|Studio album by|
|Released||3 December 1965|
|Recorded||12 October–11 November 1965 (except 17 June 1965 for "Wait")|
|Studio||EMI Studios, London|
|Label||Parlophone (UK), Capitol (US)|
|The Beatles chronology|
|The Beatles North American chronology|
Rubber Soul is the sixth studio album by the English rock band the Beatles. It was released on 3 December 1965 in the United Kingdom, on EMI's Parlophone label, accompanied by the non-album double A-side single "Day Tripper" / "We Can Work It Out". The original North American version of the album was altered by Capitol Records to include a different selection of tracks. Rubber Soul met with a highly favourable critical response and topped record charts in Britain and the United States for several weeks.
Often referred to as a folk rock album, Rubber Soul incorporates a mix of pop, soul and folk musical styles. The title derives from the colloquialism "plastic soul" and was the Beatles' way of acknowledging their lack of authenticity compared to the African-American soul artists they admired. After A Hard Day's Night in 1964, it was the second Beatles LP to contain only original material. For the first time in their career, the band were able to record the album over a continuous period, uninterrupted by touring commitments.
The songs demonstrate the Beatles' increasing maturity as lyricists and, in their incorporation of brighter guitar tones and new instrumentation such as harmonium, sitar and fuzz bass, the group striving for more expressive sounds and arrangements for their music. The project marked a progression in the band's treatment of the album format as an artistic platform, an approach they continued to develop with Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The North American version of Rubber Soul contained ten of the fourteen new songs, supplemented by two tracks withheld from the band's Help! album. The four songs omitted by Capitol, including the February 1966 single "Nowhere Man", later appeared on the June 1966 North American-only release Yesterday and Today.
Rubber Soul was highly influential on the Beatles' peers, leading to a widespread focus away from singles and onto creating albums of consistently high-quality songs. It has been recognised by music critics as an album that opened up the possibilities of pop music in terms of lyrical and musical scope, and as a key work in the creation of styles such as psychedelia and progressive rock. Among its many appearances on critics' best-album lists, Rolling Stone ranked it fifth on the magazine's 2012 list "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". The album was certified 6× platinum by the RIAA in 1997, indicating shipments of at least six million copies in the US. In 2013, after the British Phonographic Industry changed its sales award rules, the album was certified platinum.
Most of the songs on Rubber Soul were composed soon after the Beatles' return to London following their August 1965 North American tour. The album reflects the influence of their month in America. Aside from setting a new attendance record when they played to over 55,000 at Shea Stadium on 15 August, the tour allowed the band to meet with Bob Dylan in New York and their longtime hero Elvis Presley in Los Angeles. Although the Beatles had released their album Help! that same month, the requirement for a new album in time for Christmas was in keeping with the schedule established in 1963 by Brian Epstein, the group's manager, and George Martin, their record producer.
In their new songs, the Beatles drew inspiration from soul music, particularly the singles they heard on US radio that summer, by acts signed to the Motown and Stax record labels, and from the contemporary folk rock of Dylan and the Byrds. Author Robert Rodriguez highlights the Byrds as having achieved "special notice as an American act that had taken something from the Brits, added to it, then sent it back". In doing so, Rodriguez continues, the Byrds had joined the Beatles and Dylan in "a common pool of influence exchange, where each act gave and took from the other in equal measure".[nb 1] According to music critic Tim Riley, Rubber Soul served as a "step toward a greater synthesis" of all the elements that throughout 1965 represented a "major rock 'n' roll explosion", rather than just the emergence of folk rock. Citing Dylan and the Rolling Stones as the Beatles' artistic peers during this period, he says that on Rubber Soul, these two acts "inspire rather than influence their sound".
Two years after the start of Beatlemania, the band were open to exploring new themes in their music through a combination of their tiring of playing to audiences full of screaming fans, their commercial power, a shared curiosity gained through literature and experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs, and their interest in the potential of the recording studio. John Lennon was encouraged to address wider-ranging issues than before in his songwriting through Dylan's example. A further impetus was a discussion he had with BBC journalist Kenneth Allsop about whether, as in Lennon's 1965 book A Spaniard in the Works, his lyrics were conceived as merely "another form of nonsense rhyming". Author Mark Prendergast describes Rubber Soul as "the first Beatles record which was noticeably drug-influenced". In Lennon's description, it was "the pot album".
– John Lennon
Recording for Rubber Soul began on 12 October 1965 at EMI Studios (now Abbey Road Studios), with final production and mix down taking place on 15 November. During the sessions, the Beatles typically focused on fine-tuning the musical arrangement for each song, an approach that reflected the growing division between the band as a live act and their ambitions as recording artists. The album was one of the first projects that Martin undertook after leaving EMI's staff and co-founding Associated Independent Recording (AIR). Martin later described Rubber Soul as "the first album to present a new, growing Beatles to the world", adding: "For the first time we began to think of albums as art on their own, as complete entities." This was the final Beatle album that recording engineer Norman Smith worked on before he was promoted by EMI to record producer. The sessions were held over thirteen days and totalled 113 hours, with a further seventeen hours (spread over six days) allowed for mixing.
The band were forced to work to a tight deadline to ensure the album was completed in time for a pre-Christmas release. They were nevertheless in the unfamiliar position of being able to dedicate themselves solely to a recording project, without the interruption of any touring, filming or radio engagements. According to author Christopher Bray, this made Rubber Soul not just unusual in the Beatles' career but "emphatically unlike those LPs made by other bands". From 4 November, by which point only around half the required number of songs were near completion, the Beatles' sessions were routinely booked to finish at 3 am each day.
