496. The Beatles, 'Rubber Soul'
In 1965, radios were abuzz with such groundbreaking singles as "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Like a Rolling Stone." That December, the Beatles met their peers' challenge head-on with Rubber Soul, a stunning collection that preserved the taut pop focus of the band's earlier LPs while introducing newfound sophistication and depth. Producer George Martin described Rubber Soul as "the first album to present a new, growing Beatles to the world," and so it was.
The moptops were evolving in remarkable ways. "Drive My Car" is a comic character study of a sort not previously in the Beatles' repertoire. More profoundly, however, Bob Dylan's influence suffuses the album, accounting for the tart emotional tone of "Norwegian Wood," "I'm Looking Through You," "You Won't See Me" and "If I Needed Someone." (Dylan would return the compliment the following year, when he offered his own version of "Norwegian Wood" – titled "4th Time Around" – on Blonde on Blonde, and reportedly made John Lennon paranoid.) Lennon's "Nowhere Man," which he later acknowledged as a depressed self-portrait, and the beautifully reminiscent "In My Life" both reflect the more serious and personal style of songwriting that Dylan had suddenly made possible.
George Harrison's sitar on "Norwegian Wood" – the first time the instrument was used in a pop song – and Paul McCartney's fuzz bass on "Think for Yourself" document the band's increasing awareness that the studio could be more than a pit stop between tours. Harrison called Rubber Soul "the best one we made," because "we were suddenly hearing sounds that we weren't able to hear before." And as for why the band's hearing had grown so acute, well, that was another aspect of the times. "There was a lot of experimentation on Rubber Soul," said Ringo Starr, "influenced, I think, by the substances."