Rubber Soul is the stepping stone album from The Beatles marking the shift from the pop perfection of Help to the experimentalism of Revolver and beyond. A mix of both worlds it shows the band pushing all the known boundaries of pop and rock music, changing both genres forever. Things were being done both lyrically and musically that had never been thought of before, new styles were being borrowed and adapted, new production techniques, new song writing skills, new instruments all employed to propel the band forwards. Even today it sounds new and challenging and very few first time listeners should find it dated. Of course there are still one or two songs that people won’t enjoy and they hadn’t yet reached the heights of Revolver and Pepper. There is a new sophistication with the themes and lyrics, gone are the bland outbursts of love and school boy cynicism, replaced with a more developed, poetic, and intelligent style. Nothing in simple anymore and everything in the music and lyrics is conveyed with ambiguity.
`Drive My Car’ starts the album and instantly shows the lyrically progression the band has taken. It is the first song to truly feature strong original lyrics, moving on from the variations on love from before. With it’s euphemism for sex and themes about fame and doing anything to achieve it, it displays both the dark side and comedic spark of the band. Obviously this sort of thing was happening in the band at the time and in many other bands, it’s both an in-joke about groupies and a celebration of them. With it’s catchy chorus and memorable `beep beep’ moments it was destined to become a staple for car adverts through the decades. The guitars are much more blues influenced than anything that had gone before, and the percussion and piano has a distinct jazzy feel.
`Norwegian Wood’ is a Lennon ballad showcasing the band’s change of perspective to writing songs about the darker side of love, and themes which recur through the album such as deceit, jealousy, misogyny, possession, revenge etc. The first thing to notice is the Eastern influence which would be greater on subsequent albums. The new instruments fit in seamlessly with the traditional guitar use and vocal harmonies. Dealing with an affair, paranoia, and revenge the lyrics are a massive step up from anything else the band had written. Poetic, ironic, and with a story telling feel it marks the new Beatles era.
`You Won’t See Me’ has a nice melodic intro after a percussive start building up to typically sweet harmonic intro. Again the bridge switches to minor chords for added melancholy. The lyrics speak of a breaking relationship, depression, and not being able to carry on when the one you love keeps turning you away.
`Nowhere Man’ can both be taken as an introspective Lennon number, and a song decrying any number of generations- his parents for being tightly conformist, later one for being passive and irresponsible. It is notable for being the first Beatles song which doesn’t deal with love in any way. Lyrically it is quite clever and biting, though musically it is simple and uninspired. I see it and the next song as a rallying call to the kids to start making a change in the world rather than sitting back and watching- something which would become Lennon’s quest for the rest of his life.
`Think For Yourself’ is a Harrison penned track dealing with individuality and not trusting and blindly accepting other people’s and groups’ views. You can always rely on Harrison making a unique tune which is set apart from the other songs on any album and the same is true here. The unusual guitar sound makes the song memorable, the lyrics are as strong as anything Lennon was writing at the time, and the melodies are unlike most other tracks.
`The Word’ is a pseudo- political song by Lennon covering his attitudes with the metaphor of love, as if he was testing the water or breaking in the fans gently before the more overt messages of later work. The song itself is fairly repetitive, standing out by the use of the Harmonium towards the end.
`Michelle’ mysteriously won the Grammy for song of the year in 67, a rather doleful ballad by McCartney notable for its French lyrics and feel. This is one I usually skip- still a good song, it just bores me for some reason.
`What Goes On’ is a very country feeling song with good guitar from Harrison, and Ringo sings it very well accompanied by some high pitched harmonies. It is quite a simple love song with darker lyrics about confusion and mistrust. A fast paced song it helps to lift the middle part of the album.
`Girl’ is quite a melancholy love song, with lyrics speaking about being in love with someone but not being sure why. It is memorable for the sighing melodies, strong lyrics, and added beats towards the middle part and end.
`I’m Looking Through You’ is an up tempo down beat McCartney song about how people and love can fade and change over time in a relationship. Melodic and with good lead guitar it sounds quite angry yet happy at the same time.