As the band's main writers, Lennon and Paul McCartney struggled to complete enough songs for the project. After a session on 27 October was cancelled due to a lack of new material, Martin told a reporter that he and the group "hope to resume next week" but would not consider recording songs by any other composers. The Beatles completed "Wait" for the album, having taped the song's rhythm track during the sessions for Help! in June 1965. The instrumental "12-Bar Original", a twelve-bar blues in the style of Booker T. & the M.G.'s, was recorded but remained unreleased until 1996.[nb 2] "Day Tripper" and "We Can Work It Out" were also recorded during the Rubber Soul sessions, but issued separately on a non-album single. For the first time, in order to avoid having to promote the release with numerous television and radio appearances, the Beatles chose to produce film clips for the two songs. Directed by Joe McGrath, these clips were filmed at Twickenham Film Studios in south-west London on 23 November. Among the few interruptions to the intensive recording period for the album, the Beatles received their MBEs at Buckingham Palace on 26 October, from Queen Elizabeth II. In addition, on 1–2 November, the band filmed their segments for The Music of Lennon & McCartney, a Granada Television tribute to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership.
Lennon recalled that Rubber Soul was the first album on which the Beatles were in complete creative control, with enough studio time to develop and refine new sound ideas. According to Riley, the album reflects "a new affection for recording" over live performance. Author Philip Norman similarly writes that, with the Beatles increasingly drawn towards EMI's large cache of "exotic" musical instruments, and the band's readiness to incorporate "every possible resource of the studio itself" as well as Martin's skills as a classical arranger, "Implicitly, from the very start, this [music] was not stuff intended to be played live on stage." Before the recording sessions, McCartney was given a new bass guitar, a solid-body Rickenbacker 4001, which produced a fuller sound than his hollow-body Hofner. The Rickenbacker's design allowed for greater melodic precision, a characteristic that led McCartney to contribute more intricate bass lines. George Harrison used a Fender Stratocaster for the first time during the sessions, most notably in his lead guitar part on "Nowhere Man". The variety in guitar tones throughout the album was also aided by Harrison and Lennon's use of capos, particularly in the high-register parts on "If I Needed Someone" and "Girl". To mimic the sound of a harpsichord on "In My Life", after Lennon had suggested he play something "like Bach", Martin recorded the piano solo 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. In this way, the Beatles used the recording studio as a musical instrument, an approach that they and Martin would develop further in 1966 during the sessions for Revolver.
– Music journalist Chris Smith
Rubber Soul saw the band expanding rock and roll's instrumental resources, most notably in Harrison's use of the Indian sitar on "Norwegian Wood". Having been introduced to the instrument on the set of the band's 1965 film Help!, Harrison's interest was fuelled by fellow Indian music fans Roger McGuinn and David Crosby of the Byrds, partway through the Beatles' US tour.[nb 3] Using fuzz bass on "Think for Yourself", and employing a piano made to sound like a baroque harpsichord on "In My Life" added to the exotic brushstrokes on the album. During the sessions, the Beatles also made use of harmonium, marking that instrument's introduction into rock music. In Prendergast's description, "bright ethnic percussion" was among the other "great sounds" that filled the album. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison's three-part harmony singing was another musical detail that came to typify the Rubber Soul sound. According to musicologist Walter Everett, some of the vocal arrangements feature the same "pantonal planing of three-part root-position triads" adopted by the Byrds, who had initially based their harmonies on the style used by the Beatles and other British Invasion bands. Riley says that the Beatles softened their music on Rubber Soul, yet by reverting to slower tempos they "draw attention to how much rhythm can do". Wide separation in the stereo image ensured that subtleties in the musical arrangements were heard; in Riley's description, this quality emphasised the "richly textured" arrangements over "everything being stirred together into one high-velocity mass".
According to Barry Miles, a leading figure in the UK underground whom Lennon and McCartney befriended at this time, Rubber Soul and its follow-up, Revolver, were "when [the Beatles] got away from George Martin, and became a creative entity unto themselves". In 1995, Harrison said that Rubber Soul was his favourite Beatles album, adding: "we certainly knew we were making a good album. We did spend more time on it and tried new things. But the most important thing about it was that we were suddenly hearing sounds that we weren't able to hear before." Ringo Starr described it as "the departure record" and said that the music was informed by the band members "expanding in all areas of our lives, opening up to a lot of different attitudes". While Martin recalled it as having been "a very joyful time", Smith said the sessions revealed the first signs of artistic conflict between Lennon and McCartney, and friction within the band as more effort was spent on perfecting each song.[nb 4] This also manifested in a struggle over which song should be the A-side of their next single, with Lennon insisting on "Day Tripper" (of which he was the primary writer) and publicly contradicting EMI's announcement about the upcoming release. In addition, a rift was growing between McCartney and his bandmates as he continued to abstain from trying the hallucinogenic drug LSD. The revelations provided by the drug had drawn Lennon and Harrison closer, and were then shared by Starr when, during the band's stay in Los Angeles that August, he had agreed to try LSD for the first time.
Until late in their career, the "primary" version of the Beatles' albums was always the monophonic mix. According to Beatles historian Bruce Spizer, Martin and the EMI engineers devoted most of their time and attention to the mono mixdowns, and generally regarded stereo as a gimmick. The band were not usually present for the stereo mixing sessions.
Author Andrew Grant Jackson describes Rubber Soul as a "synthesis of folk, rock, soul, baroque, proto-psychedelia, and the sitar". According to The Encyclopedia of Country Music, building on the Beatles' 1964 track "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party", the album can be seen in retrospect as an early example of country rock, anticipating the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo album.[nb 5] Author George Case, writing in his book Out of Our Heads, identifies Rubber Soul, together with Revolver, as "the authentic beginning of the psychedelic era".
