“I think Rubber Soul was the first of the albums that presented a new Beatles to the world. Up to this point, we had been making albums that were rather like a collection of their singles and now we really were beginning to think about albums as a bit of art in their own right. We were thinking about the album as an entity of its own and Rubber Soul was the first one to emerge in this way.”-Beatles producer George Martin
“I’d never heard a collection of songs that were all that good before… They’re about a lot of different things, but they all go together, somehow… When we were listening to it that night I said to myself, ‘Now I’m gonna make an album just as good as Rubber Soul.’… It inspired me to do my own thing, and so the next morning I went to the piano and wrote “God Only Knows”“-Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys
My experience listening to the Beatles is not unlike my experience watching the first 2 Godfather films. Being born just on this side of the 21st century, I grew up in a world where a lot of people believed that the Beatles are the greatest band ever and that The Godfather and its sequel are the greatest films ever, but nobody ever really explained why. When I got old enough to actually watch The Godfather and truly listen to the Beatles it didn’t take long for me to understand why. But as time went on and I spent more time with the music of the fab 4 and Coppola’s crime masterworks, understanding turned to appreciation. I learned the historical and cultural contexts surrounding these great works and realized the monumental impact they had. I started to hear the Beatles in countless songs released post-Beatles and I started to see The Godfather in movies and TV after the mid-70’s. I started to realize that this music and these movies are so many things all at the same time: ferociously entertaining without sacrificing any measure of depth, outrageously influential without being inaccessible, highly artistic without feeling pretentious. Plus, they’re just so damn fun and never get old. Many have tried to replicate the Beatles and the works of Coppola and all have fallen short. Coppola, however, didn’t get his start as a well dressed, clean cut, heartthrob teen idol.
The Beatles may have gone on to be, likely, the most influential group of musical artists since the advent of electricity, but the 4 boys from Liverpool originated purely as a boy band. Even in the early days when they were more pop singers than anything, Lennon and McCartney were pushing the songwriting boundaries of the day, mixing elements of folk music with pop beats and rock instrumentation for some of the catchiest songs to grace the radio at that point. Even right when they started, Lennon and/or McCartney were writing the majority of their songs. The fab 4 swept the world and, as Lennon infamously said during Beatlemania, it felt like the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus”, which makes the decision they collectively made in 1965 kind of shocking. The boys had matured, and whether it was Bob Dylan introducing them to marijuana on tour or genuine personal growth, the Beatles made an active decision to focus more on being great artists than great entertainers. Today’s album is the 6th by the most famous boy band in history and the first step in their transition from successful boy band to genuine greatness. Released in 1965, it’s Rubber Soul by the Beatles.
One great thing about the Beatles is that there is no consensus pick best album from their discography. There is a class of Beatles albums that are just a cut above the rest, though, and Rubber Soul absolutely qualifies to be put next to Sgt. Pepper’s…, Abbey Road, and Revolver. As whole, it isn’t as polished as Abbey Road, as influential as Sgt. Pepper’s, or as free as the white album, but end to end Rubber Soul is packed with high quality, fun, creative songs that never depart from being pop, but certainly stretch the boundaries. Be it the unorthodox instrumentation of “Norwegian Wood”, suggestive nature of “Drive My Car”, esoteric poetry of “Nowhere Man”, mixture of French and English lyricism of “Michelle” or the beautiful, honest nostalgia of “In My Life”, Rubber Soul packs a lot of ideas into a 35 minute run time. The compositions, arrangements, lyricism, everything on display here is as excellent 56 years later as it was when it was released.
By 1965 nobody was doing any writing for Beatles songs outside of the core 4. On this album in particular, George Harrison had started to really come into his own as a songwriter and is responsible for 3 of the tracks on this excellent album. The remaining 11 songs are some combination of Lennon and/or McCartney who, by this point, were ready to start seriously building their cases for being among the greatest songwriters to ever put pen to paper. The high point on this album, in my eyes, comes in the 11th track, co-authored by Lennon and McCartney and one of the songs that, in the following years, all 4 Beatles considered among the best songs they’d ever made: “In My Life”. John and Paul may have only been 25 years old at the time of writing it, but “In My Life” displays a mature and competent pair of songwriters pulling genuine emotions from their own experiences to create an absolutely timeless and universal song. “In My Life” is reflective, thinking back on the people and places that come and go in all of our lives. “Some forever, not for better” Lennon sings, perfectly capturing the song’s mood which is neither solemn nor cheerful. It’s not quite bittersweet, definitely nostalgic, and terrifically honest. The iconic opening guitar riff, terrific, simple use of advanced compositional techniques, and that wonderful keyboard solo in the last half of the song, I really couldn’t ask for more out of a song. Coming in just under 2 and a half minutes long in a 35 minute long album, “In My Life” and Rubber Soul might be, pound for pound, some of the best pop music ever written. And you can take that to the bank.
I could write forever about the Beatles, but I feel as though my job is done here. I’d encourage pretty much anybody to give this album a listen and, hopefully, if you spend enough time with the Beatles, you can come to understand why so many revere them among musicians. At the very least, I hope that you can understand why I love them so much.
Thanks for reading, see you next month.