This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album retro-review number 193 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Links to the previous 150 reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.
There can be little debate over the fact that the Beatles were the most influential group of the 1960’s!
What is debated among music followers of the time, is, what was their best album.
I have dipped into my crate this week and pulled out one Beatles album, which has always stood out for me. Was it their best? maybe, maybe not – but I think it was the most critical album in their development!
So we know the artists are The Beatles and the vinyl album I have chosen is – Rubber Soul.
It was released on the Parlophone label in Australia, in February of 1966. There was a mono version but I have the stereo version with the identifying code of PCSO – 3075.
The album was originally released in the UK in December of 1965, but we had to wait an agonising two months for it. The album has 14 tracks equally distributed over two sides.
The title of the album comes from a derivation of “plastic soul,” a derogatory phrase McCartney had overheard black musicians using about Mick Jagger. (“Plastic” in those days meant anything fake or processed.)
Paul can be heard using the phrase in studio chatter on June 14, 1965, during recording of the “Help!” B-side “I’m Down.”
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
1. What Goes On
3. I’m Looking Through You
4. In My Life
6. If I Needed Someone *
7. Run For Your Life
All tracks were written by John Lennon & Paul McCartney except for those marked with an * which were written by George Harrison.
John Lennon: vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, Vox Continental organ, tambourine
Paul McCartney: vocals, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano
George Harrison: vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, sitar, tambourine
Ringo Starr: vocals, drums, cowbell, tambourine, maracas, percussion, bells, Hammond organ
George Martin: piano, harmonium, tambourine
Mal Evans: Hammond organ
Let’s face it, the story of the Beatles is so well told by so many people, to do so again here is totally redundant.
So let’s just move onto this album, and why I chose it.
It was the 6th album released by the Beatles and while it largely was still based around “love” songs – it also represented a move in a new direction of far better and more complex compositions. Both Lennon and McCartney, together and individually were really stretching their composing skills and moving into new territories.
In addition it introduced new instrumentation into the music such as the Sitar and fuzz bass.
Also very importantly, it featured all their own compositions, an element which had now become the norm. With this album though, the quality of the compositions had risen to an all time high.
Until this album in many ways their choice of material had been dictated by three things.
Firstly by their fans – Up until now the Beatles had obviously responded to the “pop” style of music that had become demanded by those fans.
Secondly, by their management and their producer who had their own ideas and agenda – with George Martin having significant input.
Thirdly the material was often dictated by the actually music the Beatles liked, and they drew on many, then relatively unknown, US artists both black and white from the 1950’s.
Of course the Beatles had been writing songs, of a sort, even back in the Hamburg days, and Love Me Do recorded in October of 1962, their first single, was a Lennon/McCartney composition.
Certainly their previous album Help, began to show that Lennon and McCartney in particular were starting to write either more complex or at least more polished compositions with tracks like Help, Ticket To Ride and Yesterday.
It may just have been the first time that any artist considered an album as more than a mechanism to showcase their hit singles, but as a work of musical art in its own right.
However, Rubber Soul was where they stamped their authority as premier composers of the time, and really, for many years to come.
The album kicks off with Drive My Car, ostensibly a Lennon/McCartney composition it was conceived of by Paul who put most of the lyrics and melody together.
This is not to say that John Lennon’s contribution was not critical. It was!
Now Paul had the lyrics “You can buy me diamond rings“, as the opening line of the chorus, but it really was a copy of words used in at least two previous Beatle tracks. So the story goes that John Lennon went straight up to Paul and told him that this line, and in fact other lines were both “crap” and “too soft”.
So he sat with Paul and they came up with alternatives including the line “Baby you can drive my car“.
By now the Beatles were beginning to tire of their “homely” image, and while on the surface the track seems to be about a guy, a girl and a car, later Paul confessed that it most certainly had sexual overtones, with “Drive my car” being a euphemism for sex!
Be all that as it may, it is a great opening track, filled with great harmonies and some damn fine playing.
Drive My Car
Track 2 is Norwegian Wood.
I have always loved this track. Yes it is a form of a boy meets girl, falls in love and loses her. But it has a beautiful complexity in its word imagery and the wonderful development of the music which is topped off by beautiful sitar playing by George, that makes it a key track on the album.
By the time the Beatles had started to conceptualise and write for Rubber Soul they had also dipped heavily into the styes of contemporaries, such as Bob Dylan that they had a great respect for. If there was any man who could rival the Beatles for writing “meaningful” lyrics on a consistent base, it would be Dylan.
This is one track that represents the writing of John Lennon at his creative best, and, it’s not the only one on this album.
There is little doubt when you listen to the introspective style of writing in Norwegian Wood, that Dylan would have been a heavy influence, particularly on John. In fact the song’s lyrics are about an extramarital affair that John was involved in, as hinted in the opening lines “I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me“.