Lyrically, the album represents a major progression in the Beatles' work. Although a smattering of earlier Beatles songs had expressed romantic doubt and negativity, the songs on Rubber Soul represent a pronounced development in sophistication, thoughtfulness and ambiguity. Author James Decker considers it significant that Rubber Soul "took its narrative cues more from folk crossovers such as Bob Dylan and the Byrds than from the Beatles' pop cohorts". In particular, the relationships between the sexes moved from simpler boy-girl love songs to more nuanced and negative portrayals. In this way, Lennon and McCartney offered candid insights into their respective personal lives.
The album opens with a pair of lead guitar parts that are soon rendered off-metre by the arrival of McCartney's bass. "Drive My Car" is a McCartney composition with substantial contribution from Lennon with the lyrics. Harrison, as the Beatles' most knowledgeable soul-music enthusiast, contributed heavily to the recording by suggesting they arrange the song with a dual guitar–bass riff in the style of Otis Redding's contemporary single "Respect". In their joint lead vocals, McCartney and Lennon sing dissonant harmonies, a quality that is furthered by Harrison's entrance and signifies what Everett terms a "new jazzy sophistication … in the vocal arrangement". The lyrics convey an actress' desire to become a film star and her promise to the narrator that he can be her chauffeur. According to Riley, the song satirises the "ethics of materialism" and serves as a "parody of the Beatles' celebrity status and the status-seekers they meet". Author and critic Kenneth Womack describes the lyrics as being "loaded with sexual innuendo", and he says that the female protagonist challenged the gendered expectations of a mid-1960s pop audience, as an "everywoman" with ego and a clear agenda.
Lennon said he wrote "Norwegian Wood" about an extramarital affair and that he worded the narrative to hide the truth from his wife, Cynthia. The lyrics sketch a failed meeting between the singer and a mysterious girl, where she goes to bed and he sleeps in the bath; in retaliation at the girl's aloofness, the singer decides to burn down her pine-panelled home. Arranged in 3/4 time, and in the English folk style, the song has a Mixolydian melody that results in a drone effect in the acoustic guitars, complementing the sitar part. The narrative draws heavily on Dylan's style through its use of ambiguity. In author Jonathan Gould's description, the song is an "emotional black comedy", while Decker recognises it as a continuation of the "interrogation of sexual ambiguities" and "muddled sense of power" displayed in "Drive My Car".
Written by McCartney, "You Won't See Me" reflects the difficulties he was experiencing in his relationship with actress Jane Asher due to her refusal to put her acting career second to his needs. Gould identifies the song as the third consecutive track in which the narrative conveys miscommunication. McCartney described its music as "very Motown-flavored", with a "feel" inspired by Motown bassist James Jamerson. The verses use the same chord sequence as the Four Tops' hit "It's the Same Old Song", which was titled by its writers, the Holland–Dozier–Holland team, in acknowledgement that they had already used the same pattern in their composition "I Can't Help Myself".
Lennon recalled that "Nowhere Man" came to him fully formed one night at his home in Surrey, after he had struggled to write anything for several hours. The song reflects the existential concerns raised by his experiences with LSD, and, like "I'm a Loser" and "Help!", his self-loathing during a time he later called his "fat Elvis period". It was the first Beatles song to completely avoid boy–girl relationships, and through Lennon conveying his feelings of inadequacy in the third person, the first example of a literary character in the Beatles' work. Riley views the message as a precursor to the "I'd love to turn you on" theme of "A Day in the Life" and, aided by the band's performance, optimistic in tone as Lennon "sings for the unsung, the people who have shut themselves off from life". Heavy equalisation was applied to the electric guitar parts through a series of faders, giving them a treble-rich texture that, as with the harmony vocals, recalls the Byrds' sound. In Prendergast's description, the track "burst[s] forth with all the gusto of newly discovered psychedelia", as Lennon's lead vocal "luxuriates in an opiated haze of production and Harrison's Fender Stratocaster solo fuzzes with all the right hallucinatory sparkle".
Harrison's lyrics to "Think for Yourself" suggest the influence of Dylan's September 1965 single "Positively 4th Street", as Harrison appears to rebuke a friend or lover. The song's accusatory message was unprecedented in the Beatles' work; Jackson identifies it as the band's contribution to a "subgenre" of protest songs that emerged in 1965, in which artists railed against "oppressive conformity itself" rather than political issues. Everett describes the composition as "a tour de force of altered scale degrees". He adds that, such is the ambiguity throughout, "its tonal quality forms the perfect conspirator with the text's and the rhythm's hesitations and unexpected turns." Gould writes that, in its dialogue with Harrison's vocal, McCartney's fuzz bass suggests "the snarls of an enraged schnauzer, snapping and striking at its lead".
– John Lennon
In his book 1965: The Year Modern Britain Was Born, Bray writes that "The Word" marks the start of the Beatles' "high psychedelic period". Lennon's exhortation that "The word is love" anticipates the ethos behind the counterculture's 1967 Summer of Love. The lyrics focus on the concept of universal love as a path to spiritual enlightenment, with what Decker terms "proselytizing zeal" on the narrator's part. MacDonald recognises the "distant influence" of Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour" and James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" on the song's rhythm, and highlights Starr's drumming (for its "feast of eccentric 'backwards fills'") and McCartney's dextrous bass playing. The arrangement also includes seven vocal parts and Martin playing suspended chords on harmonium.
"Michelle" was conceived by McCartney in the late 1950s. During a writing session for Rubber Soul, Lennon added a new middle eight, part of which was taken from Nina Simone's recent cover of "I Put a Spell on You". MacDonald identifies the song as another example of the Beatles' "comedy song" approach, which, in a contemporary interview, McCartney had suggested was a possible new direction for the group. In Womack's view, the French phrases in the lyrics accentuate the premise whereby a language barrier separates two lovers, and the narrative conveys an acceptance that their relationship is doomed to fail, such that the singer is already looking back nostalgically at what could have been. Gould describes the performance as "sentimental … French cabaret" which, following McCartney's declaration of "I love you", leads into a guitar solo by Harrison that represents "one of Jean-Paul Sartre's existential café workers".
