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Rubber Soul is Fifty Years Old Today

December 3, 2015


Yes, on December 3rd, 1965, Rubber Soul was released.  It’s what, with the dubious and distorting effect of hindsight, gets called a “transitional” record.  It feels like more than an envelope containing songs, but it also feels too naive and straightforward to be offering any sort of “concept” – or even leitmotif.

Lennon in particular was never very interested in judging albums in their entirety, regarding them merely as containers for performances.  McCartney felt rather differently.  Albums are of course all about the medium vinyl which defined the albums’s golden age (1965-1980).  Rather than go to the trouble of trying to pick up the needle and place it at various points on an LP disc – people resigned themselves (yes oh children they did) to listening to twenty minutes of song at a time, in a particular order.  Sequencing used, therefore, to be important.

But it’s good to remember this, fifty years on – an unreservedly happy anniversary.

Drive My Car.   This was one of my late lamented Dad’s favorite songs.  He used to enjoy singing the punchline.  It’s got a superb “let’s get things started” kind of riff.  This song belongs where it is.

Norwegian Wood.   Ah, the sitar.  A new sound.  A song that isn’t about love, especially, but about a rambling anecdote that isn’t really going anywhere.  The fire which might be arson.  It’s Sternean.  It’s loopy, but the drone makes you feel that this song is less structured than it actually is.

You Won’t See Me.  Not everyone knows that You Won’t See Me was the longest Beatles song recorded up to that point.  I’ve always enjoyed its close harmonies and elegant backing vocals.

Nowhere Man.   My first exposure to this song was in the context of Yellow Submarine – a film which haunted and fascinated my childhood. Though this song is condemned by the ever saturnine Ian McDonald, I’ve always loved its sadness and borderline preachy compassion.  The song is “treacly” as they say.  I regard that as a good thing.

Think for Yourself.  This is George Harrison at his most severe and grumpy and finger wagging.  The guitar is rather fuzzy and obtrusive, overwhelming George’s voice often enough – and that’s not a bad thing.

The Word.   This is one of the earliest hippy anthems you’ll ever hear.  The word is love – not any specific love – but love in the abstract.  It’s not addressed from a man to a woman, but from a preacher to the large.  It almost stumbles over itself with excitement, as though it has suddenly heard of love for the first time.

Michelle.  Maligned as saccharine, but in fact very innovative.  Some of the most delicious guitar playing on this track and I love the kind of desperation with which it lurches into O’ level French in an attempt to try to establish some sort of contact.


What Goes On.  Every Beatles album (except for Hard Day’s Night) involved us hearing Ringo’s voice just once.  And this song really suits his preferred rockabilly note of familiar resignation.

Girl.  I can always imagine Greek dancing going on behind this.  It’s a bit like the soundtrack to the Monty Python Cheese Shop Sketch.

I’m Looking Through You.  You know, Paul is rather more bitter and frustrated than John is on this album.

In My Life.   Ambitious.  Memorable.  Thoughtful.  It’s not just an attempt to retrieve memories – it’s a tentative grasping towards viable subjectivity based on an uncertain continuity of memory.  It’s the prelude to Strawberry Fields Forever.

Wait.   This arrestingly titled song has intriguingly and appropriately stop-start quality to it.  It’s Paul describing a relationship in crisis and lyrically it’s innovative in terms of rhythm rather than imagery.

If I Needed Someone.   Apparently this is the only George Harrison composition actually sung on stage by George Harrison while he was a Beatle.  Well I never.

Run For Your Life.  Well, what can we say?  George Harrison enjoyed his guitar part apparently.  The best that can be said for this casually murderous lyric – later repudiated by its author – is that Lennon “adopts a persona”.


I’ve read various reviews of Rubber Soul which describe it as a “Lennon dominated” album.  But these reviewers tend to assume that In My Life and Norwegian Wood are undiluted Lennon – which they aren’t.  In My Life is a co-composition.  The extent of McCartney’s melodic contribution is in dispute – a dispute that will  never be resolved – but certainly he did contribute – as he did to Norwegian Wood (oddly enough contributing to the lyric as well as the music).  For that matter – Lennon contributed to both Drive My Car and Michelle.  So rather than see it as a Lennon dominated album, I think it adds up to an album that’s very collaborative.

Contemporary fabbology seems to be recovering the full extent of the collaborative element in the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team.  Quite apart from the eye-ball to eye-ball early collaborations – these two used each other creatively nearly all the time.  One would write most of a song and take it to the other, requesting a middle eight, a bridge, a harmony, lyrics for a second verse – or simple affirmation.  Rubber Soul is not about two separate songwriters elbowing for attention – it’s about an extraordinarily equitable partnership.  The people who diss Paul to praise John or (less often) diss John to praise Paul are actually trapped in a very zero-sum kind of head space – more interested in winners and losers than generous pleasure.

Have you heard?  The Word is Love.

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  1. I always liked this one better than Revolver. It’s bursting with great songs, although “Run For Your Life” is creepy in an “Under My Thumb” sort of way…

  2. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    A two year old blog. Rubber Soul is now 52 years of age.

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