Thursday, December 03, 2015

The 50th Birthday of 'Rubber Soul'

"Rubber Soul," the album the Beatles released on this day in 1965, is musical proof of the Theory of Evolution. As Rolling Stone observed when naming "Rubber Soul" the fifth–greatest album of all time, "The moptops were evolving in remarkable ways."

In fact, if you judge by the rankings on Rolling Stone's list, "Rubber Soul" — even at #5 on that list — is the third–best Beatles album behind "Revolver," which hit record stores nine months later, and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," which followed "Revolver." Creatively, I suppose, the Beatles were in their prime — even though that rather simplistic approach overlooks the creativity of later albums like "Abbey Road" (my personal favorite) and "Let It Be."

After all these years, "Sgt. Pepper" still gets most of the press, but diehard Beatles fans will tell you that "Rubber Soul" was the true turning point, the start of the Beatles' experimental phase. And when I say that, I'm not just speaking of the substances they ingested although there certainly was plenty of that going on. The Beatles were experimenting musically — with different sounds, different themes, different studio techniques. They stopped doing covers of other people's songs and did exclusively their own stuff — until a dab of "Maggie Mae" popped up on the "Let It Be" album.

"Rubber Soul" was one of the first Beatles albums I ever owned — albeit a cassette tape — along with "A Hard Day's Night." It really had something for nearly every musical taste — folk rock, pop music, soul, R&B, even the still–emerging psychedelic style. Their work was influenced primarily by Bob Dylan, the Byrds, the Beach Boys and the popular soul groups of the day.

Many people think George Harrison introduced listeners to the sitar in later albums, but the sitar made its first official appearance in a song on a Beatles album on "Rubber Soul" — even though technically, I suppose, you could say the sitar made its debut on the soundtrack for "Help!" as one of several instruments featured on instrumental versions of songs that appeared on the Beatles' "Help!" album.

The sitar made a significant contribution to "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," which has always been one of my favorite Beatles songs. But you could pick just about any song on "Rubber Soul" and say it was your favorite on the album — and you could make a good case for it, whichever song it turned out to be.

The best — and probably most recognizable — tunes on the album are "Drive My Car," "Nowhere Man," "Michelle," "In My Life."

But that doesn't mean the others aren't just as good — "You Won't See Me," "The Word," "What Goes On," "Girl," "I'm Looking Through You," "If I Needed Someone."

Harrison, who was really coming into his own as a songwriter, said the album was "the best one we made ... we were suddenly hearing sounds that we weren't able to hear before." Ringo Starr observed, "There was a lot of experimentation ... influenced, I think, by the substances."

Be that as it may, "Rubber Soul" has long been regarded as a landmark album in the establishment of what came to be known as "world music." In the next few years, instruments that had not been heard in popular recordings suddenly were everywhere. Even now, half a century later, the heirs of that genre can be heard.

One song on the album would be regarded as politically incorrect if it was released today. Just the title of the song — "Run For Your Life" — sounds menacing, but the more you realize that the singer is singing about his girlfriend and addressing her with the belittling moniker of "little girl," the more you realize how menacing it truly is.
"Well I'd rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or I won't know where I am
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand, little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end, little girl"

The song was credited, as most were, to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership, but it was mostly penned by John Lennon, and it is my understanding that it was inspired by an early Elvis Presley song, "Baby, Let's Play House."

Well, that's what Lennon said. It may also have had some autobiographical elements to it. It is known that, as a young man, Lennon was jealous and possessive and admitted hitting his women. "Run For Your Life" hit the record stores in the third year of his first marriage, a marriage that would end in divorce three years later.

Lennon said it was his least favorite Beatles song; later he said he regretted writing it, although reportedly it was George Harrison's favorite "Rubber Soul" song at the time it was released.

It has been argued that Lennon returned to the theme in a kinder and gentler fashion in "Jealous Guy" from his "Imagine" album.