Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Art of the Album: The Beatles – Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul What You Need to Know: Rubber Soul is generally considered to be the line in the sand between The Beatles’ early career and their later career. Increasing variety of instrumentation (a sitar on “Norwegian Wood”), studio trickery (a piano sped up to sound like a harpsichord on “In My Life”), and increasing lyrical sophistication all combine to form a perfect storm of musical progression.

The Beatles themselves recollect that Rubber Soul was the first of their albums on which they were given complete creative control.

The Songs You’ve Heard: Rubber Soul is another one with no singles, but we’re getting into the point of The Beatles’ career where there’s less you haven’t heard. Most people are familiar with the groove of “Drive My Car.” “Norwegian Wood” is one of John’s best, the culmination of the folky sound he used on “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.”

Most of you have probably also heard the excellent three-part harmonies of “Nowhere Man” and John’s introspective “In My Life.” Yellow Submarine aficionados will be familiar with George’s “Think For Yourself,” which gets its kick from Paul McCartney’s be-fuzzbox’d bass.

The Songs You Haven’t: It’s hard to say what songs you haven’t heard from here on out – everyone has Beatles songs they like and don’t like, that they’ve heard or haven’t heard. I’ll just try to talk about what I believe to be the more obscure cuts without actually revealing to you how I make the distinction.

Maybe you haven’t heard Ringo’s “What Goes On,” which sounds a lot like all of the Carl Perkins songs they ever covered even though it’s actually a Lennon/McCartney/Starkey composition (the only one, in fact) – like many Ringo songs, it’s approachable, amiable, you’d like to buy it a round sometime, but you’re not going to stay in touch after college. “I’m Looking Through You” has a neat guitar lick, and George’s “If I Needed Someone” is the first of his original songs that hints at the talent he would display on later albums and in his solo career.

Why I Like It: Rubber Soul is not the flip of a switch that some people think it is. Sure, there’s a lot going on here, and nearly every song is a keeper (the exception being the nondescript “Wait,” recorded during the Help! sessions and only added when Rubber Soul came up one song short), but musically this is all part of a smooth progression. Stuff like “I’m Looking Through You” and “You Won’t See Me” wouldn’t be too out of place on Help!, while “The Word” and “If I Needed Someone” look forward to the harder, more psychedelic rock of Revolver.

What really sets Rubber Soul apart from its predecessors is its lyrics - “Drive My Car” is sung with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and “Norwegian Wood” ends with the singer burning the girl’s house down. “In My Life” continues in the autobiographical vein of “I’m a Loser” and “Help!,” and “The Word” eschews boy/girl love for the philosophical Love of the 1960s. “Nowhere Man” isn’t about boy/girl love at all. Even the songs that are about boy/girl love are becoming darker, with a dim outlook not found in “She Loves You” or “From Me To You.”

On some days, Rubber Soul is my favorite Beatles album. I can’t mention every song in the confines of this small write-up (or maybe I can! “Michelle” and “Girl” definitely deserve to be mentioned you guys, as does “Run For Your Life,” a creepy John song cut from the same cloth as “You Can’t Do That” from A Hard Day’s Night), but every one of them is worth listening to – give it a couple spins and try telling me that’s not true.

Desert Island Tracks: “Drive My Car,” “Norwegian Wood,” “In My Life