To my knowledge that “girl” was never identified.
The use of the sitar was a critical element in the overall feeling of the song. With the lyrics being so strongly introspective, the use of the sitar introduced a sound that was sympathetic to turning inward. It also help reflect on the lyrics and indeed, on experiences we the listeners may have had, that the song provokes memories of.
I’m not certain that it was the first time such an instrument had been used in a western composition of the period, certainly the Moody Blues used a sitar quite extensively, as did the Brian Jones in some Stones tracks.
However what is undeniable and indisputable is, that it introduced the instrument and Ravi Shankar to the Western world through what was colloquially called, pop music.
It would be easy to keep talking about the track, but let’s revisit it by re-listening to it.
Track 3 – You Won’t See Me was a last minute addition to the album.
A McCartney composed track, it is influenced heavily by the Motown sound and features Paul singing.
Track 4 – Nowhere Man.
This is one of those tracks that may not have stood out at the time as being one of the greats, yet today it is covered and played live by many artists. It was for all intents and purposes the first “none-love” song on any of their albums.
Following the agreement that all songs written by either John or Paul would be published under Lennon/McCartney, we know now that this track was John’s. It has him written all over it and shows the penchant he was developing for words with a more philosophical meaning.
This is no Love Love Me Do!
It also features most excellent three-part harmonies between John, Paul & George. Released as a single it jumped to the number 1 spot in Australia early in 1966.
Nowhere Man is in some respects similar the Fool On The Hill. It’s about a man who is making all of these plans for no one, he has no opinion or point of view.
I have friends who sing this song in their repertoire, and do it well, and use it to highlight the follies of contemporary “fools” like George Pell.
What a righteous thing to do with a Beatles track that lends itself to this.
Yet, it may have a deeper “philosophical” meaning. Like the “Fool” in the tarot deck, it is the fact that he has no opinion, no point of view and that actually makes him free.
It is what separates him from everyone, and at the same time, makes him like everyone else. The fact that Nowhere Man can be anyone is what makes the song take on a dynamic property in the story-telling of the song.
The listener thinks this guy is a loser, but John is basically saying that because the “Nowhere Man” has cleared his head, he can become anyone.
He is truly free.
One final comment – this track has some sublimely played guitar by George.
Think For Yourself comes next.
One of the two compositions by George it really warns us against lies!
John may have immersed himself by now in Western philosophy, although he was still interested in Eastern mysticism, but George was becoming totally immersed in Eastern philosophy and this track reflects that learning.
The Word is one the more “pop”oriented songs, although it was never released as a single, and it has just the right tincture of philosophy.
Really there is little doubt that their dabbling – hell dabbling nothing! – their extensive drug taking did have an effect on their compositions, this being one of them.
It has a harmonium used in it which was played by George Martin.
The final track on side 1 is one of Paul’s most delightful ballads.
Michelle was really composed by Paul, with John contributing to the middle eight, or the bridge section. It was also the first time the Beatles had used another language in a song that was released in England and later throughout the world, but was not specifically for a non speaking English country.
In fact by using French, Paul puts a very soft gentle feeling on words that are in fact soft and gentle in meaning.
The song went on to become a true standard being recorded over and over again while never losing its popularity.
Ironically it had its genesis back in the Art School days of John and Paul, when the Paris Left Bank was revered as “THE” place to be as an artist. It seems that Paul would go to parties sporting a goatee and striped T-shirt and pretend through his use of broken french, to be French.
He would sing made up songs with “made up french”. About the time Rubber Soul was being recorded, Michelle was an instrumental, and John encouraged Paul to put words to it, and to give it a french feeling.
Well, he succeeded, and how!
Surely this was one of the most wonderful “love” songs to come out of the 1960’s. The balance of the instruments and tonality, the production is pure George Martin genius!
Michelle, ma belle
These are words that go together well
Michelle, ma belle
Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble
Très bien ensemble
I love you, I love you, I love you
That’s all I want to say
Until I find a way
I will say the only words I know that
Michelle, ma belle
Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble
Très bien ensemble
I need to, I need to, I need to
I need to make you see
Oh, what you mean to me
Until I do I’m hoping you will
Know what I mean
I love you
I want you, I want you, I want you
I think you know by now
I’ll get to you somehow
Until I do I’m telling you so
Michelle, ma belle
Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble
Très bien ensemble
I will say the only words I know
That you’ll understand, my Michelle
Side 2 is a bit of a mixture and certainly not as strong in my nor as complete, in my opinion, as side 1.
Track 1 – What Goes On.
This is a somewhat “sop” to Ringo, and is a Lennon/McCartney/Starr composition, very much in a C&W style, never my favourite track on this album.
Track 2 is Girl.
It is pretty much all a John Lennon composition. The track was in fact the very last track recorded for the album.
In typical Lennon style of nothing being straight forward, it explores the idea of the ideal woman, while also touching upon John Lennon’s feelings towards Christianity.
