Rubber Soul (1965)


Title: A pun of Paul McCartney’s. He’d heard Mick Jagger’s singing referred to as ‘plastic soul’ and gave the phrase a Beatles-ish twist of surrealism.

Cover: The group photographed (again by Robert Freeman) in Lennon’s garden. When the shot was projected onto an LP-sized piece of card to show the lads what the album would look like, the card accidentally fell backwards and the image was elongated. “Can we have that?!” the Beatles cried out. The none-more-60s logo was designed by Charles Front, father of actress Rebecca.

Best song: In My Life. I can’t think of a more beautiful piece of music. (It’s a rare thing too: a Lennon-McCartney song where they disagreed over who wrote it. John later claimed it was pretty much all his work, but Paul says he took his partner’s lyrics and set them to music on his own. I tend to side with the latter’s story.)

Honourable mentions:

* Now’s as good a time as any to point out that – for me – the Beatles are in stereo and always have been. They’re the versions I’ve always known and loved. So to my ears, Rubber Soul’s opening track, Drive My Car, begins with a brilliantly 3D bit of mixing: the way the bass bubbles into life (in your left ear/speaker) a beat after the guitar riff is just fantastic. The whole song has such a swagger to it – its set-up/punchline lyrics, its ‘beep-beep’ vocals, Paul’s bluesy singing.

* It’s followed by John’s Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), which was written about an affair he was having. As well as a folksy acoustic feel, it famously uses a sitar, which gives the track a exotic shading – George Harrison was by now becoming more and more fascinated by Indian culture, religion and music.

* Every Beatles LP has hidden gems – songs largely ignored by compilation albums, radio playlists and the public consciousness. Rubber Soul’s best example is Paul’s You Won’t See Me. Its pleading, desperate lyric plays against music of sunny optimism: the Beatles do melancholy, in other words. I simply can’t express enough how much I love this song.

* Nowhere Man, written by John, is a vocal-harmony powerhouse with a guitar solo that *sparkles*.

* George’s Think For Yourself – his best song yet – uses a fuzz bass to drive its violent chord changes, while his If I Needed Someone is likewise effortlessly lovely.

* The Word was written by Lennon and McCartney while smoking pot – the latter didn’t like the process, but the song they came up with is a treat. Paul’s ska-like bassline is tremendous, the vocals are clean and crisp, Ringo’s drumming holds the whole thing together, and then we get a cutesy use of a harmonium near the end.

* Michelle (by Paul) and Girl (by John) are two likeable exercises in old-fashioned style. Girl’s backing vocals are made up of Paul and George repeating the word ‘tit’.

Worst song: What Goes On, an old song of John’s dusted down for Ringo’s solo spot. The latter added some new lyrics, hence the unique Lennon-McCartney-Starkey credit. (Although an infectious tune, John’s Run For Your Life has shockingly aggressive lyrics. Whenever Paul McCartney’s spoken of Beatles songs being positive and uplifting, he’s forgetting about this vitriol.)

Notable outside contributions: George Martin played *that* piano part on In My Life, probably the finest bit of a Beatles record provided by a non-Beatle.

Review: Rubber Soul is the pivot that links the first half of the band’s career (rock’n’roll, suits, hook-filled pop hits) with the second (facial hair, LSD, out-there experimentation). It’s full of ebullient, makes-life-worth-living music. It’s the sound of a group letting loose their peerless talents. It’s my favourite Beatles album.

Ten stars on the screen out of 10.

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