have always thought that it’s a crime
So I will ask you once again…

It would be hard not to see these how such different personalities and outlooks could come into conflict when the band ceased to operate as a cohesive unit.

Rubber Soul shows the Beatles near the peak of their creative abilities. And as good as this album is, and how it still holds up over time as an artistic statement reflective of what classic pop music sounded like in late 1965, they were still stretching and growing creatively. They would stretch even more and grow even more creative once the touring stopped (and their drugs of choice changed), and their next release, Revolver, would define the very best of what the group as four individual contributors would ever be able to achieve as a collective unit ever again. But it couldn’t have happened without Rubber Soul.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:00 | Comments Off on The Great White Shank’s Top Ten: #3: The Beatles “Rubber Soul”
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