1966 – The Beatles started a six week run at No.1 on the US album chart with ‘Rubber Soul’ the groups seventh US chart topper, which went on to spend 56 weeks on the chart. The group also started a three week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with ‘We Can Work It Out’ the groups 11th US No.1 single.
Rubber Soul is the sixth studio album by the English rock band The Beatles. Released in December 1965, and produced by George Martin, Rubber Soul was recorded in just over four weeks to make the Christmas market. Showcasing a sound influenced by the folk rock of The Byrds and Bob Dylan, the album was seen as a major artistic achievement for the band, attaining widespread critical and commercial success, with reviewers taking note of The Beatles’ developing musical vision. In 2003, the album was ranked number 5 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The Beatles and George Martin were beginning to expand the conventional instrumental parameters of the rock group, using a sitar on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” Greek-like guitar lines on “Michelle” and “Girl,” fuzz bass on “Think for Yourself,” and a piano made to sound like a harpsichord on the instrumental break of “In My Life.
Musically, the Beatles broadened their sound, most notably with influences drawn from the contemporary folk-rock of the Byrds and Bob Dylan. A broadening use of percussive arrangements, led by Ringo Starr’s backbeats and frequently augmented by maracas and tambourine, can also be heard throughout the album, showcased in tracks such as “Wait” and “Think For Yourself.”
Recording innovations were also made during the recording of the album—for instance, the keyboard solo in “In My Life” sounds like a harpsichord, but was actually played on a piano. George Martin found he could not match the tempo of the song while playing in this baroque style, so he tried recording with the tape running at half-speed. When played back at normal speed during the mixdown, the sped-up sound gave the illusion of a harpsichord. Other production innovations included the use of electronic sound processing on many instruments, notably the heavily compressed and equalised piano sound on Lennon’s “The Word”; this distinctive effect soon became extremely popular in the genre of psychedelic music.
Also on on Rubber Soul, the Beatles were seen heading into psychedelic rock. They introduced a genuine sitar on “Norwegian Wood,” and on the “The Word,” they voiced the drug-influenced peace-and-love sentiments that would color many psychedelic lyrics.
Lyrically, the album was a major progression. Though a smattering of earlier Beatles songs had expressed romantic doubt and negativity, the songs on Rubber Soul represented a pronounced development in sophistication, thoughtfulness, and ambiguity. In particular, the relationships between the sexes moved from simpler boy-girl love songs to more nuanced, even negative portrayals. “Norwegian Wood”, one of the most famous examples and often cited as the Beatles’ first conscious assimilation of the lyrical innovations of Bob Dylan, sketches a poetically ambiguous extramarital affair between the singer and a mysterious girl. “Drive My Car” serves as a satirical piece of reverse sexism. Songs like “I’m Looking Through You”, “You Won’t See Me”, and “Girl” express more emotionally complex, even bitter and downbeat portrayals of romance, and “Nowhere Man” was arguably the first Beatles song to move beyond a romantic subject (arguable because the song “Help!”, released earlier in 1965, also appears not to be specifically about a boy-girl relationship—the song takes the form of a general cry for “help” from the singer to another person, whose relationship to the singer remains unspecified. Even the line “now I find I need you like I’ve never done before”, could be addressed to any close friend of the singer, not necessarily a romantic partner).
After completing the album and the accompanying single “We Can Work It Out” and “Day Tripper”, the Beatles were exhausted from years of virtually non-stop recording, touring, and film work. They subsequently took a three-month break during the first part of 1966, and used this free time exploring new directions that would colour their subsequent musical work.
Until very late in their career, the “primary” version of the Beatles’ albums was always the monophonic mix. According to Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, the group, producer George Martin, and the Abbey Road engineers devoted most of their time and attention to the mono mixdowns, and the band were usually all present throughout these sessions and actively participated in them. Even with their landmark Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, the stereo mixdowns were considered less important than the mono version and were completed in far less time than the mono mixdown.
While the stereo version of the original release of Rubber Soul was similar to that of their earliest albums, featuring mainly vocals on the right channel and instruments on the left, it was not produced in the same manner. The early albums were recorded on twin-track tape, and they were intended only for production of monaural records, so they kept vocals and instruments separated allowing the two parts to later be mixed in proper proportion. By this time, however, the Beatles were recording on four-track tape, which allowed a stereo master to be produced with vocals in the centre and instruments on both sides, as evidenced in their prior albums Beatles for Sale and Help!. But Martin was looking for a way to easily produce a stereo album which sounded good on a monaural record player. In what he admits was some experimentation, he mixed down the four-track master tape to stereo with vocals on the right, instruments on the left, and nothing in the middle.
The song “Wait” was initially recorded for, and then left off, the album Help!. The reason the song was released on Rubber Soul was that album that was one song short, and with the Christmas deadline looming, the Beatles chose to release “Wait” instead of recording a new composition.
Paul McCartney claims to have conceived the album’s title after overhearing a black musician’s description of Mick Jagger’s singing style as “plastic soul”. John Lennon confirmed this in a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, stating, “That was Paul’s title… meaning English soul. Just a pun.” Also, Paul says the words “Plastic soul, man. Plastic soul…” at the end of “I’m Down” take 1, on Anthology 2.