The Beatles had attempted to record an early version of Lennon's "What Goes On" in 1963. With little time to complete Rubber Soul, the song was reworked by Lennon and McCartney as a vocal spot for Starr, who also received his first songwriting cr, as co-composer. The song is in the country style favoured by Starr, and in its lyrics the singer laments his lover's deceit. In Everett's description, the arrangement includes Harrison's rockabilly-inflected lead guitar, played on his Gretsch Tennessean, contrasting with Lennon's "Steve Cropper-styled Memphis 'chick' rhythm part".
Lennon said he wrote "Girl" about an archetypal woman he had been searching for and would finally find in Yoko Ono, the Japanese artist he met in November 1966. In the lyrics, he also expresses his disdain for Christian and Catholic moral values. The song was the final track recorded for the album. The composition incorporates aspects of Greek folk music, while the arrangement includes an instrumental passage set as a German two-step and an acoustic guitar part played to sound like a Greek bouzouki.[nb 6] High equalisation was applied to Lennon's vocal over the choruses to capture the hissing sound as he drew breath – an effect that also suggested he was inhaling on a marijuana joint. McCartney recalled that he and Harrison sang "Tit-tit-tit" on the middle eights to capture the "innocence" of the Beach Boys singing "La-la-la" on one of their recent songs. Riley likens the musical arrangement to a "scene from the old world" and he concludes of the song: "The old-fashioned atmosphere conveys desire and deception, and Lennon sings it as much to console himself as to make sense of its bewildering proportions ('And she promises the earth to me and I believe her/After all this time I don't know why'). It's the sympathetic side of the anger in 'Norwegian Wood.'"
Like "You Won't See Me" and "We Can Work It Out", "I'm Looking Through You" focuses on McCartney's troubled relationship with Asher. Gould describes it as the "disillusioned sequel" to McCartney's other 1965 songs centring on "a face-to-face (if not necessarily eye-to-eye) encounter between two lovers". Decker likens the lyrics to a less philosophical version of "Think for Yourself" in which "the narrator has grown, yet the woman has failed to keep up." The composition contrasts acoustic-based verses with harsher, R&B-style instrumental sections, suggesting a combination of the folk rock and soul styles. The Beatles had taped two versions of the song before achieving the final version, which they recorded during the last, frantic day of the Rubber Soul sessions. In its final form, the song gained a middle eight where previously there had been a twelve-bar blues jam.[nb 7]
Lennon cred Allsop's rebuke about A Spaniard in the Works as the catalyst for "In My Life", which he considered his "first real major piece of work". The lyrics evoke Lennon's youth in Liverpool and reflect his nostalgia for a time before the onset of international fame. McCartney, who claimed to have written much of the melody, recalled that the song's musical inspiration came from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. In Gould's description, the song "owed a conscious debt" to the Miracles' contemporary hit "The Tracks of My Tears" and thereby served as "the most recent installment in the lively cultural exchange between Motown's Hitsville Studios and EMI's Abbey Road".[nb 8] Martin's Bach-inspired piano solo was overdubbed in the Beatles' absence, over a section that they had left empty. Womack says that the baroque aspect of this contribution furthers the song's nostalgic qualities, a point also made by Gould, who adds that, by revisiting the past and presenting emotional themes that are resolved in the narrative, "In My Life" serves as the album's only song that "sounds the Beatles' original ground theme of happiness-in-relationship".
"Wait" was a Lennon composition to which McCartney contributed a middle eight. Gould includes the song among a category of Beatles "'coming home' songs", while Riley pairs it with "It Won't Be Long" but adds that, relative to that 1963 song, in "Wait" "the lovers' reunion has more anxiety than euphoria goading the beat." The band completed the track on the final day of recording for the album, overdubbing tone-pedal lead guitar, percussion and a new vocal by McCartney onto the June 1965 rhythm track. MacDonald writes that, although Lennon and McCartney would most likely have viewed the subject matter as dated even in June, the group's performance gives the song the required "drive and character" for Rubber Soul, particularly Starr's approach to the rhythm changes between its contrasting sections.
Harrison wrote "If I Needed Someone" as a love song to Pattie Boyd, the English model to whom he became engaged in December 1965 and was married the following month. In the song's Rickenbacker 12-string guitar riff, the Beatles returned the compliment paid to them earlier in 1965 by the Byrds, whose jangly guitar-based sound McGuinn had sourced from Harrison's playing the previous year. In MacDonald's view, the song is influenced "far more" by Indian classical music than by the Byrds, through Harrison's partly Mixolydian melody and the presence of drone. The latter aspect is furthered by McCartney's arpeggiated bass line in A major continuing over the chord change to a ♭VII triad. The detached, dispassionate tone in the lyrics has invited alternative interpretations. Gould refers to it as "a rueful rain check of a love song" directed to the "right person at the wrong time", while, according to Jackson, "the lyrics address all the women of the world, saying that had he met them earlier [before committing to Boyd], it might have worked out, but now he was too much in love (but give me your number just in case)."
Lennon wrote "Run for Your Life" based on "Baby Let's Play House",, which was one of Presley's early singles on the Sun record label. Lennon retained a line from the Presley track – "I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man". The lyrical theme is jealousy, and Lennon later disavowed the song as a misogynistic piece.[nb 9] Performed in the country style, it was the first track recorded for the album and features a descending guitar riff played by Harrison and slide guitar parts.
In keeping with the company's policy for the Beatles' albums in the United States, Capitol Records altered the content of Rubber Soul for its release there. They removed four songs from the running order – "Drive My Car", "Nowhere Man", "What Goes On" and "If I Needed Someone" – all of which were instead issued on the Beatles' next North American album, Yesterday and Today, in June 1966. The four songs were replaced with "I've Just Seen a Face" and "It's Only Love", which had appeared on the original (British) version of Help! but not on the North American version, the latter having been reworked as a true soundtrack album consisting of Beatles songs and orchestral music from the film. The total time was 28:55, nearly seven minutes shorter than the British version.
