Monday, 10 March 2014
The Beatles "Rubber Soul" (1965) (Album Review)
"Asked a girl what she wanted to be, she said baby 'can't you see? I want to be famous, a star of the screen - but you can do something in-between!" "I got no car and it's breaking my hearty - but I've found a driver and that's a start!" "I once had a girl, or should I say 'she once had me'?..." "She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh, I told her I didn't and crawled off to sleep in the bath" "Time after time I refuse to even listen, I wouldn't mind if I knew what I was missing!" "He's a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody, doesn't have a point of view, knows not where he is going to do, isn't he a bit like you and me?" "Nowhere man don't worry, take your time don't hurry, leave it all till someone else lends you a hand" "I left you far behind, the ruins of the life that you had in mind, and though you still can't see, your mind's made up, you're going to cause more misery!" "Although your mind's opaque, try thinking more if just for your own sake, the future still looks good, and you've got time to rectify all the things that you should" "Say the word and you'll be free, say the word and be like me, say the word I'm thinking of, have you heard? The word is love, it's so fine, it's sunshine, the word love" "Everywhere I go I hear it said, in the good and the bad books that I have read" "Now that I know what I feel must be right, I'm here to show everybody the light!" "Michelle Ma belle, sont le mots qui vont tres bien ensemble" "I met you in the morning waiting for the tides of time, but now the tide is turning I can see that I was blind" "Is there anybody going to listen to my story, all about the girl who came to stay? She's the kind of girl you want so much it makes you sorry, still you don't regret a single day" "Was she told when she was young that fame would lead to pleasure? Did she understand it when they said that 'a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure'? Will she understand it when he's dead?" "I'm looking through you, where did you go? I thought I knew you, what did I know?" You don't look different buy you have changed, I'm looking through you - you're not the same!" "There are places I'll remember, all my life, though some have changed, some forever not for better, some 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" "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've loved you more" "If I had more time to spend, then I guess I'd be with you my friend, if I needed someone" "Well you know that I'm a wicked guy and I was born with a jealous mind, and I can't spend my whole life trying just to make you toe the line!"
The Beatles "Rubber Soul" (1965)
Drive My Car/Norwegian Wood/You Won't See Me/Nowhere Man/Think For Yourself/The Word/Michelle//What Goes On/Girl/I'm Looking Through You/In My Life/Wait/If I Needed Someone/Run For Your Life
You is the album seen as the 'stepping stone' towards greatness, the one even George Harrison thought of as 'Revolver Part One' and the record George Martin still thinks of as the best Beatles album, as 'deep' as the Beatles got before going all 'weird'. So many times have we heard this line nowadays (when 'Rubber Soul' generally gets voted fourth on the all-time Beatles list, after 'Sgt Peppers' 'Revolver' and 'The White Album') that we've all now come to accept 'Rubber Soul' as something really special as opposed to just the Beatles' latest release just in time for Christmas 1965 as it was considered at the time (the sales of this album are actually behind that for 'Help!') 'Rubber Soul' undoubtedly has a special place in the Beatles' pantheon and somehow it makes sense that it's this album that's slap bang in the middle of the fab four's album discography (if you discount the 'Magical Mystery Tour' - its an EP people! - and the 'Yellow Submarine' soundtrack anyway). Like the blurry, sideways, out of focus album cover (actually the result of an accident, the Beatles' regular photographer Robert Freeman demonstrating what the cover would look like by shining a projection onto a piece of cardboard that suddenly slipped sideways; overjoyed by the results - which made the bEatles look 'different' and 'adult' as per the 'Beatles For Sale' cover but better - the band insisted on the cover being released exactly like that), this record is 'stretched', a tug of war between the 'past' and 'future' going on throughout. As a result, 'Rubber Soul' is an enjoyable but schizophrenic LP, bouncing from genuine moments of inspiration to deadline-pressured rush-recordings and back across its 14 tracks. Interestingly half the original albums pressed have the 'album' lettering in muddy brown and half in gold and no one is quite sure anymore which it should be (a neat mirror of the album's contents, as we'll be seeing). Incidentally, this is the first Beatles album - and as far as I can make out the first album by anyone - not to feature the band name on the front cover, a technique some of the band will use into their solo careers.
In the 'red' corner (well, dark green really)are the songs that point the way towards the future,. Lennon, especially, hasahit a nicely rich vein of songs for this album, having been inspired by a meeting with journalist Keith Allsop who'd been a big fan of the witty wordplay in Lennon's books and had challenged him to write a pop song as deep and intellectual as 'In His Own Write'. Having enjoyed working on more 'autobiographical' songs like 'I'm A Loser' and 'Help!' in the past year - and increasingly turned on by Bob Dylan's first few albums - Lennon attacks this album with gusto, writing two songs that are inspired first-hand by events in his life ('In My Life' and 'Norwegian Wood') and writing two, possibly three more songs about the changes he's experienced across 1965 ('Nowhere Man' 'The Word', possibly 'Girl' depending on which Lennon interview you listen to). Drugs, too, undoubtedly played a part in 'opening' Lennon's mind - the Beatles had started smoking pot during the making of 'Help!' (both film and soundtrack) and both John and George had become recent converts to LSD after their dentist (of all people) spiked their drinks with acid in mid 1965. From here-on in Lennon's music becomes slower and less energetic (even lethargic at times - see 'I'm Only Sleeping') and his lyrics more sub-conscious and less concerned with the band's audience of teenage girls. It's arguably the last time Lennon's songs dominate the band he'd founded (the reason so many of 'us' true Beatles fans love 'revolver' is that its pretty much the only album where both John and Paul are on top form at the same time).
McCartney, too, is growing across this album but for very different reasons. Too sensible to take LSD across 1965 (and worried about its effect on Lennon, as he's since revealed) Paul's mind is being opened - and then closed - by girlfriend Jane Asher and her family. While Lennon's curiosity generally came from things that crossed his path, McCartney loved new experiences and ending up as part of the 'Asher' actress family gave him first-hand access to many of the biggest intellectual names on the 1960s scene (Paul even rang Bertrand Russell for a chat about philosophy after finding his name in the Asher phone-book - the 70-year old writer had never heard of The Beatles but seemed to enjoy the chat all the same). Many of Paul's songs on 'Rubber Soul' are about social climbing and overcoming the stigma he must have felt as a working class Liverpool boy with only a handful of 'O' levels, which ironically left his relationship with Jane in trouble. Macca's songs for 'Rubber Soul' are unusually troubled, with only one love song among them (and one first written as early as 1960 come to that) and lyrically at least are a huge step forward, acknowledging that the course of love isn't always smooth (until now 'Things We Said Today' is the only real example of McCartney's darker side which will be much more in evidence from now on; the single 'We Can Work It Out' was also recorded during these album sessions and McCartney's third song on the same subject would have fitted the album like a glove). Lennon, too, is growing bored with first wife Cynthia but is still unsure what to do about it all (the other side of that single, 'Day Tripper', is another song about an affair that would have fitted on this album nicely; things only speed up when he meets Yoko in 1967, but across 1965 and 1966 Lennon embarked on dozens of affairs, more so than at any time since the band's 'Hamburg' days; 'Norwegian Wood' and possibly 'Girl' are a direct result of these encounters, while 'Run For Your Life' sounds like John's jealousy over rumours Cynthia was doing the same while he was off on tour - a claim she denies to this day).
