UK, 1965, pop rock
The Beatles – Rubber Soul: Being just a studio band as a pop music group was unheard of before this album. Beatlemania was at an end, and the Beatles were no longer merely a product to be sold. The band stopped touring, and there was a significant downshift in the marketing side of things, and this put more focus on actually creating music.
A lot of people know Rubber Soul as the Beatles’ pot album, since Bob Dylan had introduced them to marijuana in 1964. The lads smoked a lot of pot during the recording of Help!, and that marijuana motif spills over into this album, what with the album cover being reminiscent of the leaves as well as the distorted image evoking a sense of altered consciousness. Unlike on Help!, however, the Beatles didn’t work high on this album. They took their drug experiences into the studio but not the drugs. Rubber Soul has vision and articulation, a clear-headed and purposeful musical statement.
This is also where the Lennon / McCartney rivalry really takes off. The duo were rarely writing together by this point, just answering each other’s songs instead, like a game of oneupmanship. One day Lennon would come into the studio with a song, the next day McCartney would show up with something of his own.
Harrison was also getting in on the songwriting act. He had only two songs on the first five albums, but now he’s got two songs just on this album. This is the real beginning of his songwriting career, and you can hear the maturity as he just gets better and better. On his “Think for Yourself”, he’s not afraid to try a bit of sound experimentation: the two simultaneous bass guitar lines, one conventional and the other run through a fuzzbox.
Overall, the general songwriting style of the Beatles was changing. No more naive, shallow love songs about dating and holding hands. There’s a sense of adventure, a sense of questioning, no doubt influenced by the drug use, the sexual experiences, and the dabbling in spirituality, evidenced in the song “The Word”, wherein belief in the sufficiency of love is proclaimed. With love, all the world’s problems are solved. Despite these new frontiers, the band keeps to the brevity and clarity of the classic pop song.
Rubber Soul also has a streak of sarcasm and irony running through it. The Beatles are laughing at and joking about their fame as they comment on stardom and seduction. Everyone fawned over the Beatles, everyone lusted after them. The best example is “Drive My Car”, and musically it’s an interesting number: the guitar and bass doubling the vocal, the use of the tambourine instead of the cymbal, the drumming rimshots, creating a stronger, sharper sound.
Let’s go back to that new frontier idea I mentioned earlier. Listen to “Norwegian Wood”. This is the first time that the sitar replaces the lead guitar. Look at the social criticism on “Nowhere Man”, the opening a capella line and somber tone giving the impression of profundity. This song attacks their parents’ generation of conformity.