Through the mix of predominantly acoustic-based songs from the two releases, according to Womack, Capitol's Rubber Soul "takes on a decidedly folk-ish orientation". Capitol sequenced "I've Just Seen a Face" as the opening track, an act that MacDonald cites as the record company "conspiring" to present Rubber Soul as a folk-rock album.[nb 10] Gould writes that the omission of songs such as "Drive My Car" provided a "misleading idea" of the Beatles' musical direction and "turned the album title into an even more obscure joke", since the result was the band's least soul- or R&B-influenced album up to this point. The stereo mixes used by Capitol contained two false starts at the beginning of "I'm Looking Through You", while "The Word" also differed from the UK version due to the double-tracking of Lennon's lead vocal, the addition of an extra falsetto harmony and the panning treatment given to one of the percussion parts.
The album title was intended as a pun combining the falseness intrinsic to pop music and rubber-soled shoes. Lennon said the title was McCartney's idea and referred to "English soul". In a 1966 press conference, Starr said they called the album Rubber Soul to acknowledge that, in comparison to American soul artists, "we are white and haven't got what they've got", and he added that this was true of all the British acts who attempted to play soul music. McCartney recalled that he conceived the title after overhearing an American musician describing Mick Jagger's singing style as "plastic soul".[nb 11] In Phillip Norman's view, the title served as "a sly dig at their archrivals (and private best mates) the Rolling Stones", with the added implication that the Beatles' "variety" of soul music "at least was stamped out by a good strong northern [English] Wellington boot".
Rubber Soul was the group's first album not to feature their name on the cover, an omission that reflected the level of control they had over their releases and the extent of their international fame.[nb 12] The cover photo of the Beatles was taken by photographer Bob Freeman in the garden at Lennon's house. The idea for the "stretched" effect of the image came about by accident when Freeman was projecting the photo onto an LP-size piece of cardboard for the Beatles' benefit, and the board fell slightly backwards, elongating the projected image. McCartney recalled the band's reaction: "That's it, Rubber So-o-oul, hey hey! Can you do it like that?" Author Peter Doggett highlights the cover as an example of the Beatles, like Dylan and the Stones, "continu[ing] to test the limits of the portrait" in their LP designs.
The distinctive lettering was created by illustrator Charles Front, who recalled that his inspiration was the album's title: "If you tap into a rubber tree then you get a sort of globule, so I started thinking of creating a shape that represented that, starting narrow and filling out." The rounded letters used on the sleeve established a style that became ubiquitous in psychedelic designs and, according to The Guardian, "a staple of poster art for the flower power generation".
Rubber Soul was issued on EMI's Parlophone label on 3 December 1965. The "Day Tripper" / "We Can Work It Out" single was also released that day, as the band's first double A-side single. EMI announced that it had pressed 750,000 copies of the LP to cater to local demand. Its advance orders of 500,000 almost equalled the total sales for the new single and were announced by the Daily Mirror's show business reporter as marking a new record for pre-release orders for an LP. On the day of the album's release, the Beatles performed at the Odeon Cinema in Glasgow, marking the start of what would be their final UK tour. The group performed both sides of the single throughout the tour, but only "If I Needed Someone" and "Nowhere Man" from the new album. In the United States, Rubber Soul was the group's tenth album and their first to consist entirely of original songs. The release took place there on 6 December.
– Paul McCartney
– John Lennon
According to author Michael Frontani, writing in his book The Beatles: Image and the Media: "By the time of the release of the album Rubber Soul in 1965, each new record was viewed as a progression in the band's artistic development and as an expansion of the parameters of popular music, and the [group's] image reflected and promoted notions of the Beatles' artistry and importance." The band's softer musical approach on the album and their use of nostalgic imagery increased their bond with their fans. In her study of the Beatles' contemporary audience, sociologist Candy Leonard says that, although some young fans were challenged by the band's new direction, "With Rubber Soul, the Beatles came to occupy a role in fans' lives and a place in their psyches that was different from any previous fan–performer relationship."[nb 13] Singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, who was an eleven-year-old fan at the time, later recalled his initial reaction to the album: "'I don't like this, I think they've lost their minds' … I didn't understand a word, I didn't think it was any good, and then six weeks later you couldn't live without the record. And that's good – that's when you trust the people who make music to take you somewhere you haven't been before."
Rubber Soul was commercially successful, beginning a 42-week run on the UK albums chart on 12 December 1965. The following week it replaced the Sound of Music soundtrack at the top of the chart, where it remained for eight weeks in total. On the national chart compiled by Melody Maker, Rubber Soul entered at number 1 and held the position for thirteen weeks; it remained in the top ten until mid July 1966.[nb 14] In the United States, Rubber Soul topped the Billboard Top LPs chart on 8 January 1966, having sold 1.2 million copies there within nine days of release. These initial sales were unprecedented for an LP and were cited by Billboard magazine as evidence of a new market trend in the US, whereby pop albums started to match the numbers of singles sold. The album was number 1 for six weeks in total; it remained in the top twenty until the start of July, before leaving the top-200 listings in mid December. As the more popular of the joint A-sides, "We Can Work It Out" became the Beatles' sixth consecutive number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, all of which were achieved over a twelve-month period from January 1965.[nb 15]
While British albums typically avoided including previously released songs, the lack of a hit single on the North American version of Rubber Soul added to the album's identity there as a self-contained artistic statement. Everett writes that in the US the album's "hit" was "Michelle", through its popularity on radio playlists. After their inclusion on the EMI-format LP, "Norwegian Wood", "Nowhere Man" and "Michelle" were each issued as singles in various markets outside Britain and America, with "Norwegian Wood" topping the Australian chart in May 1966. "Nowhere Man"'s first release in North America was as a single A-side, backed by "What Goes On", in February, before both tracks appeared on Yesterday and Today. "Nowhere Man" peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 1 on Record World's 100 Top Pops chart, number 2 on the Cash Box Top 100, and number 1 on Canada's RPM 100 chart.[nb 16] In July, Parlophone released an EP titled Nowhere Man, which comprised "Nowhere Man", "Michelle" and two other songs from Rubber Soul. The album was also the source of hit songs for several other contemporary artists, with cover versions of "Michelle", "Girl", "If I Needed Someone" and "Nowhere Man" all placing on UK or US singles charts in 1966.
