The Word is Love

RUBBER SOUL

Rubber Soul holds a special place in my Beatles iconography as it is the first album I bought at the time it came out. Actually I got lucky, we were in Germany and a lots of goods were tax free. That immediately cut the price by 25% but we were also allowed on to Allied bases and just 20 miles from Hamm was Soest and the legendary Canadian Army PX. Just like today, and all times in between, albums were cheaper in North America, so you could get an album then for around a £1, about 60% of what we would normally pay. However this also meant that you were at the vagaries of whatever was fashionable in Canada, which fortunately at that time, like the rest of the world, did include the Beatles.

I’ve commented previously on how every Beatles album had a track that sounded like an unreleased single. This time they were legion, indicating the quality of their writing, playing and collaborations in the studio.

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys commented to his wife at the time that every track was a classic and then went off and wrote Pet Sounds as a riposte, despite Mike Love’s effort to stop him. Our own teenage response to Rubber Soul was an endless debate about what the best track was. Michelle, Girl and Norwegian Wood gained early support back in 1965.

I was 15 when I first heard Rubber Soul, trapped in Boarding School, abandoned in my little German enclave, and without access to Top of The Pops just before Pirate Radio rescued us when it seemed to colonise all of Europe in 1966. For me personally it was 1962 all over again.

With Rubber Soul The Beatles moved from cultural heroes to counter-cultural heroes, almost, like Orson Welles, living their lives backwards. Only their lives were even more remarkable than the Citizen with the mark of Kane, and they didn’t lose any of their booming popularity, beep, beep yeah.

So, as was customary, they gave us a bright and cheerful opening track to hook us in; old pros and consummate entertainers. Drive My Car, driving song; metaphor or opening gambit? Or Both?

Awake now? Ready to take a journey?

Stop two and we are already flirting with the counter-culture. Lennon was just flirting and here is the result. Sitar-driven, reflective and sad, strumming our faces with the oriental otherness of its drones and a Scandinavian minimalism, here is Norwegian Wood, which I first heard in Germany, or should I say it sounded very strange back then…

We certainly found Norwegian Wood strangely different at the time, although it eventually became oddly normal, as indeed the Beatles always were. So, perhaps, because of that oddness the next track was more good quality reliable, but standard Beatles fare from their classic mid-period (see Unbutchered for more). You Wont See Me meant that the punters didn’t disappear over the hills and far away. What do you think?

Next here’s a real classic from the man disappearing in plain sight and, in Yellow Submarine, also in a range of psychedelic hues.  Nowhere Man, a bit like you and bit like me; well it felt like it to me. This time the Beatles jangly chimes kept the song upbeat whilst the lyrics question where, and who, we are. What’s your point of view?

This time George provided the answer, showing his growing stature in the band, hey it’s only Lennon and McCartney you’ve go to best George! Think for Yourself maintains the lyrical theme of talking about us whilst talking about themselves, and also copping a little fuzz guitar in the backing. Folk Rock that develop the albums alt.Beatles theme. 

Say the word, here comes the counter-culture. Our broadcast ambassadors spread the word so we could be like thee. For me this was the theme of Rubber Soul, the word is love, and we are all around. The pop poets announced it officially in this missive, which I’ve always loved.  This wasn’t just a little post-war colouring of our lives, it wasnt just cheerful optimism in the face of endless disasters and permanent rationing, this was celebrating us and announcing the possibility of a new era. Post-war gloom was over and culture was capable of change and it came from the Mersey margins and infiltrated the walls of the Establishment! Well I like it anyway. See what you think – The Word

Phew, well when you can’t take it any higher, take it down, pick up an old “exi” sweater and chill.  Michelle was kinda Paul’s Yesterday for Rubber Soul, but this time everyone kicked in and, like most of Rubber Soul, it tried something different. Nice clean guitar picking and everyone worked to make it really sound like a Beatles song as they, now happily, continued to broaden their musical palette.  Lots of my older friends rated this the best track on the album at the time.  You?

And that is just side one, say what? Five classics? Take a breather? OK Ringo, come on give us a breather. What Goes On? Go, go go! Hey George is outplaying you on your own song, come on, come on…What Goes On;

Because here is a big one, Girl. Several of my friends also really went for this at the time it came out, quickly identifying it as the best track on the album. Lennon starts off with a rhetorical trick worthy of Serge Gainsbourg “is there anybody going to listen to my story?” You tit Lennon, the whole world is going to listen, we’ve earnt our day of pleasure and the nice bit of Greek you’ve put in the background. Very sensual, and sucks you in to its doubt and the mystery. Girl; one of the most mysterious words there is, even when the word is love. 

The pre-cursor to We Can Work It Out, recorded a month later, Pauls’ I’m Looking Through You works best in the American version with George’s false start which just adds the right amount of humility to a song telling Jane Asher off. But the lyric keeps harmony with the albums major theme, things have changed and it seems that Paul is looking through us. This is another song of ambiguity and change from late 1965, cheerful, doubting and unresolved.

And what are we leaving behind as we move into the counter-culture? My Life. In My Life John tells us what he has to move on from; is he setting up Working Class Hero with this song? Rolling Stone rate it the 23rd best song of all time, which places it the seventh best Beatles song in their list. Q had it fifth. Do you know what? I  completely did not notice it when it came out; didn’t sound much like DayTripper to me. But a scouse friend of mine (hi Kevin!) picked it as his favourite song. And, you know, In his Life he is right.

But Wait! John’s gonna cheer us up after that seemingly doleful autobiography and he’s coming back home and then “we’ll forget the tears” and in Beatles we trust to rock us; again! Not a great song but a perfect pick-me-up after the reflective grandeur of In My Life. Here is a lovely video of Wait focussing on John and The Beatles

George then come’s back with If I Needed Someone, which holds its own with the rest of the album with confident ease, benefiting from the solid folk-rock jangle that the Beatles deploy throughout the album. There is a great clip of the Beatles playing this live at Budokan, but it has been taken down. So here is a video that lets us appreciate George’s role in the group and the song. Oops EMI & Guy Hands have removed the tribute so I need a video for George; If I Needed Someone

Then finally the false note of misogyny from Lennon in Run for Your Life Sounds like the same group we have been listening to on Rubber Soul but the lyrics are terrible. Lennon did this much better on Jealous Guy, but this is jealous and beyond cruel. Makes it a weak end to an awesome album. Daft punk;

If you enjoyed this post you might enjoy my story about Rubber Soul on 9 after 909.

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3 Responses to “The Word is Love”

  1. […] A YouTube version of this post on Rubber Soul is available on A Beatles YouTube Album […]

  2. […] now they had gone monochrome; Beatles in Black. The opening “Lennon trilogy” points the way to Rubber Soul and actually their outlier genius is readily apparent on some of the songs, such as the opener No […]

  3. […] and their sound was evolving. After their first break to prepare an album since Hard Days Night, Rubber Soul revealed the softer folk-rock band Beatles. For the rest of the sixties they would Drive My […]

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