50 Years of ‘Rubber Soul’: How the Beatles Invented the Future of Pop
The Rubber Soul woman stays up late drinking wine on her rug after midnight, until it’s time for bed. She speaks languages he can’t translate. (“I love you” in French is just “je t’aime.” It’s not that hard.) She’s not impressed by the Beatle charm — when you say she’s looking good, she acts as if it’s understood. She’s cool. She makes the Rubber Soul man feel like a real nowhere boy. Yet even the sad songs here are funny. (Including the self-parodic machismo of “Run for Your Life,” a song Nancy Sinatra turned into a gangsta classic.) I love the moment in “Wait” when Paul’s girl asks point blank if he’s been faithful on the road. “I’ve been good/As good as I can be” — riiiiiight. “Wait” is the song that totally explains why Paul was Bill Clinton’s favorite Beatle.
Even the American version is a classic — this is the only Beatles album where the shamefully butchered U.S. LP might top the U.K. original, if only because it opens with the magnificent acoustic one-two punch of “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “Norwegian Wood.” I still can’t decide which Rubber Soul is my favorite, having had a mere lifetime to make up my mind.
Given the album’s impact over the past 50 years, it’s startling to note how fast and frantic the sessions were. The Beatles didn’t go into the studio with a mystic crystal vision to express — they went in with a deadline. They had to supply product for the 1965 Christmas season, which meant crunching it out in four frenzied weeks, from October 12th to November 12th. So they holed up in Abbey Road around the clock, pouring out music as fast as they could, holding nothing back. They were willing to try any idea, whether it turned out brilliantly (the sitar, the harmonium) or not (the six-minute R&B instrumental jam, which they wisely axed). They wrote seven of the songs in one week.
But with their backs against the wall, working under this pressure, the Beatles produced an album that was way ahead of what anyone had done before. Since these guys were riding new levels of musical fluidity and inspiration, firing on so many more cylinders than anybody else had, they stumbled onto discoveries that changed the way music has been made ever since. It was an accidental masterpiece — but one that stunned the Beatles into realizing how far they could go. After that, they went full-time into the masterpiece-making business.
Yet unlike some of their later artistic statements, this one was fun to make, and it shows. As Paul recalled, “Part of the secret collaboration was that we liked each other. We liked singing at each other. He’d sing something and I’d say, ‘Yeah,’ and trade off on that. He’d say, ‘Nowhere land,’ and I’d say, ‘For nobody.’ It was a two-way thing.”