`In My Life’ is the stand out song on the album and the best Beatles ballad. Full of powerful lyrics, regret and misty eyed nostalgia, yet it has eternal hope for the future. The melodies are beautiful, the interesting middle part giving a Renaissance twist and the recurring riff is soft and sweet but free of soppy sentiment.
`Wait’ is an unusual almost off key song that further shows the group’s experimentation. The lyrics speak of coming back to a loved one after being apart, something the group were feeling after many tours. There is irony in the `I’ve been good- as good as I can be’ considering the affairs of the band members.
`If I Needed Someone’ is a Harrison penned song marked by a catchy lead guitar line. Again the song employs minor chords for the chorus to suggest that not everything is as perfect as it should be. The lyrics are not exactly bitter, but neither are they the sort of words you would expect a pop band of the time to be singing, the narrator saying if they have nothing better to do then they may find a moment to squeeze in the subject.
`Run For Your Life’ is a much derided song amongst fans, and later by Lennon himself who wrote it. Accused of misogyny but perfectly apt considering the feelings one has can have the lyrics speak of jealousy of other men, possession over a loved one and including a famously dark line borrowed from an Elvis song. These feelings would be developed and return on Jealous Guy but here they are less subtle and more angry and accusing. The music rattles along quickly and has a blues/country feel to it. A strange end to the album.
Rubber Soul has plenty of flashes of brilliance but being a stepping stone album it doesn’t have the quality of the albums which bookend it. It is still classic Beatles and features some of their best songs, but it is inconsistent. Naturally this is subjective and some of the songs I am not overly fond of her will be another’s favourites. What we can agree on is that it clearly shows the moving towards greater artistry, creativity, and experimentation which would herald the next two albums as two of the best albums ever.
Sales: 5 (Another smash hit)
Chart: 5 (Another smash hit)
Critical: 5 (Another smash hit)
Originality: 5 (The band’s first truly original album finds them sowing the seeds for future releases but also letting their creativity surge to new levels and places. From the opening moments of Drive My Car you know that the band has undergone some sort of change and have entered a brand new phase)
Influence: 5 (The band may have been seen by some as simple pop/rock masters, but this album found a new legion of fans who craved more distant and complex sounds and opened the doors for psychedelia and a host of new artists)
Musical Ability: 5 (Here the band shine, showing a full command of whatever they try their hand at)
Lyrics: 4 (The band still linger with love songs but break free of most of the cliches which plague that type, whilst simultaneously writing about individuality and politics)
Melody: 4 (The expermintation leads to a drop in the quality of melody in some tracks, but a drop would almost be expected after the perfection of Help! Naturally there are still many flawless moments)
Emotion: 4 (The range of emotions is greater than ever before, with anger and confusion coming to more prominance, and plenty of moments of sheer joy and sadness)
Lastibility: 5 (Another smash hit)
Vocals: 5 (There is a much stronger quality to the vocals here than before, filled with confidence and individual style)
Coherence: 4 (Some say the US release is better, but the album as a whole fits together nicely with things such as the tambourine featuring in many songs and the theme of expermintation seeping into the music and lyrics)
Mood: 4 (Aside from the obvious sadness and joy mentioned above, I think the overall mood is one of exploration and creativity which can be found subtly in every song)
Production: 5 (Great work, still sounds stunning)
Effort: 4 (Impressive writing and creativity to make something new)
Relationship: 4 (It’s easy to relate to some songs here, from the tortured romantic to the non-conformist. Some songs have their influences in prior works but each has an effective twist)
Genre Relation: 4 (There wasn’t really anything like this before in the charts and while it is the beginning of their experimentation it doesn’t relate as well their later, fully fledged works)
Authenticity: 5 (The band sound entirely dedicated to branching out and making something new)
Personal: 4 (As already mentioned, the experimentation leads to some weaker songs which miss out on having any truly great hooks)
Miscellaneous: 4 (Free from touring and filming now the band could concentrate fully on making music so not much to say here)