The Beatles "Rubber Soul"

The Beatles Set a New Direction

The Beatles
The Robert Freeman cover of "Rubber Soul" from 1965. Apple Corps Ltd.

Rubber Soul was my favourite album, even at the time. I think that it was the best one we ever made. We did spend a bit more time on it and tried new things.”

So said George Harrison of this landmark Beatle album, one which marked a real change of direction for the band. “We were suddenly hearing sounds that we weren’t able to hear before. We were being influenced by other people’s music and everything was blossoming; including us, because we were still growing”.

It was December 1965 and the Beatle bubble was showing no sign of bursting. However, the Beatles themselves were tired (and who wouldn’t be given the whirlwind of fame, work, public appearances and pressure to perform in which they found themselves?). And they were beginning to tire of playing the same old songs to stadiums of screaming fans with bad sound and no one really listening anyway.

They were moving on, and Rubber Soul is the first inkling that they could be something more than just four mop-top pop stars from Liverpool, something deeper and more enduring.

The song writing on this record moves into a new gear, with tracks like “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” using sophisticated wordplay to describe an affair; the fun and ambiguity of the lyrics to “Drive My Car” (on the UK version of the album); and incorporating French lyrics into “Michelle”. There’s a high degree of maturity in self-referential and introspective compositions like Lennon’s “In My Life” and “Nowhere Man” (again, only heard on the UK version); there’s writing about love in new ways in “The Word”; and the bitterness that can exist within relationships in songs like “I’m Looking Through You” and “You Won’t See Me”.

It's The Beatles beginning to re-imagine what popular music could be.

There is experimentation with instrumentation too, for example the sitar on “Norwegian Wood”, the bouzouki sounds on “Girl”; the creative drumming and percussion Ringo uses on “In My Life”; the speeded up keyboard solo (sounding like a baroque harpsichord) on the same track; and funky fuzz bass on “Think For Yourself” - just a couple examples of the band stretching the envelope musically.

They’d also lifted the game too in the area of production values and recording techniques by starting to use the studio itself as an instrument, setting out on a path they’d take for the rest of their career as a band.  

The US version of Rubber Soul, like all the US Capitol releases to date, was different to its UK counterpart, but less so than had been the case for previous releases. As was their habit, Capitol excised ”Nowhere Man”, “Drive My Car”, “ If I Needed Someone”, and “What Goes On” from the British running order for Rubber Soul and saved them for the next US Beatle album Yesterday and Today, which was to be released in 1966. In their place were substituted the acoustic tracks “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “It’s Only Love”, which Capitol had in reserve already from the British version of the Help! LP. The result was that the US edition was a genuinely strong folk-rock contender (think The Byrds and Bob Dylan) - a sound that was really hitting big. Capitol’s changes therefore produced a different but very strong LP.

For the first time Capitol kept the same artwork to the British cover, front and back, apart from small details like record company logos. This is the first Beatle album not to display the band's name on the front.

That front cover (by well-known photographer Robert Freeman) shows a somber Beatles, the image distorting their faces to look even longer. This was the result of a happy accident. When Freeman was showing the group his proposed cover shots he was projecting the images onto an LP-sized sheet of cardboard. At one point the cardboard slipped slightly backwards. The band loved the effect and it stayed, one more iconic image to add to the list (not to mention the cool brown leather jacket John Lennon is wearing!).

Rubber Soul stands the "classic record" test of time. It contains some of The Beatles’ very best work: “Norwegian Wood”, “Girl”, “In My Life”, “Michelle”, “Drive My Car”, “The Word”. It raised the bar and set a new direction, a direction the band would build on time and again from that point on.