Ten Albums: The Beatles, Rubber Soul (1965)


Our Ten Albums list continues, and we have our first controversy:

#4* – The Beatles, Rubber Soul (1965)

So, why the asterisk?  Well… I’ve limited myself to one album per artist, which is going to necessarily leave out some thing terrific.  I’ve also spent time on this blog writing about Revolver, an album that I do believe may be their best work, and also Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that one is *supposed* to believe is their best work but only makes the Hall of Pretty Good on my list. I wanted to delve into something that brought new content to the blog, that did have some meaning to it for me, and is still a fantastic album.  Enter Rubber Soul, which is still really, really damned good.

“But wait,” you ask, “how can an album by a strong singles band that produced no hit singles make a list like this?” See, that’s what makes The Beatles so fun to argue about.  (Besides, Sgt. Pepper also had no hit singles.) 1965 is an interesting year for the band as their chart success can be summer up by the release of Help!, a movie that hasn’t exactly aged well but has an amazing soundtrack, and the LP “Yesterday”… And Today, the one that had all of the “leftover” songs that Capitol trimmed off the British releases to get extra product.  (Yes, that’s the one with the “butcher” cover in its original release, which remains one of my collecting Holy Grails.) We quickly forget about Rubber Soul, but it’s a pretty solid album in its own right.

Side One opens with “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” which technically doesn’t belong here. It, and the lead track on Side Two, “It’s Only Love,” were trimmed from the UK release of the Help! soundtrack. Both of them are songs that I enjoyed, with the nod probably going to the latter. We then get “Norwegian Wood,” which is a fantastic example of storytelling. (It also serves as a strong influence on Bob Dylan’s “4th Time Around.”) This song is probably best known for introducing a bunch of kids to the sitar; if you have not heard the version by Indian band Cornershop, let me fix that for you. “You Won’t See Me” is a solid track, although it sounds much better in mono than in the weirdly re-channeled stereo that my parents’ version of the album featured. “Think For Yourself” and “The Word” were songs that I didn’t exactly enjoy in my youth – you tend not to appreciate the complexities of the George compositions until later in life – but have improved with age.  And Side 1 closes with “Michelle,” the one that should have been a hit. (Technically, it was: the note-for-note cover done by David and Jonathan made #18 in 1966.)

Side Two, after “It’s Only Love,” comes “Girl.” I always thought the exaggerated breathing was silly and totally missed the fact that the backup vocal over the bridge of the song seems to just be the word “tit” repeated over and over. (I can’t unhear it now.) “I’m Looking Through You” is a remarkably underrated breakup song written by Paul when his relationship with Jane Asher hit the skids. (It was also covered very well by Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers.) The last two tracks on the LP are probably the weakest of the bunch: “Wait” is largely forgettable, and “Run For Your Life” is a little too domestic-violenty for enjoyment in 2018. (That’s the one that opens up with “I’d rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man” and is really just two minutes of menacing. (The Beatles had a problem with this a few times: in the bridge to “Getting Better” there’s an admission of beating a woman by the singer.) The last two tracks aren’t enough to bring down the whole piece, though, and the album is still pretty darned good.

If you’re still on the fence, though, there’s one track I skipped past.  This is the album that contains “In My Life.” That’s a song that I liked when I first heard, and with each passing year makes me simultaneously more happy and more sad. As a kid, all the “places I remembered” were still there.  Now?  Not so much, and many of the changes are indeed
“not for better.”  Every time I go back to the old neighborhood, something’s drastically different to the point where I can’t go home again. And the lovers and friends described as “some are dead and some are living?” The latter group grows every year.  Hell, there’s a Facebook group that exists solely to keep track of people from my high school who have died, pushing notifications of classmates passing along with the cat videos and food pictures. I’ve buried two parents along the way, and eulogized two grandparents in the past seven years. More and more of the people and places have become pleasant memories.  The recollections bring smiles, but the absences hit harder. If the lyrics don’t bring enough emotion, the harpsichord solo in the middle will – it always does. The copy of Rubber Soul that made its way into my room had a slight scratch in it, on side two, in “In My Life,” right after the solo. That’s the way I always expect to hear the song, and it’s strange not to hear the scratch. The first time I played the song off of a CD, on the radio, I even felt the loss of the popping of the vinyl. If that’s not a summation of the power of music, then I don’t know what is.

Take a moment and remember your places, lovers, and friends.  You can hear “In My Life” by clicking here.



One thought on “Ten Albums: The Beatles, Rubber Soul (1965)

  1. Good pick – this is a fantastic album. The whole thing was written and recorded in just 4 weeks (Oct 12 – Nov 15, 1965) and released December 3 in the UK, December 6 in the US – just in time for Christmas. Let me say that again: 4 weeks! The thought of that leaves me flabbergasted.

    In the 2012 edition of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Rubber Soul ranked at #5.

    My personal top 5 tracks:
    5. I’m Looking Through You
    4. Drive My Car
    3. Michelle
    2. Norwegian Wood
    1. In My Life

    Worth at least one listen is the 2005 cover album: This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute To The Beatles’ Rubber Soul


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