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The Beatles - Rubber Soul CD (album) cover

RUBBER SOUL

The Beatles

 

Proto-Prog

3.94 | 724 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars The first of my two Beatle masterpieces

I will go to my grave fighting the widely held, errant belief that Revolver and Abbey Road are the best Beatles albums. For when one strips away the flowery frosting and looks to the most important factor of great songwriting, it is the material recorded just prior to these albums that are the finest Beatle recordings: Rubber Soul and Let It Be. I can already hear the howling out there and the rolling of every pair of eyes, but alas, for these two albums I shall suffer the disdain of my peers.

Rubber Soul was released in December of 1965 closing out another fantastic year for the lads. They had resolved to write all original material for this one and spend much more time in the studio. I believe they logged over 100 hours on this, probably extravagant at the time, these days just enough time for Big Star X to arrange the candles and schedule tee times for midday break. Revolver is worshiped by every rock rag as the greatest album ever and that seems to common belief by many music fans but I've never agreed. It is heralded for breaking ground but in truth the complexity level is not so different that what came a few months before it. Revolver has a bit more icing on the edges I will admit, these nice little effects and tricks designed to show off their newly acquired trippy muscles. So the boys dragged more stuff out of the closet and the prog heads see this as some huge advancement toward progressive rock. I think not. Revolver was made with the assistance of LSD and the boys were pushing things but the icing doesn't make a better cake. In fact Revolver is like Rubber Soul-part 2 but the original has a bit more magic and impressive original songwriting.

John Lennon called Rubber Soul "the pot album" for the great inspiration this substance had here. Well meaning folks will say you don't need drugs to make good music, and while this certainly is true for many artists, these folks are being intellectually dishonest if they fail to acknowledge the significant impact THC had on many of the recording artists of this period. For while the talent must be there to begin with, newbie marijuana use no doubt lowered inhibition and gave the artist just another avenue into somewhat more fantastic ideas and arrangements than might otherwise have been obvious, at a time when it was not considered as threatening as it is today. It was artistically liberating and helpful to many musicians any way you slice it. I believe the "more and harder" drugs the Beatles would eventually dive into did not help them artistically beyond a certain point, but on Rubber Soul the newness and innocence of the period experience is so obviously a positive, joyful vibe that permeates every track. I agree with Philip Norman's assessment in "Lennon" that about half the album consists of great pop tracks that confirmed them as creators of the "catchiest, classiest, edgiest pop around." And that the other half of the songs "were of an order so different, so vastly superior, it was hard to believe they sprang from the same musicians or moment in time....these owed nothing to any other current pop sound and fit no known categories."

The album opens with another solid Beatle single in "Drive My Car." Then comes a Lennon masterpiece up there with "Yesterday," the phenomenal "Norwegian Wood." John's lines about this encounter are pure poetry of the highest order, complete with a slightly mysterious ending if you think about it. The accompanying Harrison sitar part is so perfectly suited because it adds just the right exotic touch, but his part remains simple so as not to overpower it, as that instrument easily could. Lennon would easily outshine McCartney on Rubber Soul, something not true of every album. The disillusioned majesty of "Nowhere Man" is another gem. The incredible vocal of "Girl" where an incredulous John audibly inhales/sighs to express that which words left short. What a great moment. There is the tender and melancholic "In My Life" which any of us can relate to as a nostalgic love letter to our past and our future. Martin's brilliant solo is actually Bach inspired piano but he toyed with the recording speed to make it sound a bit like Harpsichord. (Like John's breathing on Girl, this was another trick that actually worked for something important, as opposed to some of the overkill effects on Revolver and Pepper that were just dressing.) McCartney's best moment was the perfectly sweetened (but not too much) romanticism of "Michelle" with its lovely guitar/bass, harmonies, and bit of French (another meaningful touch). George contributed two strong tracks and was beginning to show that he could produce to a good level despite being trapped in a band with a team like Lennon/McCartney. "Think for Yourself" has killer vocals and feature Paul on a fuzzed up bass part for a distinct sound.

Rubber Soul will remain the iconic masterpiece of the mid 1960s in my personal opinion, showcasing a band at the height of their unity, talent, and potential for fun. Listen again to them both, and listen first and foremost to the quality of the songs, not the special effects or backwards tapes nonsense. You'll find songs of equal quality for the most part, but those of Rubber Soul packing a bit more magic and meaning in their beautiful simplicity. One of the greatest recordings of all time.

Finnforest | 5/5 |

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