by Rick Krueger
I’ve already written here about how, in late November 1977, this album grabbed me and has never let go. Rubber Soul is (to paraphrase my previous comments) a sharp, cogent take on the folk rock fad of the time, mixing in flavors of soul, Indian ragas and Baroque elegance, with words matching the music’s new maturity. It’s the sound of the Beatles downshifting and heading for new destinations, ready to move beyond shaking their moptops to a big beat and basking in the resulting screams.
There are no duds on either the British or the American versions of this album. The UK Rubber Soul kicks off with “Drive My Car” — an exuberant Stax pastiche, a knowing mutual flirtation sketched in three-part harmony, topped with that goofy “beep-beep-yeah” tag on the chorus. The US version, in contrast, starts with “I’ve Just Seen A Face” (from the British Help!) — Paul McCartney breathlessly singin’ and strummin’ a tale of new infatuation, a stream of consciousness laced with unexpected internal rhymes. Neither was at all typical of the Fabs; both sound wonderfully fresh, setting the tone for a different kind of Beatles record.
How many changes can you ring on the classic love song? Rubber Soul shows how far the genre could stretch: surrealism with sitar (John peppering “Norwegian Wood” with non sequiturs a la Bob Dylan); break-ups with a backbeat (Paul’s “You Won’t See Me,” eventually covered with even more swagger by Anne Murray); suffering with added social comment (John’s “Girl,” featuring a chorus that’s just the title word and a deep, frustrated breath). Ringo Starr does a country heartbreak turn on “What Goes On”; George Harrison glumly protects his personal space on the Byrds homage “If I Needed Someone.” And this isn’t even including Paul’s earnest “Michelle,” which, if you were an easy listening artist and had already done “Yesterday,” quickly became the next Beatles tune to cover.
But what’s made Rubber Soul my ultimate touchstone for all things Fab is John’s “In My Life.” It’s hard to top the reflectiveness and wisdom of these lyrics (in fact, I would argue that Lennon’s most famous songs are far less mature). Every year they resonate more for me:
There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all
But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
Set to a lovely mid-tempo lope, with George Martin’s getting his Bach on for a gracious piano interlude, “In My Life” is evidence enough that, after Rubber Soul, both the Beatles and rock music would never be the same. Listen to the album here:
Other Favorites by the Beatles: Well, the whole catalog, really. But other favorites among the favorites are (as I’ve mentioned before), A Hard Day’s Night, Revolver, Abbey Road, and whatever Beatles album I’ve listened to last.
The Byrds: Essential Byrds (compilation); There Is A Season (box set); Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Inspired by A Hard Day’s Night, the Byrds added Dylan, folk and country to the mix and made magic. “Turn Turn Turn” is another song I never tire of hearing.
Cheap Trick: Heaven Tonight; At Budokan. The Fab Four (pure pop version) of the late 1970s. With added harder rock and wacky stage moves.
The Chipmunks: The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles. The first album my parents ever bought me. Apparently I was tired of The Sound of Music.
Marshall Crenshaw: Marshall Crenshaw; Field Day, The pride of Berkley, Michigan, replete with Beatlemania stage credentials.
The Smithereens: Blown to Smithereens (compilation); Meet the Smithereens (cover version of the complete U.S. album Meet the Beatles). The Fab Four (pure pop version) of the late 1980s.