Notably John Paul and George are all moving away from the idea of 'romance' in their songs. 'The Word' is a huge leap forward for the day (we nominate it as our 'third ever psychedelic song' in one of our top fives, hot on the heels of The Kinks' 'See My Friends' and The Who's B-side 'Circles' and lyrically it's more psychedelic than either). This under-rated song might not have caused the 'peace and love with flowers' movement first-hand, but it's tale of brotherly rather than romantic love was a call-to-arms that influenced many (it's also one of the last songs jointly written by John and Paul and to feature the by now very different hallmarks of both writers together). That song isn't unique though: 'Nowhere Man' is a gorgeous song about loss of identity that makes no reference to love at all, a daring feat for the day; George's 'Think For Yourself', too, is about not being fooled by people who are only pretending to know something and that you can't trust things at face value, an unusual lesson for 1965 and a pointer towards George's 'breakthrough' songs on 'Revolver'. Even the songs about 'love' sound somewhat 'different': 'Drive My Car' ends with the girl falsely luring the narrator into a relationship as her 'chauffeur' before naughtily revealing she hasn't bought a car yet; 'Norwegian Wood' is an affair where the girl gets the better of the narrator so he takes revenge by turning arsonist - a tale of romance a long way from 'Love Me Do'; 'Girl' is hardly a portrait of an ideal romantic encounter either - the narrator sounds almost afraid of his loved one and her intelligence, which may be the single biggest departure on the entire album (there isn't a single rock song this pro-feminist by late 1965, even by girls - the contrast between 'Girl' and 'Run For Your Life', the rather misogynistic final song but first recorded for 'Rubber Soul', is striking and evidence of how quickly Lennon's mind changed over this period).
In the muddy brown corner, however, the Beatles simply didn't have the time to craft the album they really wanted to make (and from 'Revolver' onwards, will have the time to make once they abandon touring). Almost all of these songs were written on the run, recorded after a gruelling tour where everything had seemed to go wrong (the Philippines debacle, when the Beatles snubbed the Marcos family without even knowing it, having refused an invitation they didn't know was from them, happened around here). The Beatles also had less time than normal to make this album, the filming for 'Help!' having delayed that album until The Beatles also had less time than normal to make this album, the filming for 'Help!' having delayed that album until August - a month or two later than most mid-year Beatles LPs - and with pressure from EMI to release another album before Christmas the Beatles had to think fast. Sensibly Brian Epstein, realising the pressure on the band, cancelled their usual 'extra' tour at this time of year and the many BBC sessions the band had been doing regularly up until mid-1965 to concentrate on this LP, the first time the Beatles took over Abbey Road and worked through the night where necessary. Even so, it ever so nearly wasn't enough: no less than four songs were recorded in one long rush on November 11th, a day that EMI had made absolutely clear would be the last possible moment they'd have in order to mix an album and have it out by Christmas (as it happened this delayed the album's till December 4th, the latest they came to releasing an album for the Christmas market). For a time the band toyed with the idea of filling up a large amount of space with a bluesy Booker T-style instrumental they worked hard on (later released on 'Anthology Two' as '12 Bar original'); the title 'Rubber Soul' is a hangover from this period, a joke by Paul who feared that the Beatles attempts to 'do' American soul might get laughed at (a pun on the 'rubber soles' used in shoes - this album is a 'trip' remember, in the drug parlance of the day - he was playing around with the phrase for a while, declaring the first noisy take of B-side 'I'm Down!' recorded in Summer 1965 as 'plastic soul' as heard on 'Anthology Two'; the Beatles always had trouble with names with only 'Sgt Peppers' having a name fairly early on in the project that was still kept by the end). Figuring (rightly) that it would confuse a lot of their fans and smack of the 'money-making' they refused to associate with the Beatles name they solved the problem by reviving some older songs: months old in the case of 'Wait' (which was recorded for 'Help!' but discarded - the only thing the Beatles did to it for 'Rubber Soul' was add more percussion); years old in the case of 'Michelle' (which had started out life as a 'comedy' song McCartney played at parties - he only revived it at Lennon's request and at the last minute; ironically it's this hurried song that became the only Lennon-McCartney composition to ever win a 'grammy') and 'What Goes On' (toyed with as the Beatles' first single this Lennon song dated back to his Quarrymen days, before being handed over to Paul and Ringo for re-writes). Things weren't helped by a band decision to record only their own material for the album (the decision to return to covers after the all-original 'A Hard Day's Night' in July 1964 was a decision taken under pressure for both 'Beatles For Sale' and 'Help!' and by now the Beatles were running out of cover songs they could get up to speed in a matter of days).
Had they had more time to work on it, it's likely 'Rubber Soul' would have been a very different album indeed. One of the first songs written for it was Lennon's 'In My Life', a song which in its first draft talked in much more detail about John's childhood and his memories of Liverpool. Paul, especially was moved by this idea (the melody line he wrote for 'In My Life' is proof of how sympathetic he was to his partner's new direction) and for a time the pair talked about writing a whole album about their childhood; discounting the special case of the Beach Boys' 'Shut Down Volume 2' (a compilation of their 'car' songs) this would most certainly have been the first 'concept album' in rock and roll. As it happened deadlines got in the way, but the Beatles returned to this concept in late 1966 when looking for ways to follow 'Revolver' (the album that would have been 'Sgt Peppers' only yet more deadlines meant that two of the three songs recorded for the project - 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'Penny lane' - got released as a single instead). Then 'Rubber Soul' became a 'comedy' record for a time, inspired by the 'joke' endings on the next batch of Lennon and McCartney songs 'Drive My Car' and 'Norwegian Wood' and in keeping with the mood of late 1965 (when tongue-in-cheek humour was the mood of the day, at least in America). The challenge to John's intellect and Paul's fiery rows with Jane Asher shaped what we have instead, though.