The photo of the Beatles on the Rubber Soul cover appears stretched. McCartney relates the story behind this in Volume 5 of the documentary film Anthology. Photographer Bob Freeman had taken some pictures of the Beatles at Lennon’s house. Freeman showed the photos to the Beatles by projecting them onto an album-sized piece of cardboard to simulate how they would appear on an album cover. The unusual Rubber Soul album cover came to be when the slide card fell slightly backwards, elongating the projected image of the photograph and stretching it. Excited by the effect, they shouted, “Ah! Can we have that? Can you do it like that?” Freeman said he could.
Capitol Records used a different colour saturation for the US version, causing the orange lettering used by Parlophone Records to show up as different colours. On some Capitol LPs, the title looks rich chocolate brown; others, more like gold. Yet on the official 1987 CD of the British version, the Capitol logo is visible, and the letters are not brown, nor the official orange, but a distinct green. The lettering was designed by Charles Front.
There were two different stereo versions released on vinyl in the US: the standard US stereo mix, and the “Dexter Stereo” version (also known as the “East Coast” version), which has a layer of reverb added to the entire album. The standard US stereo mix and the original mono mix are available on CD as part of The Capitol Albums, Volume 2 box set.
Rubber Soul came out in the United States three days after the British release, and began its 59-week long chart run on Christmas Day. It topped the charts for six weeks from 8 January 1966, before dropping back. The album sold 1.2 million copies within nine days of its release, and to date has sold over four million copies in America.
Like other pre-Sgt. Pepper Beatles albums, Rubber Soul differed markedly in its US and UK configurations; indeed, through peculiarities of sequencing, the US Rubber Soul was deliberately reconfigured to appear a “folk rock” album to angle the Beatles into that emerging and lucrative American genre during 1965, thanks to the addition of “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “It’s Only Love” (leftovers from the UK Help!) and the deletion of some of the more upbeat tracks (“Drive My Car”, “Nowhere Man”, “If I Needed Someone”, and “What Goes On”). The tracks missing on the US version would later surface on the Yesterday and Today collection. The track variation resulted in a shorter album length, clocking in at 29:59. In addition, the stereo mix sent to the US from England has what are commonly called “false starts” at the beginning of “I’m Looking Through You.” The track is also slightly shorter at the end. The false starts are on every American copy of the album from 1965 to 1990 and are also on the CD boxed set, The Capitol Albums Vol. 2. The US version of “The Word” is also recognizably different.
The Canadian LP shares the false start on “I’m Looking Through You.”
The album was released on CD in the UK and US in April 1987, using the 14-song UK track line-up. Having been available only as an import in the US in the past, the 14 track UK version of the album was issued on LP and cassette on July 21, 1987. As with the CD release of the 1965 Help! album, the Rubber Soul CD featured a contemporary stereo digital remix of the album prepared by George Martin. This remix is somewhat controversial among Beatles fans — many purists prefer the 1965 mix. A few Canadian-origin CD editions of Rubber Soul and Help! accidentally use the original mix of the album, presumably due to a mix-up.
The album was commercially successful, beginning a 42-week run in the British charts on 11 December 1965. On Christmas Day it replaced Help!—The Beatles’ previous album—at the top of the charts, a position Rubber Soul held for eight weeks. The album was a major artistic leap for the group, and is often cited by critics, as well as members of the band, as the point at which the Beatles’ earlier Merseybeat sound began to be transformed into the eclectic, sophisticated pop/rock of their later career. John Lennon later said this was the first album on which the Beatles were in complete creative control during recording, with enough studio time to develop and refine new sound ideas. The US version of the album also greatly influenced the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, who “answered” the album by releasing Pet Sounds in 1966. Rubber Soul is also believed to have been a major muse in the creation of Freak Out! by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, which was also released in 1966 and in turn inspired the creation of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album became a classic—on 9 May 1987, it returned to the album charts for three weeks, and ten years later made another comeback to the charts.
Rubber Soul is often cited as one of the greatest albums in pop music history. In 1998, Q magazine readers voted it the 40th greatest album of all time, while in 2000 the same magazine placed it at number 2 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.
All tracks written by Lennon/McCartney, except where noted.
1. “Drive My Car” – 2:30
2. “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” – 2:05
3. “You Won’t See Me” – 3:22
4. “Nowhere Man” – 2:44
5. “Think for Yourself” (Harrison) – 2:19
6. “The Word” – 2:43
7. “Michelle” – 2:42
1. “What Goes On” (Lennon, McCartney, Starkey) – 2:50
2. “Girl” – 2:33
3. “I’m Looking Through You” – 2:27
4. “In My Life” – 2:27
5. “Wait” – 2:16
6. “If I Needed Someone” (Harrison) – 2:23
7. “Run for Your Life” – 2:18
1. “I’ve Just Seen A Face” – 2:07
2. “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” – 2:00
3. “You Won’t See Me” – 3:19
4. “Think for Yourself” (Harrison) – 2:16
5. “The Word” – 2:42
6. “Michelle” – 2:42
1. “It’s Only Love” – 1:53
2. “Girl” – 2:34
3. “I’m Looking Through You” – 2:20
4. “In My Life” – 2:23
5. “Wait” – 2:17
6. “Run for Your Life” – 2:21
* John Lennon – vocals, rhythm guitar, electric piano (“Think For Yourself”), other instruments
* Paul McCartney – vocals, bass, piano, guitar, other instruments
* George Harrison – vocals, lead guitar, sitar (“Norwegian Wood”), other instruments
* Ringo Starr – drums, lead vocals (“What Goes On”), hammond organ (“I’m Looking Through You”), other instruments
* George Martin – producer, piano (“In My Life”), harmonium (“The Word”)
* Mal Evans – hammond organ