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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rubber Soul

It’s a little hard to fathom to vast difference between Help! and Rubber Soul, considering there was only 3 months separating the two albums. But what a difference a few months make. While The Beatles had already been introduced to marijuana by Bob Dylan in early 1965 it was around the time they were recording Help! that George Harrison and John Lennon had some “tea” with George’s dentist and adventured for the first time in the wondrous land of LSD.

Now I don’t want to overstate the significance of drugs in The Beatles’ development but it is maybe a bit myopic to ignore the obvious symmetry; The Beatles discover drugs and within a year their songwriting and arrangements begin to drastically change and mature. The promise of Rubber Soul would not be fulfilled until the release of Revolver a year later, but the one-two punch of these two albums catapulted The Beatles from sugary-sweet pop confectioners to leaders at the fore of the burgeoning drug culture.

And it all began with a bird.

From note one it becomes obvious that Rubber Soul is a different animal entirely from Help!. “Drive My Car” bounds through the speakers with the same infectious quality one has come to expect from a Beatles song, but the lyrics are drier and a ton more tongue in cheek. It’s possible that Paul needs a driver for his car…but somehow I suspect that’s not quite right. But what really sends Rubber Soul into the stratosphere (where it stays for pretty much the rest of the album) is the Indian-inflected beauty of “Norwegian Wood”. Ostensibly a trifling pastry-puff of a folk song, “Norwegian Wood” is the depository for one of the first uses of the Indian sitar in a Western pop recording. Beyond that, Lennon loads so much double entendre into the lyrics that one can’t help feeling they need a bath after listening to the song.

Sex seems to have been on Lennon’s mind a lot in the fall of ’65 since almost every one of his contributions hover around the theme: “Girl”, “Wait”, and “Run For Your Life” all place sexuality, or frustrated sexuality, front and center. Those songs that don’t deal with sex directly are instead concerned with endings, which is perhaps fitting since it’s pretty clear from the beginning of the album that the Old Beatles had long since left the station. In their place is a new brand of pop song, one concerned with arrangement, experimentation, and lyrically exploration. Lennon’s other notable contributions (“In My life”, “Nowhere Man”) are heartfelt, haunting, and a little difficult to reconcile with his previous output. In context with Lennon’s later work, though, these songs are just stepping stones on a continuum that would lead him through the darkness of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “A Day In The Life”, and “I Am The Walrus”.

Paul on the other hand was busy crafting deft pop gems like “I’m Looking Through You”, “You Won’t See Me” and “Michelle”, the latter of which shows McCartney’s uncanny ability to try on different styles at will, a trait that would come to fruition in later albums.

Ringo Starr has claimed that the period between Rubber Soul and Revolver were the most productive and most pleasant memories he has of the band. It was a time when The Beatles were touring stadiums, conquering the globe, and just beginning to tap into the endless possibilities of studio recording. It shows in the recordings. Rubber Soul is a pure pop treat, filled to the brim with remarkable songs of depth and catchiness, but in the end the album is little more than a prelude to the pistol crack The Beatles would launch on an unsuspecting public a mere nine months later.