One thing that does very much in 'Rubber Soul's favour is the sound of the album. Every other band from late 1965 onwards thought that writing more complex songs meant more complex recordings and too many great songs are lost under a sea of clutter (the Stones' work, especially their 1967 singles, suffer from this more-is-more feeling). Not 'Rubber Soul', which must be one of the best mixed albums around, in both the Beatles-overseen mono and George Martin-hemmed stereo versions. George's Rickenbacker guitar (inspired by The Byrds) shines and shimmers across this album, Ringo's drums have a kick they won't have until the 'White Album' and even with the stereo's insistence on keeping most of the vocals right-of-centre can't hide how much effort has gone into the harmonies across the album. Only Paul's bass isn't quite as loud as it could be and even then it's louder in the mix than any Beatles album up to this point. Time and again some 'surprise' has been added to each song's arrngement to show just how much thinking has gone on while recording this album: the oh-so Beatlesy sound of the cowbell on 'Drive My Car', the harpsichord solo on 'In My Life', the organ part that blossoms on 'The Word' like the sun coming out, the neat packing percussion on 'I'm Looking Through You' and most famously the plucked sitar part on 'Norwegian Wood' that inspired a million copycat versions. Many of the band's best group performances are here too, with 'Drive My Car' and 'Wait' powered along by a straightforward rattle even only reached previously on 'Ticket To Ride' and 'Help!' whilst the slower, lyrical material like 'Norwegian Wood' and 'Girl' are given a real sense of space. The building blocks of this album aren't always the best to build on (this album was written in an awful hurry after all), but what the Beatles did to these songs while in the studio was nothing short of miraculous. If only the Beatles had been given this much studio time for their other albums, instead of recording on days-off between touring, TV, radio and even pantomime commitments...
In all, then, 'Rubber Soul' finds the Beatles at a crossroads, the band on the verge of giving up touring without quite knowing what to replace their concerts with or even if people will still buy their records without being able to see them in person. The fab four know where they want to go but not necessarily how to get there and certainly not in the timeframe they've been given for making this album. A lot of things people have said about this album are wrong - or at least, they seem wrong to me. 'Rubber Soul' isn't the band's great step forwards - the Beatles have been reaching forward every album from 'With The Beatrles' onwards. The step between 'Help!' and 'Rubber Soul' isn't necessarily the biggest either - there are an awful lot of deep and groundbreaking songs on 'Help!' too, and arguably there's just as much filler on both that album and 'Rubber Soul' (my nomination for the biggest leap forward is the all-original third album 'A Hard Day's Night'). While it's true that parts of 'Rubber Soul' ought to be counted as a 'Revolver Mark One' (with all the hints at groundbreaking songs and experimental recordings that implies), 'Rubber Soul' should be considered every bit as much a 'Help!' part two, the last flowerings of the band's folk roots and with a hurried last few days of recording that don't leave much time for finesse or detail.
Yes, a lot of 'Rubber Soul' is every bit as terrific as music writers often say: it's hard to find a Beatles song as loved and 'complete' as 'In My Life' and 'Nowhere Man' sits in the top five ever Beatles songs for me, both songs saying so much in a little under three minutes each, mini masterpieces of the highest order. Fans of the Beatles' rarer songs will find much to love in 'Girl' and 'The Word' too, two very much under-rated songs that put many of the Beatles' peers to shame (fancy having songs these good and not releasing them as the all-important singles?) But there's an awful lot of recordings made up of perspiration rather than inspiration too: 'Michelle' is a poor man's 'Yesterday', with the same English verses repeated in French simply to fill in time; 'You Won't See Me' and 'I'm Looking Through You' are two of McCartney's scruffiest songs, clearly born of emotional anger rather than his usually cool detached gorgeous melodies (and interestingly much more Lennon-like than any of John's songs for this album); 'What Goes On' may be one of Ringo's better songs but it's no 'Octopuses Garden' never mind 'Yellow Submarine'; 'Wait' is too good to remain in the vaults but not good enough to match the best work on this album; 'If I Needed Someone' is a great song but 'borrows' so heavily from other material it's a wonder the Byrds didn't sue and 'Run For Your Life' is at least a year too late, one of the biggest anachronisms on any Beatles LP. In other words, I stand by every music writer whose ever said this is a 'great' LP (what Beatles album isn't?), but equal - perhaps even better - than the consistently exciting and progressive 'Revolver'? Hardly (though fans who rate it above 'Peppers' may have a point). In truth, taken as a whole, this album isn't quite up to 'Help!', however much evidence of genius there is on many of the album's songs. However when you realise that this was recorded inside two months and released less than four since the 'Help!' soundtrack came out - with lots of touring in between - and your question isn't 'why is half the album so bad?', more 'how did the other half of the album get to be this good?'
As a general rule the opening songs on Beatles albums tend to be recorded near the end of album sessions, often when the band realised they needed something 'meaty' to open the album. 'Drive My Car', however, is one of the few songs on 'Rubber Soul' to have existed before the recording sessions (it's the third song to be recorded especially for the album) and is one of the last that Lennon and McCartney worked on together. McCartney came up with the song's pounding riffs, which sounds like an amalgamation of two of the three 'in' sounds of 1965 (heavy soul and heavy rock - heavy 'folk' will take place on the next track). However he got stuck with the words which, in their first draft, were a lazy re-write of 'I Feel Fine' with a woman who wasn't pleased even with the 'diamond rings' narrator gives her. Sensibly realising that they needed something a little newer than that, Lennon came up with the 'beep beep yeah' chorus and after several hours of struggling the lyrics came together remarkably quickly after that. 'Drive My Car' is generally hailed as one of the first 'car' songs, but what's interesting is that this motorised 'chunky' song isn't anything like what most late 1965 record-goers would think of as a 'car' song: there's no sound effects of revving engines, no lyrics referring to 'freedom' and none of the walking tempo the Beach Boys had made their own. To be honest, the car doesn't play a particularly big role in the story anyway - its a sleazy double entendre for sex, unusual for the Beatles of 1965, playing on the sexual chemistry between the two characters in the song. The 'twist' at the end - when she reveals she's hired the narrator to be her chauffeur even though she doesn't have a car yet - is genuinely funny (the first time anyway), but somehow even these 'second' lyrics seem too slight for what's musically one of the Beatles' best rockers. The Beatles worked hard on the song, during their first session to break the 'no work beyond midnight' rule. The backing track is very unusual for the Beatles circa 1965: John restricts himself to harmony singing, Paul plays the fiery lead guitar solo for the first time as far as I can tell (did he disagree with the part George intended to play?) and - solo apart - there's no guitar on this song at all, George playing the 'bass' part as if it's a guitar instead (that's Paul playing the piano part too, making this track something of a McCartney tour de force). The result is breathlessly exciting and compared to the band's sloppy attempt at a similar song (the funky but rushed sounding B-side 'She's A Woman') the results are highly impressive. The vocals, too, are sublime, Lennon creating tension through the 'nagging' harmony McCarrney once gave to him on 'Twist and Shout' and Paul singing on the verses not the usual 'middle' lines but a powerful, gruff falsetto doubled by a more quiet bass part. Musically assured, technically sound but lyrically shaky 'Drive My Car' is a popular track for good reason but not up to the best on the album. Perhaps the lowest AAA moment of them all came when Lulu covered the song, appallingly, for a National Lottery 'Red Alert' programme in 2007 backed by the Spice Girl's Mel C that was so wrong on so many levels I'm amazed the pair weren't run over!