“This was about a dream girl. When Paul and I wrote lyrics in the old days we used to laugh about it like the Tin Pan Alley people would. And it was only later on that we tried to match the lyrics to the tune. I like this one. It was one of my best.” [John Lennon]
There is the middle eight chorus which consists of what might appear to be the repetitive ‘dit,dit,dit” -it isn’t!
“It was always amusing to see if we could get a naughty word on the record: ‘fish and finger pie’, ‘prick teaser’, ‘tit tit tit tit‘. [Paul McCartney]
Everything about this track is perfect, from the subtle compression George Martin puts on the voices, especially the “sharp breathing, through to the lyrics, the delivery and the fantastic guitar work.
Now the sharp intake of breath during the chorus was either an approximation of sexual heavy breathing, or a none-too-subtle reference to dope smoking.
Much of Rubber Soul was recorded during the Beatles’ heaviest dope-smoking phase, and by late 1965 they had become adept at inserting drug references into their songs.
Track 3 is a great track – I’m Looking Through You.
It is primarily a McCartney composition and was one of the tracks the Beatles spent a hell of a lot of time on in preparation and less time in recording.
It is reported that once Paul brought the lyrics and the basic song outline to the others, they spent 9 hours just perfecting the words and discussing the instrumentation, and then in a typical Beatles fashion, put it down in one take.
In My Life is track 4.
It is one of the tracks where George Martin came out from the control room and actually participated in playing on the track, contributing beautiful keyboards in the middle eight and also playing tambourine.
This in my mind is the absolute gem on this album of treats.
The main contributor was John, and once again his ‘wordsmithing’ just hits home so hard, and so brilliantly.
John said later that it was based upon his memories of early days in Liverpool. It is so cleverly written and delivered, the listener cannot help but put their own experiences into interpretation the meanings, and, isn’t that the essence of a brilliant piece of writing?
The harmonies are simply unbelievable and it pays to remember, that unlike todays recordings, there were no artificial pitch machines or electronic harmonisers used – this is just the voices of the Beatles straight to record.
In My Life
Track 5 is Wait.
The track was written for the album Help, but left off that album. During the final days of the recording of Rubber Soul, someone recalled they had recording, and on listening it was decided to incorporate it.
It is a fine tune, although not quite up to the class of some of the tracks.
Track 6 is a beauty! If I Needed Someone is a George Harrison composition.
George later declared that he was indeed inspired by the Byrds when he composed this track, and indeed later sent a message to Roger McGuinn acknowledge the debt If I Needed Someone owed to The Byrds’, She Don’t Care About Time and, The Bells Of Rhymney.
Certainly his use of the 12-string guitar gives the track a sound that is reminiscent of the Byrds, while remaining distinctively Beatles.
Ironically later McGuinn said that in fact he was influenced by Harrison’s use of the 12-string guitar on a Hard Day’s Night. It is certainly at this time of Harrison’s music writing development, representative of his best work.
If I Needed Someone
The final track is both a rocker, and a damn fine pop song – Run For Your Life.
While it was substantially written by Lennon, it does in fact take a line from one of Lennon’s musical hero’s, Elvis Presley, and his track, Baby Let’s Play Love (Written by Arthur Gunter)
I’m sure you can pick the line –
Now listen to me baby
Try to understand
I’d rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
Come back, baby, come
Come back, baby come
Come back, baby
I wanna play house with you
I think George’s guitar work is a feature and at times he seems to be channeling Carl Perkins!
Having said all that, it, along with track 1 on this side, What Goes On, does seem a bit our of place on the album.
In fact Lennon is reported as saying, “If not for this song, “Rubber Soul” would be a perfect album.”
Well who am I to argue with John Lennon, but it does demonstrate they had not lost any of their ability to write “pop” songs.
Run For Your Life
I still maintain that Rubber Soul is a an exceptional album amongst a lot of Beatles albums.
Certainly as time went on and their writing and playing skills advanced, they produced even more sublime and beautiful pieces of music.
But this was a groundbreaking album, and it deserves to be in any decent collection, whether on vinyl or on CD.
You can almost name your own price for a vinyl copy, original mono copies can bring several hundred dollars, original stereo copies anything from a few dollars upward depending upon the quality, then there are the re-releases, and finally, the CD.
Sadly there appears to be no known live clips of the Beatles performing tracks from Rubber Soul.
The Making of Rubber Soul
The Word [Not a live performance]
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –
Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 151 onward.
#155. Billy Thorpe – Tangier
#159. The Band – Stage Fright
#162. Jimi Hendrix – Radio One
#170. Chain – Two Of A Kind
#171. Bob Marley – Legend
#176. B.B. King – The Best Of
#180. Flowers – Icehouse
#181. Joe Tex – The Best Of
#190. Madder Lake – Stillpoint