By Solly Sussman
For as long as I can remember, The Beatles have always been a part of my life. Growing up with my grandparents who were Beatles fanatics, it seemed like destiny for me to at least like The Beatles. From a very young age, whenever my grandma and I were driving in the car, she would put in the CD “1”, a compilation of every number 1 hit from The Beatles. Over the next few years, however, I would go on to forget about the band and why their music was so impactful on my life. After downloading Spotify in my first year of yeshiva in Israel, I decided to try to get back into The Beatles. I closed my eyes to pick a random album in their catalog and landed on Rubber Soul.
Rubber Soul is the sixth studio album by The Beatles. The Beatles consisted of John Lennon (Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar), Paul McCartney (Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar), George Harrison (Lead Guitar, Vocals), and Ringo Starr (Drums, Percussion). Their previous album Help had received a different kind of attention from the public. Sales were high as usual, but the album also received a lot of highbrow critical acclaim.
The same month as Help’s release, the band kicked off yet another tour, beginning at Shea Stadium in New York. This concert was a turning point for the band. After two years of playing, The Beatles began to lose interest in touring as a whole. Screaming girls prevented them from hearing their own instruments. When they got back into the studio, their goal for the album was not to recreate their previous records, but to compose a complete artistic expression. They didn’t have much time however, their record deal with EMI up to that point required two albums per year. With Help coming out in August, the band needed to act quickly.
In the lead up to this next album, the band produced two non-album singles: “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out.” Those two singles, along with the rest of the album, were recorded and finished in less than a month, and, in December 1965, Rubber Soul was released.
Right off the bat with the opener, “Drive My Car,” something feels different. I’m thinking that there must have been something in the air while they were recording this, and, truth be told, it was probably the marijuana. In fact, bandmate John would go on to say that Rubber Soul is “The Pot Album.” While the boys weren’t actually smoking while recording, they would smoke between sessions. Despite being under the influence, the recording process was actually more focused this time as the band was determined to use the studio as an instrument more than ever.
In my opinion, the determination paid off. This is the most full-sounding album The Beatles had made up until that point. The greater presence of low end emphasizes that full sound, which gives way to stellar tracks. Take for example the second track “Norwegian Wood,” which shows the band experimenting with Indian music by adding sitar, helping add to the environment the song creates. There are even intimate ballads with songs like “Michelle” or “Girl,” the excellent vocal harmonies on “Nowhere Man” or “The Word.” Although John and Paul wrote the majority of the songs, George got a chance to shine with his two tracks “Think For Yourself” and “If I Needed Someone.”
My favorite track on the album has to be “In My Life,” which I believe to be a perfect song. It’s a remarkable encapsulation of nostalgia, with just the right balance between wistfulness and heartache as well as one of the band’s most emotional songs in my opinion. Compared to the rest of the record, the closer, “Run For Your Life,” is pretty lackluster. Musically the song is okay, but the lyrics read like it’s about a murderer chasing someone. It’s a weirdly maudlin note on which to end an otherwise beautiful and introspective album. Rubber Soul, in my opinion, is the first truly great Beatles album. The albums before this are fine in their own right, but Rubber Soul is the first to feel truly cohesive.
You may think that an experimental album like Rubber Soul might not do as well as the other previous records. Thankfully, the album not only sold millions, but it also earned the band a newfound level of critical and artistic respect. The record inspired Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys to make the album Pet Sounds, which many consider to be one of the greatest albums ever made. It made Mick Jagger from The Rolling Stones to start writing his own material, and it gave John Cale and Lou Reed the idea to form The Velvet Underground. The album was a milestone achievement for The Beatles and is one of the most important records of the 1960’s.