'Norwegian Wood' is, frustratingly enough, the opposite. Lennon's Dylanesque lyric is one of his best, telling a 'story' about a real affair he had in such shady, haiku-like phrases and with such a 'Aesop's Fable' still moral ending that few fans assumed it was a 'true' story until John's revealing Rolling Stone interview of 1970 put the record straight. Like many a Lennon song on 'Rubber Soul' (continuing the theme of 'Help!' and 'I'm A Loser'), the narrator is having a huge crisis of confidence and is somewhat in awe of the manipulating female who offers him her home for the night. What many commentators miss now but would have been obvious in 1965 was that this 'girl' has her own home and a job to go to, suggesting either that she's much older than the narrator or much more independent (Lennon's character almost cringes when he admits that he doesn't have to get up for work in the morning and 'crawls off' to 'sleep in the bath' in one of the song's most quoted lines). The fact that the 'girl' laughs when she says this also suggests powerplay and one up-man-ship that a fragile Beatle can't match. Legend has it this song is about the journalist Maureen Cleave, who was close to Lennon even though it was a throwaway line in one of her interviews with him that kick-started the 'Beatles bigger than Jesus' row and was indeed both older and a lot more independent (most of her interviews with John comment in shock over how the Beatle slept his time away or stared unseeing in front of one of his many TVs, afraid that he was stagnating in his posh Surrey home miles away from anywhere). However Cleave has always denied she ever had a fling with Lennon and you sense from their conversations he was too in awe of her to even ask (is this song his imaginative scenario of how a fling with her would pan out? Or simply a tale about another person in similar circumstances?) The twist in the song, where the narrator gets his 'manliness' back by burning down her posh but fake Norwegian furniture was inspired by McCartney, who'd been teasing nearly-brother-in-law and later Apple boss Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon) about some new redwood furniture he'd had put into his bedroom that was expensive but 'fake' looking. Lennon liked the idea that she was exactly the sort of woman to have the same social climbing values (given that the character is meant to be Lennon did she 'bed' him simply to boast at having slept with a famous musician?) but figured 'Norwegian Wood' was easier to rhyme. The 'twist', where the narrator hints that he burns the house down in revenge - which is never actually spelt out even though that's what most Beatle fans take the cryptic last line 'So I lit a fire' to mean - is McCartney's too. Musically the song is most famous for the second appearance of the sitar on a Beatles record (a George Martin-arranged bit of incidental music for the American 'Help!' soundtrack LP was the first). George Harrison both suggested it and played the rather wobbly part here - the only time he actually plays sitar on a Beatles or solo song (he plays it very much like a guitar, something which later shamed him once he started learning how to play it properly from Ravi Shankar in 1966). The accompaniment is certainly distinctive and was understandably hugely important in the 'explosion' of Eastern music in popular culture for the rest of the 1960s (George only got into the sitar after hearing then-Byrd David Crosby enthusing about it during a get together in the middle of the American tour - however the Byrds had shied away from using the sound, figuring it would be 'too different' for their fans to cope with; shockingly, despite being the one to teach George about Ravi Shankar's music, none of Crosby's songs will ever feature the sitar). However, the sitar doesn't really fit what is at heart a very folky song and even the lyrical hint at a new mysterious dangerous future still isn't quite enough. Unsure of what to do with the song, the Beatles recorded four differently arranged versions of this song (one of them released later on 'Anthology Two') more than any other Beatles song until the 'Not Guilty'/'Mary Jane' saga on the 'White Album' in 1968: none of them including the fourth and finished version quite comes off because, aside from a very at-home sounding Lennon, the Beatles aren't quite sure to do with such a jump in their sound, full of smoke-and-mirrors and cryptic clues. A shame because, lyrically at least, 'Norwegian Wood' is a classic Lennon song and a good example of the Lennon-McCartney team bringing out the best in each other's work.
'You Won't See Me' was a late addition to the album, recorded in the dying moments of November 11th 1965 when the clock was ticking down to the last possible moment a song could be added to the album to have it out in time for Christmas (this is the second of only two takes - arguably it would have been given a few more had the band had more time). Understandably, both composition and recording sound a little rushed, with one of the more hackneyed Beatle arrangements of the day, full of bland 'ooh la la' backing vocals (which the band used wholesale from their earlier recording of next song 'Nowhere Man') and an eccentric drum part from Ringo that seems to sputter drum fills at random across the song. While McCartney's double-tracked vocal has pkenty of conviction, you can sense he's still unsure about this song, which does make very public his conflicts with Jane Asher. Even more than 'I'm Looking Through You' (a song that only took it's harsh feel on during the third and final versions, recorded the same day) this song is a warning not to be pushed even further of 'you won't see me' (because I'll be gone!) Like 'Through You' this song is unusual for McCartney, his anger moving him away from his usual 'proper' song structure into Lennon territory, where a song is dictated by mood and emotion not melody. Indeed the AABBB rhyming structure is so asymmetrical that it makes McCartney's narrator sound obsessed and unreasonable, the song breaking out only for a lovely minor key middle eight that tries (and fails) to lift the tension. Even stranger is his decision to sing not his usual harmony part but a low, moody bass vocal that stretches Lennon's harmony to near-breaking point. This might not be the best McCartney song and by his standards it's ugly and hard to take even - the fact that at 3:20 this song became the longest Beatles recording released yet adds to the effect too, like an argument that's overstepped the mark as if to show it's the 'final' word on the matter - but it is good at getting the sense of claustrophobic-ness and desperation of a love gone wrong into song (the pained line that 'since I lost you it feels like years', even though the pair are to all attempts and purposes still together, cuts a lot deeper than most McCartney years, especially the wail with which he sings it). Overall, then, 'You Won't See Me' is a crucial step in his songwriting towards the darker, more elliptical and, yes, better songs on 'Revolver' and a world away from the songs Paul wrote for 'Help!' Listen out for the Beatles' road manager Mal Evans making his first of three appearances on a Beatles track, holding down a single 'A' note on a Hammond organ that really adds to the feel of unmoving unflinching stubborness.