Rubber Soul sold 1,800,376 copies in America by the end of 1965 and 2,766,862 by the close of the decade. As of 1997, it had shipped over 6 million copies there. In 2013, after the British Phonographic Industry altered its sales award protocol, the album was certified Platinum based on UK sales since 1994.
Critical response to Rubber Soul was highly favourable. Allen Evans of the NME wrote that the band were "still finding different ways to make us enjoy listening to them" and described the LP as "a fine piece of recording artistry and adventure in group sound". While outlining to American readers the differences in the UK-format release, KRLA Beat said Rubber Soul was an "unbelievably sensational" work on which the Beatles were "once again ... setting trends in this world of pop". Newsweek lauded the Beatles as "the Bards of Pop", saying that the album's combination of "gospel, country, baroque counterpoint and even French popular ballads" lent the band a unique style in which their songs were "as brilliantly original as any written today". Like Newsweek, The New York Times had belittled the group when they first performed in America in February 1964, but following the release of Rubber Soul, according to author Bob Spitz, entertainment critic Jack Gould offered a "glowing tribute" in the newspaper's Sunday magazine.
The writers of Record Mirror's initial review found the album lacking some of the variety of the group's previous releases but also said: "one marvels and wonders at the constant stream of melodic ingenuity stemming from the boys, both as performers and composers. Keeping up their pace of creativeness is quite fantastic." By contrast, a week later, Richard Green wrote in the same magazine that most of the album "if recorded by anyone but the Beatles, would not be worthy of release", with many of the tracks devoid of "the old Beatles excitement and compulsiveness". Green acknowledged that his was an unpopular opinion, before concluding: "Judging LPs strictly on their merits, recent albums from Manfred Mann, the Beach Boys and Jerry Lee Lewis rank high above Rubber Soul."
In another review that Richard Williams later cited as an example of the British pop press not being "quite ready" for the album, Melody Maker found the Beatles' new sound "a little subdued" and said that tracks such as "You Won't See Me" and "Nowhere Man" "almost get monotonous – an un-Beatle-like feature if ever there was one". Author Steve Turner also highlights the comments made by the Melody Maker and Record Mirror reviewers, who were typically aged over 30, as indicative of how UK pop journalists lacked "the critical vocabulary" and "the broad musical perspective" to recognise or engage with progressive music. Turner adds that Rubber Soul "may have perplexed the old guard of entertainment correspondents, but it was a beacon for fledgling rock critics (as they would soon be called)".
In a September 1966 review of Revolver, KRLA Beat said that the title of Rubber Soul had "become a standard phrase used to describe a creation of exceptional excellence in the field of music", such that several highly regarded releases had since earned the description "a 'Rubber Soul in its field'". Writing in Esquire in 1967, Robert Christgau called it "an album that for innovation, tightness, and lyrical intelligence was about twice as good as anything they or anyone else (except maybe the Stones) had done previously".
|The A.V. Club||A–|
|Consequence of Sound||A+|
|The Daily Telegraph|||
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
According to Decker, notwithstanding the band's advances in 1964, music critics generally view Rubber Soul as the Beatles' "'transitional' album … from successful pop act to unparalleled masters of the studio". Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph wrote in 2009: "this is where things start to get very interesting ... Rubber Soul is the result of their first extended period in the studio. The production is open and spacious, adorned but not yet overcrowded with new instruments and ideas. The songs themselves are like little Pop Art vignettes, where the lyrics are starting to match the quality of the melodies and arrangements." Scott Plagenhoef of Pitchfork describes the album as "the most important artistic leap in the Beatles' career – the signpost that signaled a shift away from Beatlemania and the heavy demands of teen pop, toward more introspective, adult subject matter". Paul Du Noyer wrote in his review for Blender in 2004: "Their talent was already a source of wonder, but now the songs themselves were turning mysterious. Under the influence of Bob Dylan – and, it might be said, marijuana – the Fab Four laced their tunefulness with new introspection, wordplay and social comment. University professors and newspaper columnists started taking note."
Writing in Paste, Mark Kemp says that the influence of Dylan and the Byrds seems overt at times but the album marks the start of the Beatles' peak in creativity and, in the context of 1965, offered "an unprecedented synthesis of elements from folk-rock and beyond". According to Richie Unterberger of AllMusic, the album's lyrics represented "a quantum leap in terms of thoughtfulness, maturity, and complex ambiguities", while the music was similarly progressive in its use of sounds beyond "the conventional instrumental parameters of the rock group". He adds that Rubber Soul is "full of great tunes" from Lennon and McCartney notwithstanding their divergence from a common style, and demonstrates that Harrison "was also developing into a fine songwriter". Writing in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Colin Larkin describes it as "not a collection of would-be hits or favourite cover versions … but a startlingly diverse collection, ranging from the pointed satire of 'Nowhere Man' to the intensely reflective 'In My Life'."
