Stare super hard at this cover. That rounded free-hand lettering – this is the record that set that style off in pop culture in the ‘60s. The trippy distorted photograph. The band’s name. Yes, look at the band’s name. Can’t find it? That’s because it’s not there. It’s not necessary. Everyone knows who they are. Time to leave “yeah yeah yeah” and holding hands behind – we’re officially in the mid-Beatles era.
In late 1965, The Beatles had just come back from touring America, and reportedly were influenced by what they heard on American radio, including Motown and Stax records as well as Dylan and the Byrds. For the first time, they were able to take enough time off from touring to record an entire album in a set of contiguous sessions. That gave them time to play around with new instruments and new ways of recording. McCartney moved from his hollow Hofner bass to the solid Rickenbacker 4001; George picked up a Fender Stratocaster. Sitar and harmonium were introduced, and piano was sped up on tape to sound like harpsichord. Put all that together, give them 13 days in the studio, and voila: Rubber Soul.
Listen to everything before “Rubber Soul,” and you have to think: these guys are pretty good. Then listen to “Rubber Soul,” and you have to think: these guys know what they are doing. All of the tonal and instrumental experimentation, the interesting harmonies, the studio tricks — they’re all in service to the music. “Rubber Soul,” released in December 1965, is an astonishingly accomplished album.
The UK album starts with “Drive My Car,” humorous, sexy, sarcastic. Then “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” one of the more ambiguous tunes in pop history, followed by “You Won’t See Me.” Then there’s “Nowhere Man,” one of the biggest and best downers ever to hit the charts. George contributes “Think For Yourself,” “The Word” sets off hippie sentiments, and the side closes with “Michelle.” On the second side, Ringo goes back to his country leanings with “What Goes On.” Then “Girl,” “I’m Looking Through You,” “In My Life,” and “Wait.” George again shows how good his songwriting is with “If I Needed Someone,” and the album closes out with little bit of somewhat dated misogyny in “Run For Your Life.”
So here’s the thing: I don’t have any memory of getting to know “Rubber Soul.” I’m not sure there was such a thing. Almost all of these songs just seemed to me to be in the zeitgeist. Is it possible not to have heard “Norwegian Wood”? Or “Run For Your Life”? Yet, only two singles were released from Rubber Soul: “Michelle”/“Girl” and “Nowhere Man”/“What Goes On”. Yet, we know every one of these songs.
The version shown here is a 1976 Capitol reissue, with the American track order. That means no “Drive My Car,” no “What Goes On,” no “If I Needed Someone.” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” from the UK “Help!” album, is tacked on to the start. It’s the least amount of butchering Capitol did, but it’s still not exactly the right “Rubber Soul.” I’ve also got the UK version in The Beatles Collection, thank goodness. That’s the version I had on tape all those years, the version I have on digital, and the version I know best.