'Nowhere Man', however, gets everything right. A gorgeously arranged and confidently played recording can't cover up the fact that this is one of Lennon's deepest and most confessional lyrics. With the deadline for the album looming (almost a month had gone by without many useable recordings completed) and the challenge to write something 'deeper' ringing in his ears, Lennon had spent a miserable day trying to write and had come up with exactly nothing. Exhausted, he went to bed early only for this song to appear almost fully fledged in his mind (in its way as miraculous a 'dream' as 'Yesterday' had been for McCartney the year before). Clearly the work of Lennon's sub-conscious, willing itself onto Lennon's mind once his need for commercial considerations had been in effect 'turned off', it's easily one of the greatest dozen songs he ever wrote. Speaking of himself in the third person, Lennon rails at his lethargic state in 1965 (his 'Fat Elvis' period when his oh-so sharp senses had been numbed money and drugs) and acknowledging his state of drifting in marriage, in his band and in life in general, Lennon somehow manages to make his state sound like both a blessing a curse. As a neutral listener we ought to feel pity for this character, whose blind to the truths of life ('sees just what he wants to see') and who actively waits for someone else to do the work for him ('Leave it all till somebody else gives you a hand') - but Lennon cleverly reaches out to the 'victim' in all of us, asking us openly 'isn't he a bit like you and me?' Indeed, the 'Yellow Submarine' chooses this character, the 'Nowhere Man' Jeremy, to become the most 'likeable' of all the cast loosely based on Beatle in-jokes and song references ('Quid Pro Quo! So little time - and so much to know!') A simply brilliant melody-line - even more amazingly written at the same time all the lyrics came through to Lennon, which is something even Paul's dream of 'Yesterday' provided him with - manages to be both sympathetically lethargic and triumphantly optimistic, with the song growing in every glorious repeat of the chorus. It suggests, too, that Lennon was keen to step on McCartney's toes after hearing the first version of Paul's Lennon-ish 'I'm Looking Through You', returning the favour with one of his most rounded and least harsh tunes. Full marks, too, to George Harrison's sublime solo, which cuts through the song as if trying to shake the narrator awake only to end in a marvellous high-pitched ringing noise, the alarm clock the 'Nowhere Man' needs to lull him out of the state he's fallen into. Thankfully we know Lennon the 'nowhere man' did have a 'happy ending' of sorts, when Yoko came into his life in 1967 - like 'Girl' and 'I'm Only Sleeping' this song demonstrates how hard Lennon was searching for her (or someone like her) before they met. Simply fabulous, a truly crafted song and one of the fab's best group performances of 1965 combining on a song about lethargy that ironically seemed to have more effort spent on it than most. Released as a single In Australia and Canada (though not Europe or the US) 'Nowhere Man' actually outperformed both sides of the 'official' double-sided single 'Day Tripper'/'We Can Work It Out'. Easily the album highlight. Pink Floyd were surely inspired by this song to write their masterpiece 'Comfortably Numb' too - the two songs even share a similar chord progression.
'Think For Yourself' continues the Rubber Soul' obsession with 'funny noises' and like many a song from this album actually sounds better when heard as a 'backing track', where the sheer inventiveness of the sound of this recording can be heard without the vocal distractions. An angular song with more chord changes than anything the band come up with until 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun', 'Think For Yourself' never goes where you expect, an exciting ride thanks to two bass guitar parts (one a fuzz part played by McCartney) and once again no real guitar-work, unusual for a 'Harri-song'. One of George's earliest 'bitter' songs, he recalls in his 'I Me Mine' autobiography of 1980 that all these years on he can't recall what inspired it but it was probably 'something said by the Government'. My guess is that it was inspired by campaigns on both sides for the 1966 UK general election where both Wilson and Heath had actively sought out help from or compared themselves to the Beatles (see 'Taxman' from that very year for another example of George's bitterness against both men). Figuring that both campaigns were 'stupid' (anyone 'bright' enough to be a Beatles fan wouldn't start voting for someone because he had his picture taken with him or helped them get an MBE they didn't ask for) George surly tells them both - and people like them - to 'think for yourself' because they weren't getting any help from him. Of course George might also be talking to a girl here or, more likely, talking to 'himself' now that drugs and Eastern music have opened up his mind (a 'pisces fish' with a split personality you could see this song as the 'mystical' George talking to his more 'worldly' self). For once in their career the other Beatles do George proud on one of his songs, suggesting they considered this song better than anything he'd written to date with Lennon providing a marvellous jagged guitar part and McCartney's fuzz bass dominating the entire texture of the song, not to mention the spoof-Shirelles backing vocals the pair deliver, the perfect angelic-demon hybrid the song demands. Yes it's a little over-written in parts, like many of George's early songs ('If you've got time to rectify all things that you should') but this is the first real evidence that the 'quiet Beatle' had a voice away from soppy love songs and could inspire another of the band's better period performances. A much under-rated song.
'The Word' is another forgotten gem from a period when The Beatles were simply releasing too many all at once for the general public to take in. Nicely retro in feel, like the old cover of 'Mr Moonlight' from 'Beatles For Sale' sped up to sound like 'proper' rock and roll , lyrically it's a good 18 months ahead of it's time. 'The Word', for those who don't know, is 'love' and this is the first time the Beatles (or anybody) use the term to stand for something deeper than boyfriend and girlfriend: here it's the answer to all of life's problems and only a small lyrical re-write away from 'All You Need Is Love' (tellingly, Macca has started playing the two songs as a 'medley' on his 2013-2014 tour; it's also telling that the pair were so proud of this lyrics they actually re-wrote it out again in bright psychedelic colours with crayons - usually their songs were all written on scraps of paper as reproduced in George's 'I Me Mine' book; telling, too, is the fact that it was this lyric sheet Lennon gave away when Yoko came calling at his door the second time they ever met, desperate for a 'unique' gift to send John cage for his birthday - it is very Ono-esque in places in its profound simplisticness, even though the pair hadn't met when it was written). For now, though, psychedelia as we come to know it doesn't exist so instead the Beatles equate this sudden spiritual awakening to the closest genre in existence: gospel. Sounding like a group of converted preachers John and Paul howl at full stretch throughout the song, before leaving Reverend Lennon to speak-sing the song's verses about how love changed his life and a church organ majestically appears near the end of the song in one of the best placed instrumental break-outs of any Beatles recording. One of the last songs written by John and Paul physically together (ie not from separate songs cobbled together a la 'A Day In The Life' 'Baby You're A Rich Man' or 'I've Got A Feeling'), Paul revealed in the 1990s that the pair had tried to write a song just on 'one note'; in this they fail, adding in a cute 'tagline' ('It's so fine, its sunshine') that takes the song somewhere else, but the inventive lengthy one-note phrases ('The wo-ord...') do make for a memorable song that's another of the album's best. Another great band performance on the penultimate day of recording, where even Ringo gets the chaotic but fervent mood just right and the band ought to sound as tired and fed-up as they do on the songs recorded a day later, is the icing on the cake. Another much under-rated song.