Rubber Soul is frequently cited by commentators as the first of the Beatles' "classic" albums. In an article coinciding with the 50th anniversary of its release, for The Guardian, Bob Stanley lamented that Rubber Soul was often overlooked in appraisals of the Beatles' recording career, whereas Revolver and The Beatles had each gained in stature to surpass Sgt. Pepper. Stanley highlighted Rubber Soul as having been "a good 18 months ahead of its time" and "the first album of the rock era that sounded like an album". Also writing in December 2015, in Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield especially admired the singing and the modern qualities of the female characters depicted in the lyrics. He said that the album was "way ahead of what anyone had done before" and, given the short period in which they had to record, he called it the Beatles' "accidental masterpiece". Conversely, Jon Friedman of Esquire finds the work vastly overrated, with only the Lennon-dominated songs "Norwegian Wood", "Nowhere Man", "In My Life" and "Girl" worthy of praise, and he dismisses it as "dull" and "the Beatles' most inconsequential album". Although he considers that McCartney "comes off third-string" to Lennon and Harrison, Plagenhoef defends the album's subtle mood; highlighting the influence of cannabis on the Beatles throughout 1965, he writes: "With its patient pace and languid tones, Rubber Soul is an altogether much more mellow record than anything the Beatles had done before, or would do again. It's a fitting product from a quartet just beginning to explore their inner selves on record." In his review for Rough Guides, Chris Ingham highlights the musical arrangements, three-part harmonies and judicious use of new sounds, in addition to the band's improved musicianship and songwriting. He says that Rubber Soul usually trails the Beatles' next four albums in critics' assessments of their work, yet "it's undoubtedly their pre-acid, pre-antagonism masterpiece: beat music as high art".
In his chapter on Rubber Soul in the Cambridge Companion to Music's volume on the Beatles, James Decker crs the album with effecting the "transformation" of 1960s pop. According to author David Howard, "pop's stakes had been raised into the stratosphere" by Rubber Soul, resulting in a shift in focus from singles to creating albums without the usual filler tracks. The release also marked the start of a period when other artists, in an attempt to emulate the Beatles' achievement, sought to create albums as works of artistic merit and with increasingly novel sounds. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys described Rubber Soul as "the first album I listened to where every song was a gas" and planned his band's next project, Pet Sounds, as an attempt to surpass it. The album similarly inspired Pete Townshend of the Who and the Kinks' Ray Davies, as well as Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, who issued their first album of all-original material, Aftermath, in April 1966. In addition to citing it as the precedent for early experimental works by bands including Love and Jefferson Airplane, Decker writes that Rubber Soul presented "a variety of techniques hitherto unexplored in popular music" while encouraging listeners "to be cognizant of more flexible dimensions of pop music and to desire and expect them as well".
The belated acceptance of the Beatles by the ors of Newsweek was indicative of the magazine's recognition of the band's popularity among American intellectuals and the cultural elite. This in turn was reflected in The Village Voice's appointment of Richard Goldstein, a recent graduate and New Journalism writer, to the new position of rock critic, in June 1966, and the Beatles' central role in achieving cultural legitimisation for pop music over 1966–67.[nb 17] Referring to the praise afforded the band, particularly the songwriting partnership of Lennon and McCartney, by Newsweek in early 1966, Michael Frontani writes: "The Beatles had a foothold in the world of art; in the months that followed, their efforts would lead to the full acceptance and legitimization of rock and roll as an art form." Writing in 1968, Gene Sculatti of Jazz & Pop described Rubber Soul as "the necessary prototype that no major rock group has been able to ignore", as well as "the definitive 'rock as art' album, revolutionary in that it was a completely successful creative endeavor integrating with precision all aspects of the creative (rock) process".
– Rob Sheffield, December 2015
Walter Everett sees the album as a successful combination of "rich multipart vocals brimming with expressive dissonance treatment, a deep exploration of different guitars and the capos that produced different colors from familiar finger patterns, surprising new timbres and electronic effects, a more soulful pentatonic approach to vocal and instrumental melody tinged by frequent twelve-bar jams that accompanied the more serious recording, and a fairly consistent search for meaningful ideas in lyrics". Everett crs several of these qualities, as on Revolver, as the inspiration for many progressive rock bands of the early 1970s. Citing a quantitative study of tempos in music from the era, he also identifies Rubber Soul as a work that was "made more to be thought about than danced to", and an album that "began a far-reaching trend" in its slowing-down of the tempos typically used in pop and rock music. Christopher Bray describes it as "the album that proved that rock and roll could be suitable for adult audiences", "the first long-playing pop record to really merit the term 'album'" and the LP that "turned pop music into high art". Christgau believed the record had a far-reaching emotional resonance with audiences: "Rubber Soul smashed a lot of alienation. Without reneging on the group's masscult appeal, it reached into private lives and made hundreds of thousands of secretly lonely people feel as if someone out there shared their brightest insights and most depressing discoveries."
According to author Joe Harrington, the album contained the Beatles' first "psychedelic experiments" and coincided with rock 'n' roll's development into a variety of new styles, for which the Beatles remained the "conduit through which all ... ideas were filtered". The use of sitar on "Norwegian Wood" launched what Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar described as "the great sitar explosion", as the Indian string instrument became a popular feature in raga rock and psychedelic music, while the harpsichord-like solo on "In My Life" led to a wave of baroque rock recordings. According to Jonathan Gould, Rubber Soul was the release that encouraged "legions of folk-music enthusiasts" to embrace pop; music journalist Mark Ellen crs it with having "sow[ed] the seeds of psychedelia" and Christgau says that "psychedelia starts here." In his book 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music, Chris Smith writes that, just as the US version of the album demonstrates the marked influence of the Byrds and other American folk rock acts, the Beatles would soon reciprocate by inspiring the San Francisco music scene. Recalling its popularity in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, where Jefferson Airplane were based, journalist Charles Perry said: "You could party hop all night and hear nothing but Rubber Soul."[nb 18] Stevie Winwood, who formed the psychedelic rock band Traffic in 1967, sees Rubber Soul as the LP that "broke everything open", in that "It crossed music into a whole new dimension and was responsible for kicking off the sixties rock era." Andrew Loog Oldham has described it as "the album that changed the musical world we lived in then to the one we still live in today". While recognising the album as a key work in the development of pop music towards progressive rock, author Bill Martin said its release was a "turning point", in that for the first time "the album rather than the song became the basic unit of artistic production."
