“Rubber Soul” by The Beatles (No. 8)
Famed Rock critic Robert Christgau called Rubber Soul “when The Beatles began to go arty.” Reductive, perhaps, but also true.
Rubber Soul is not as adventurous as Sgt. Pepper or The Beatles, but it brings in elements that the band couldn’t reproduce on stage. And it also deals with some more mature themes than previous Beatles albums, albeit obliquely.
The album doesn’t jump right in to experimental tunes, though. “Drive My Car” is standard issue Beatle-y goodness that would have been right at home on Help! or Hard Day’s Night. It’s catchy, fun, and straight to the point.
“Norwegian Wood” brings in the sitar and an unusual (for the time) rhythm. And the lyrics! Tame by today’s standards, but pretty heady for 1965. Or so I’m told, anyway, I wasn’t alive quite yet. Also standout vocals from John Lennon here.
“You Won’t See Me,” is a solid contribution. When I say “solid contribution” I mean, “yet another awesome Beatles rock/pop song that puts most of their contemporaries to shame.”
“Nowhere Man,” is one of Rubber Soul‘s standouts. Hell, it’s one of The Beatles’ standouts, and that’s saying something. This is Lennon reaching beyond the usual confines of the day’s pop songs and getting a bit philosophical.
George Harrison’s cynicism shines through
“Think for Yourself” is one of two George Harrison’s contributions to the album. Nice fuzzy guitar here, and a massive dollop of cynicism from Harrison. “Try thinking more, if just for your own sake.” Harrison’s just writing the subject of the song off, much like Paul McCartney later in the album with “I’m Looking Through You.”
Let me be honest for a second, I had a fucking hard time as a kid figuring out the lyrics to “Michelle.” I’d just sort of mumble along with the French bits and assumed it was some deep, deep stuff that McCartney was laying down here. It’s still one of McCartney’s best melodies, though.
Also the implied pot inhaling sort of sailed right by me as a kid listening to “Girl.” I was too busy enjoying the hell out of the tune, and considering the lyric “was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure.” Much more melancholy than your standard Beatles tune.
I should mention the sole Ringo Starr number on Rubber Soul, “What Goes On.” This is a Carl Perkins-inspired number if there ever was one. Like Ringo, it’s damned fun and you can’t help but smiling and tapping your toes along with the beat.
“In My Life” is the best of the best of The Beatles
The highlight of Rubber Soul for me is “In My Life.” I was moved by this as a kid, I’ve been moved by it more with every passing year. I prefer the original to Johnny Cash’s cover on American IV, but only by a margin you’d need an electron microscope to see. “And these memories lose their meaning / when I think of love as something new.” That’s potent stuff, man.
When I set out to do the top 100, one of the “rules” I gave myself was no more than three albums per group. This was challenging for a few of the bands (R.E.M., Robyn Hitchcock, The Smiths, as examples), but The Beatles? Holy crap. I had to think very carefully about which three Beatles albums I’d allow myself.
Rubber Soul had to be on the list for “In My Life,” and because it was the first real steps into The Beatles really coming into their own. Now, I don’t need to tell you to listen to this if you haven’t already, do I?