'Michelle' is over-rated by seemingly everyone except the Beatle who wrote it. Paul has confessed many times that he'd never have dreamed of offering this song to the Beatles had they not been desperate for material and that it was Lennon who encouraged him to 'finish it off' (which is ironic given that it's this song - so often played for Lennon by well-meaning restaurant bands in New York - that apparently drove him round the bend whilst the Beatles feud was at it's height in the early 70s). The song had started out life before Paul had even met John, as a 'jokey' instrumental he used to sing along to at art school parties in cod-French in the vain hope of impressing girls during the late 1950s when the French sound was 'in' (as a result it's the second of three pre-Beatles songs to be released by the band, the first being 'I'll Follow The Sun' and the third 'When I'm 64'). The lyrics were added in a hurry for the album, with Paul contacting his old school friend Ivan Vaughan (who had first introduced John and Paul) who was now married to a French teacher for the 'French' translation of his lyric (Mrs Vaughan should have received a co-credit by rights, as Paul asked her for a 'suitable girl's name' he could rhyme - it was she who came up with the hook 'Michelle, ma belle'; to be fair he did send a handsome amount of money in return for her help). Lennon himself added the less inspired middle eight ('I need you'/'I want you' repeated three times, a trick he'd heard in Nina Simone's 'I Put A Spell On You', the record that 'haunts' him after his mother's death in the 'Nowhere Boy' film), perhaps in a belated attempt to get Macca's song to sound like a 'joke' once more. The closest thing to 'Yesterday' on 'Rubber Soul' (Paul's other songs are all hard rockers or jagged ruminations on his arguments with Jane Asher), it's no surprise that 'Michelle' was such a hit or that it was considered as a single before Lennon - horrified at what his suggestion had grown into - jealously squashed it on the grounds that only Paul plays on the song and so it wouldn't be a 'Beatles' performance. Caught somewhere between the earnestness of a successful pop song and joke it started off as, 'Michelle' deserved to become a favourite with the band's French fans (who had, most likely, never heard a pop band sing songs in French before - unless they owned some obscure re-recordings by The Hollies and Searchers anyway) but it's popularity with everyone else seems a bit misplaced for a song that, by Beatles standards, is a bit of a one-joke one-note throwaway.
Side two begins with 'What Goes On', which is the album's second of three resurrected songs for 'Rubber Soul'. The song started life as Lennon song from shortly before McCartney joined The Quarrymen and was, for a time, mooted as an early single instead of 'Love Me Do' (I'm surprised, then, that it wasn't played at the band's audition for Decca or on their early BBC sessions when material the band knew well enough to play in a hurry was in shirt supply). Good enough to have appeared as one of the early Beatles tracks, but not quite good enough for where they'd reached by 1965 standards, the song was handed over to Paul to re-write with Ringo chipping in some ideas too (he gets his co-credit - the first of only four - on a Beatles record as a result of adding the phrase 'tides of time'). The song is clearly meant to be re-arranged to sound like the country-and-Western vibe Ringo mined on 'Act Naturally' from 'Help!' but is too clearly a 50s-sttyle rock and roll song for the conversion to be complete and the rather scrappy recording doesn't help matters much either: George's Carl Perkins-style guitar solo is awfully scrappy and Ringo's simplistic repetitive drumming isn't helping. In short, the band sound like they don't care much because it's 'only' a Ringo song, not for the first or last time on a Beatles album, which is a poor fate for what's actually quite a promising if simple song about rejection. The song's title phrase('What goes on in your mind?') is pretty advanced stuff for a writer who'd only be a teenager at the time (few of Lennon's narrators even think of another person's feelings until as late as the 'A Hard Day's Night' days) and the song doesn't have the naiveté of many of the band's early songs (without a period recording, of course, we can't know how much of the song Paul re-wrote, but according to him it wasn't much and he left the chorus pretty much alone). Astonishingly the Beatles spent hours crafting the sub-'Green Onions' instrumental '12 Bar Original', re-working it several times to varying lengths, before scrapping the whole thing and rattling off 'What Goes On' within a couple of hours (quick work by 1965 standards).
'Girl' is a fascinatingly oblique Lennon song, the last 'new' song to be re-worked on by the band (although the final recording of 'I'm Looking Through You' and the overdubs for 'Wait!' came later), with a distinctive German feel (the only Beatles song to really display this, despite the Beatles' many links to that country). It's yet more evidence of Lennon's growth as a writer, about his longing for a girl who could stand up to him and be his equal and - in the first verse - makes him feel ever so slightly inadequate, seeming much older than her years. That's the irony in fact: the one Beatles song that's clearly meant to be about someone 'young' is actually one of the most grown-up characters of all Beatle songs, emotionally manipulative and who isn't privy to Lennon's compliments ('when you say she's looking good, she acts as if that's understood'). Some critics think this song is about another Lennon affair, others that it's about Astrid Kircherr - the German photographer and artist betrothed to 'fifth Beatle' Stuart Sutcliffe - who Lennon may well have had a crush on (and almost certainly inspired the similar sounding 'Baby's In Black'); for me, she's clearly imaginary and probably wish-fulfilment during his marriage to the very un-'Girl' like softly-spoken and gentle Cynthia; the 'somebody else' he longs to 'lend a hand' in 'Nowhere Man' (a dead ringer for Yoko in fact, Lennon saying as much in his solo years and adding the postscript that his 1980 song 'Woman' was deliberately written as a 'more adult' version of 'Girl' in more ways that just the title). The song's last verse is particularly interesting, Lennon going back to his 'Nowhere Man' persona and poetically complaining that too many people think he's 'lazy' and that 'a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure' (it's the same insecurity over not having a 'proper' job that saw him 'crawl off to sleep in the bath' in Norwegian Wood'). Lennon added that this verse (co-written with McCartney) was also a 'dig' at Christianity and it's teachings - hidden as well as he could given the fuss over the 'Beatles bigger than Jesus' non-event earlier in the year. Listen out, too, for the way that the song is narrated like a 'story' or a 'fable' a la 'Norwegian Wood', actively including the audience when Lennon asks as the opening line 'is there anyone going to listen to my story?' (do we take it, then, that the narrator is so hen-pecked that he even doubts if he has a right to be telling his 'story'?) Fascinating, groundbreaking and quite unlike anything else around at the time, it's a shame the other Beatles didn't take to this song as much as its author or that they had no time: Lennon's gorgeous vocal aside (his accentuated breath before each verse is a particularly clever touch, sounding both traditional and sighing over the character in the song) this is a flimsy recording, highlighted by Paul and George using the word 'tit' throughout their backing vocals (another memory of their Hamburg days no doubt, but not entirely in keeping with the rest of the song!)