Rubber Soul was voted fifth in Paul Gambaccini's 1978 book Critics' Choice: Top 200 Albums, based on submissions from a panel of critics and broadcasters including Christgau, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh and Ed Ward. In Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), it appears in "A Basic Record Library" of 1950s and 1960s recordings. In the first ion of Colin Larkin's book All Time Top 1000 Albums, in 1994, it was ranked at number 10, and in 1997 it was named the 39th greatest album of all time in the BBC's "Music of the Millennium" poll. Since 2001, it has appeared in critics' best-album lists compiled by VH-1 (at number 6), Mojo (number 27) and Rolling Stone (number 5), was among Time magazine's selection of the "All-Time 100 Albums", and was favoured over Revolver in Chris Smith's 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music. In 2012, Rolling Stone again placed Rubber Soul at number 5 on the magazine's revised list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". It also appeared in the same publication's 2014 list of the "40 Most Groundbreaking Albums of All Time", where the ors concluded: "You can say this represents 'maturity,' call it 'art' or cr it for moving rock away from singles to album-length statements – but regardless Rubber Soul accelerated popular music's creative arms race, driving competitors like the Stones, the Beach Boys and Dylan to dismantle expectations and create new ones."
In 2000, Rubber Soul was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, an award bestowed by the American Recording Academy "to honor recordings of lasting qualitative or historical significance that are at least 25 years old". The album has been the subject of multi-artist tribute albums such as This Bird Has Flown and Rubber Folk.
Rubber Soul was released on compact disc on 30 April 1987, with the fourteen-song track line-up now the international standard.[nb 19] As with Help!, the album featured a contemporary stereo digital remix prepared by George Martin. Martin had expressed concern to EMI over the original 1965 stereo mix, claiming it sounded "very woolly, and not at all what I thought should be a good issue". He went back to the original four-track tapes and remixed them for stereo.
A newly remastered version of Rubber Soul, again using the 1987 Martin remix, was released worldwide as part of the reissue of the entire Beatles catalogue on 9 September 2009. The album was available both as an individual CD release and as part of the Beatles (The Original Studio Recordings) box set. The accompanying Beatles in Mono box set contained two versions of the album: the original mono mix and the 1965 stereo mix.
The Capitol version was relaunched in 2006, for the Capitol Albums, Volume 2 box set, using original mixes of the Capitol album, and then in 2014, individually and on the box set The U.S. Albums. This last release used mixes from 2009 remasters, except on "Michelle" (mono), "The Word" (stereo) and "I'm Looking Through You" (stereo), both using the original mix from the original Capitol album, because these mixes are different from the UK versions.
All tracks written by Lennon–McCartney except where noted.
|1.||"Drive My Car"||McCartney with Lennon||2:25|
|2.||"Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)"||Lennon||2:01|
|3.||"You Won't See Me"||McCartney||3:18|
|5.||"Think for Yourself" (George Harrison)||Harrison||2:16|
|1.||"What Goes On" (Lennon–McCartney–Richard Starkey)||Starr||2:47|
|3.||"I'm Looking Through You"||McCartney||2:23|
|4.||"In My Life"||Lennon||2:24|
|5.||"Wait"||Lennon and McCartney||2:12|
|6.||"If I Needed Someone" (Harrison)||Harrison||2:20|
|7.||"Run for Your Life"||Lennon||2:18|
All tracks written by Lennon–McCartney except where noted.
|1.||"I've Just Seen a Face"||McCartney||2:04|
|2.||"Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)"||Lennon with McCartney||2:05|
|3.||"You Won't See Me"||McCartney||3:19|
|4.||"Think for Yourself" (Harrison)||Harrison||2:19|
|1.||"It's Only Love"||Lennon||1:53|
|3.||"I'm Looking Through You"||McCartney||2:24|
|4.||"In My Life"||Lennon||2:24|
|5.||"Wait"||Lennon and McCartney||2:15|
|6.||"Run for Your Life"||Lennon||2:15|
Production and additional personnel
|Chart (1965–66)||Peak |
|Australian Kent Music Report||1|
|Swedish Kvällstoppen Chart||1|
|UK Record Retailer LPs Chart||1|
|US Billboard Top LPs||1|
|West German Musikmarkt LP Hit-Parade||1|
|Dutch MegaChart Albums||53|
|UK Albums Chart||60|
|Australian ARIA Albums||41|
|Austrian Ö3 Top 40 Longplay (Albums)||53|
|Belgian Ultratop 200 Albums (Flanders)||26|
|Belgian Ultratop 200 Albums (Walloonia)||49|
|Danish Tracklisten Album Top-40||31|
|Dutch MegaChart Albums||87|
|Finnish Official Albums Chart||17|
|Italian FIMI Albums Chart||36|
|Japanese Oricon Albums Chart||24|
|New Zealand RIANZ Albums||25|
|Portuguese AFP Top 50 Albums||14|
|Spanish PROMUSICAE Top 100 Albums||59|
|Swedish Sverigetopplistan Albums Top 60||17|
|Swiss Hitparade Albums Top 100||51|
|UK Albums Chart||10|
|Argentina (CAPIF)||2× Platinum||120,000^|
|Brazil (Pro-Música Brasil)||Gold||100,000*|
|Canada (Music Canada)||2× Platinum||200,000^|
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||Platinum||15,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Platinum||300,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||6× Platinum||6,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
BPI certification awarded only for sales since 1994.
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