Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Rubber Soul (AM9)

In between the incidental ditties of the formative Beatle years and the drug-influenced genius that graced Revolver, Rubber Soul broke free the shackles of early pop/rock structure. With a bag-full of ideas and tripping heads (George Harrison said, "We were smoking weed for breakfast"), Producer George Martin dissected the Beatles mindset and put down on tape the first Beatles album that pulled away from their pop orientated (and lucrative) roots. The endless 60s flow of teenage love songs could only ebb, and the Beatles were the first to know it. Lennon's "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" was the first Beatles song that really left the listener thinking, and wanting more as soon as it ended. Here was Lennon escaping through song the clutches of the Beatles' goldfish bowl, slipping effortlessly out of the bullshit: "'Norwegian Wood' is my song completely," John said. "It was about an affair I was having. I was very careful and paranoid because I didn't want my wife, Cyn, to know that there really was something going on outside of the household. I'd always had some kind of affairs going on, so I was trying to be sophisticated in writing about an affair... but in such a smoke-screen way that you couldn't tell. But I can't remember any specific woman it had to do with." The simplistic verse-chorus-verse of "In My Life" was another class effort by Lennon proving "Norwegian Wood" was no fluke. "Nowhere Man" was one of Lennon's first truly introspective songs, a theme Lennon would explore throughout his career especially on his Plastic Ono LP. It's interesting to ponder Lennon's thoughts at the time and try at least to comprehend the madness of Beatlemania.

McCartney’s "Drive My Car" created a rock backbeat more expressive than anything that kicked off any Beatles LP to that point, yet Rubber Soul is better defined as a folk rock album, kind of like the Beatles Unplugged, with "Norwegian Wood" laying the groundwork. Other songs bearing the winds of change include the weedy "Girl," a bittersweet acoustic ballad, the meditative "In my Life" and George Harrison's unexpected masterpiece, "If I needed someone," which emancipated him as a songwriter. While John looked on as the Bob Dylan of British pop, Paul used the rest of the space on the LP to perfect his sweet pop gems. "You won’t see me" and "I’m Looking Through You" are rarely talked about, but only because they're left to fight for ones attention next to the LP's ├╝ber-tracks. 

As with all the Beatles' albums through Revolver, the US version was different from its British Parlophone counterpart. Four tracks were removed including some of the album's best songs ("Drive My Car," "Nowhere Man," and "If I Needed Someone"), and two tracks were added in place of the four, "I've Just Seen a Face" and "It's Only Love," from the UK version of Help! For me it's like a lesser alternative universe where "Drive My Car" and "Nowhere Man" aren't a part of Rubber Soul, but at least the replacements are quality. A side effect of the addition of these songs is a Byrds-like feel to the album accentuating the folk rock vibe, and perhaps that was what was intended by Capitol for the American audience. Rubber Soul (US) is one of the few essential Capitol releases.

Essentially, Rubber Soul is where The Beatles' weariness at being "The Beatles," first heard on the cynically titled Beatles For Sale, reached critical mass. Dylan's spirit is all over these folk-inflected soul-searching tunes, with Lennon particularly elevating the reflectively impressionistic quality of his lyrics. A haze of gentle experimentation permeates the songs with sophisticated arrangements that include sitars, harpsichords, impenetrable layers of acoustic and electric guitars, and most sublimely, the most gorgeously layered vocal harmonies imaginable sans the Wilsons.

Smack dab in the middle of their career, The Beatles managed to attain the apogee of light infectious pop and usher in the age of art-rock in one fell swoop. The kicker is that Rubber Soul remains a vital, fresh and wonderful listening experience, rather than a much celebrated, but hardly worth playing, museum piece.

The double A-sided "Day Tripper" b/w "We Can Work it Out" were recorded during the same sessions, but, per Beatles/Parlophone policy were not included on the album (singles released prior to an album's debut were removed from the LP). The Rubber Soul sessions catapulted the mop tops into artists.

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