'I'm Looking Through You' is another song that seemed to cause an awful lot trouble. Another song written about the Paul-and-Jane saga, it was recorded again and again before simply having to be released in the state it was in during this last session, finished or not (the last recording for the album). An early case of McCartney perfectionism, most fans who've only come to it at the same time as the perfectly good earlier, acoustic version on 'Anthology Two' wonder what all the fuss is about: though missing the nagging and very contemporary electric guitar riff, the original has an enjoyably exotic off-beat rhythm and a slightly slower tempo more in keeping with the 'sighing' quality of the song. Lyrically this is another song about Paul's restless mind and urge to know everything, basically telling Jane Asher in a 'put-down' that he's no longer the uneducated working class Scouse lad she still treats him as (the song ought to be titled 'I'm Looking Down On You', McCartney's Narrator no longer to content to admire his beloved simply 'because' she knows more than him (he's 'seen through' educated people now anyway according to the lyrics). This song must have taken a lot of guts to write after such a public and by most accounts happy relationship: the Ashers had done a lot for McCartney, but clearly the hidden message of the song is that she hasn't asked him to do a lot back, respecting him for his musical talents and success. Could it be, too, that this is another 'drug' song about how someone (Lennon?) doesn't 'look different' but has clearly 'changed' (this is the start of the pair working apart - we spent a whole review discussing this theme last week for Jefferson Airplane's 'Surrealistic Pillow', although there change is a good thing). Another hint at the turbulent and rather upsetting year the Beatles had had in 1965 (with problems touring, the 'Jesus' backlash and a whole host of new groups competing for their crown meant being a Beatle wasn't as 'fun' as it had been 1962-64) 'I'm Looking Through You' is a snarling dog of a recording, with Paul's passionate lead guitar barely able to wait for his vocal to finish before sending off a peal of jagged chords musically 'lashing out' at the cause of all this upset. Another much under-rated song, with a middle eight that's perfectly judged at calming down the mood without losing touch with the main focus of the song, this should have been the 'B' side of 'We Can Work It Out', a song that has quite the opposite point of view. Again, though, the song sounds more like a Lennon-song, irregular and hard on the ear compared to most McCartney compositions but without Lennon's 'sixth sense' of where to take the track, meaning it's not up to the top level 'inspired' Paul songs from this magical period.
When the Beatles were inspired they were truly inspired. 'In My Life' is another case of Lennon giving in to his (drug-fuelled?), with this song very much a 'direct' response to the challenge laid down that his lyrics ought to be 'deeper'. Figuring that he ought to start with the lyrics rather than the music, Lennon started a poem about his childhood haunts (including both the 'Strawberry Fields' children's home and Penny Lane) and how much they meant to him. However, Lennon rightly thought the poem he'd written would only make sense to someone of his age from the same part of Liverpool and tried to re-write the, giving up when he couldn't decide what to do. Like 'Nowhere Man' the song as we know it came to Lennon late at night when he'd given up the struggle and is rightly regarded as one of the best he wrote, universal and identifiable but clearly written from personal feeling (even the lines about 'some are dead and some are living' is a 'more universal' re-write of a verse recounting adventures with school chums Stuart Sutcliffe - who'd died in 1961 - and Pet Shotton). Most songs about death and personal journeys either sound hysterical or grand and stately - Lennon's lyric is neither, with only the inevitable tagged-on ending that turns the piece into a 'love song' sounding anything less than fatalistically, detachedly serene. Equally inspired is the music, which was most likely written by McCartney the night after Lennon wrote the lyric (That's most people's memory of the song, although in John's 'meanest' days in the early 1970s he claimed the melody was his too - the trouble with having every song credited to 'Lennon/McCartney' is that we can never be 100% sure who wrote what). Certainly the melody sounds like one of Paul's: it's at one with the detached emotion he'll use on 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'For No One' from next Beatles album 'Revolver' and a rounded-ness where each piece 'fits' together remarkably well. If so, this may well be the single greatest song Lennon and McCartney ever wrote as a 'team', conveying the weariness of John and the optimism of Paul better than any other track ('A Day In The Life' similarly invokes both characters, but not at the same time which is much harder to do). John and Paul get the mood just right in the vocals, too, the double-tracking of their fresh-faced voices making them sound old as well as young, but as a group performance this recording could have been better. Ringo, unusually, doesn't seem to have grasped Lennon's more emotional lyric (he's usually at his best on John's more personal songs) and taps away rhythmically without any subtlety, although the worst casualty is a cod-Bach speeded-up harpsichord pastiche from George Martin which gets the mood totally wrong (Lennon really struggled with what to put for the instrumental, feeling the song needed 'something' at this point but reluctant just to have another guitar solo - surprisingly he was said to be quite happy with what Martin decided to play). As a composition, though, 'In My Life' is real evidence of just how good both Lennon and McCartney were when working together and how high the bar for their future songs will have to be set. Another album highlight.
'Wait' is a recording that has much more space for the band to get their teeth into and as one of the few guitars-bass-drums arrangements on the album is tailor made for the typical 'Beatlesy' sound. If the song sounds out of place, though, that's because the song was recorded in the dying days of the 'Help!' sessions, back when the band were under similar pressure to finish the LP (they ended up going for a cover of 'Act Naturally', recorded at the same session, instead). 'Wait' is clearly the 'old' Beatles, with neither John or Paul particularly proud of the track (uniquely they've both tried to 'blame' the other for writing it rather than take the credit: chances are it's mainly a Lennon song with a McCartney middle eight, swapping composer when the vocals switch between them) and it sounds very out of place here, a last gasp of their early Merseybeat sound circa 'A Hard Day's Night' with its central rhyme of 'home' and 'alone' (which is probably why it's hidden away here near but not at the end of 'Rubber Soul'. However, 'Wait' isn't as bad as its authors seem to think: certainly it's better than 'Act Naturally' was, the short snappy lines delivered staccato like are a nice variation on what John and Paul usually write and with the addition of some extra tambourine on the last day of 'Rubber Soul' sessions 'Wait' becomes genuinely exciting, the rawness of the song contrasting well with the songs either side of it. George's pedal steel guitar part - such an integral part of the 'Help!' sessions - sounds great here and Ringo's heavy-handedness is exactly what this rather clumsy but endearing song needs. IN a parallel universe, where this song didn't come out at the time, it would have been heralded as a lost gem and worshipped after a long-delayed appearance on 'Anthology Two' as an example of how clever even the Beatles' second-class songs are. Instead 'Wait's fate is to be the forgotten song off 'Rubber Soul' that nobody knows. No classic, then, but nothing like the 'horror' most fans seem to consider it.
'If I Needed Someone' is another great song - but arguably it's not one by George Harrison, whatever the credit says. The guitarist had become a huge friend with the Byrds across 1965, sharing their delight in 'unusual sounds' that John and Paul hadn't quite caught on to yet (this was the period when David Cosby was introducing anything that moved to the delights of both John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar, taking their records around with him everywhere; memorably Crosby, Harrison and fellow Byrd Roger McGuinn ended up in the bath at a crowded party - possibly at Mama Cass' house - playing sitars). Cross-pollination between the two bands had made the Rickenbacker guitar the must-have instrument for music fans in 1965 and this is a kind of last hurrah for the instrument in the Beatles' hands before George turns to the sitar. However the riff George plays here is pure Byrds (he admitted at the time it was nicked straight out of the Byrds' arrangement for 'The Bells Of Rhymney', for which it's a dead ringer, and the unusual asymmetrical drumming of 'Mr Tambourine Man' B-side 'She Don't Care About Time', which it has to be said is rather better played by Ringo than Michael Clarke). Not so much a pastiche as a 'cover' of two songs with new words attached, the track is lyrically a love poem to new wife Patti Boyd and continues George's schizophrenic reputation across Beatles records of being soppier than even Paul and harsher than even John. George even tries to unite the two strands of his character for the first time, adding in a sour-sounding middle eight about how any other day he might not have fallen in love and the way he sings 'I'm too much in love' while clashing with the song's root note on the word 'lo-ove' makes romance sound anything but happy. A great guitar sound and a better performance than usual from Ringo can't hide the fact that the arrangement for this song is poor, though, with the song audibly struggling to get the end of its 2:22 playing time intact. The Hollies' much-mocked cover version of this song (released as a single a mere three days before 'Rubber Soul' came out) is actually superior to the Beatles in every way except the guitar playing (which is just a little too out of Tony Hick's comfort zone to master): the Clarke-Hicks-Nash harmonies soar much more convincingly than John and Paul's do and Bobby Elliott's pure jazz kick on the song gives it much more energy. So why did the Hollies cover this of all songs? Because it was offered to them frankly, the Beatles and Hollies having always been close till this point and George already realising that he was writing more songs than John and Paul would let him have space for and that a successful cover by another well-loved group would help his reputation no end. Unfortunately George had to go back on his word that the Beatles wouldn't do the song when John especially took a shine to the track (generally he was very sniffy about George's songs and was already going 'missing' when it came to recording them) and the Beatles needed material in a hurry. Whether ticked off because Brian Epstein was against him giving potential hit songs to a rival, sulking because he sensed the Hollies had done it better or genuinely because he disliked the Hollies version - co-incidentally recorded in the same studio (no 2) at Abbey Road as the Beatles' version even though the Hollies generally used studio no 3 - George ravaged his rival's work in the press, ending the close partnership between Liverpool and Manchester's leading bands and no doubt helping the Hollies single to stall at a lowly #20 (Hollies fans generally bought Beatles singles as well and may have felt 'split loyalties'). Most of the Hollies now generally agree that releasing the song was a 'mistake', but if anything the recording helps their reputation 40 years on from all the fuss, showing they were both releasing their own material superior to and recording the same song arguably better than The Beatles.
Closer 'Run For Your Life' would have made a fine closer on any past Beatles album, a Lennon 'original' that fits in the same slightly 'crazed' feel as 'Twist and Shout' and 'Money'. Only the second Beatles original to close an album, it doesn't fit here at the end of 'Rubber Soul'. A nasty song, threatening revenge and murder on a girl whose messing around, it might have made sense at the start of the album but here at the end it sounds both ike a throwback to days gone by and as if the Beatles have learned nothing through the album 'journey'. Lennon particularly hated the song in later life (especially when Yoko got him into 'women's lib' - and a lyric with more differences to this than his own 'Woman Is The Nigger Of The World' from 1972 is hard to find), although it does sound like it's at least partly truthful and more evidence that a Beatle relationship was in trouble (despite his many affairs and his open relationship with Yoko, John still petitioned first wife Cynthia for adultery when their split became inevitable with very little proof). Like George, John lifted the best parts of the song from another writer entirely - this time Arthur Gunter and his obscure Elvis Presley song 'Baby Let's Play House' (both songs even start the same way: 'I'd rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man...') Luckily for Lennon, very few Elvis fans knew the song and those that did weren't listening to Beatle records, although I'm still; half-surprised Gunther (who died in 1976 long after the record came out) didn't sue (the steal is every bit as blatant as 'Come Together's Chuck Berry lines, which ended up in a lawsuit that cost Lennon no end of headaches, a rock and roll covers album he didn't want and a nervous breakdown). The song hAs also been belatedly banned by most American radio stations for its 'misogynistic tones' - the first time the Beatles have been banned in the West since 'I Am The Walrus' in 1967 (when fans wrote in asking why 'Baby Let's Play House' hadn't been banned as well the station promptly banned that too). Like much of 'Rubber Soul's weakest moments the recording sounds rushed and unfocussed (Lennon even garbles his lines a few times...'mmemy rather see you dead...') and yet 'Life' was the first song recorded for the album, at a time when - by 1965 Beatle standards - they had all the time in the world to get things right (well, two months). Annoyingly, though, Lennon's guitar riff - a sort of histrionic update of 'You Can't Do That' - is inspired and John's (not George's) scatterbrained solo in the middle is genuinely exciting. Unfortunately it's wasted in this song, a return to the days of the 1950s and early 1960s, before 'Girls' started manipulating characters in songs a la 'Norwegian Wood' and 'Girl' that already seemed like a distant time when this song came out in 1965. If ever a song demonstrated how much the Beatles changed the world it's how out of place this song sounds at the end of this LP.
Even with such a fall from grace on the last three tracks and with a bit of a lull in the middle, however, 'Rubber Soul' is still a great LP. John and Paul are inspiring each other to some of their best work to date while still very much working as a team here, George is stretching himself as never before however many guitar solos Paul 'nicks' from him and Ringo gets his first songwriting credit (for all of three words). By late 1965 standards 'Rubber Soul' was undeniably a great LP - only the Who's debut 'My generation' and the final Searchers album 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' and the Beatles' own 'Help!' get near it for growing sophistication and maturity. Lennon, especially, lays claim to his reputation as one of the greatest writers and singers of them all with many of the best songs of his career on this record. There's no denying, too, how influential this record was: Brian Wilson famously considered the record to be full of 'all good songs' and began crafting 'Pet Sounds' as his response. Ironically enough, though, consistency is the biggest problem for both of these albums: 'Pet Sounds' filling up space with instrumental filler and misguided love songs in the same way that the rushed circumstances behind the making of 'Rubber Soul' show through in a composition here and a recording there. In the long run, 'Rubber Soul' might perhaps be best regarded as a stepping stone to even greater, more marvellous creations (namely 'Revolver') in the same way that 'Pet Sounds' now can (leading to the unfinished 'Smile') The Beatles' greatest album? Not yet. But the fact that an album containing 'Nowhere Man' 'Norwegian Wood' 'In My Life' and 'Girl' still isn't quite there yet is surely evidence of just how amazing the Beatles' catalogue is and why, from the next album on, each album release becomes a 'world event' of humungous proportions, not just a new collection of songs...Overall rating - 7/10
Other Beatles reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:
'Please Please Me' (1963) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/news-views-and-music-issue-92-beatles.html
'With The Beatles' (1963) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-1-beatles-with-beatles-1963.html
'A Hard Day's Night' (1964) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-2-beatles-hard-days-night-1964.html
'Beatles For Sale' (1964) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/beatles-beatles-for-sale-1964-news.html
'Help!' (1965) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-3-beatles-help-1965.html
'Revolver' (1966) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-6-beatles-revolver-1966.html
'Magical Mystery Tour' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/10/news-views-and-music-issue-45-beatles.html
'The Beatles' aka 'The White Album' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-25-beatles-beatles-aka-white.html
‘Abbey Road’ (1969) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/the-beatles-abbey-road-1969.html
'Let It Be' (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/news-views-and-music-issue-130-beatles.html
'Live At The BBC' (1994) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/news-views-and-music-issue-24-beatles.html
'Christmas Fanclub Flexi-Discs' (1963-69) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/news-views-and-music-issue-85-beatles.html