The Beatles- Rubber Soul
Written on January 7, 2010
Does the phrase “you can’t judge a book by its cover” also apply to album covers?
The Rubber Soul album cover looks nothing like any of the previous Beatles’ album covers, as it has a very psychedelic look to it; however, it is not quite as revolutionary as I once thought. Just look at The Rolling Stones’ album cover for Out Of Our Heads, it’s basically identical to the cover of Rubber Soul, but it was released about 6-months earlier.
So, does the music on Rubber Soul match the cover of the album? In other words, did the music change as much as the album cover did? Well… yes and no.
On one hand, Rubber Soul is definitely the start of a new, more serious chapter for the Beatles. I think with Rubber Soul, they were intentionally trying to break away from the early Beatlemania boy-girl love songs, and as evidence of this, Rubber Soul is the first Beatles album not to have the word “Love” in any of its song titles, and most of the themes that are presented throughout the album are much more serious in tone. Therefore, they succeeded in setting a new tone for the album’s content thematically, but they fail to translate these new themes into songs that are better than the songs on Help (the album’s predecessor).
With that being said, none of the songs on Rubber Soul are bad. In fact, all the songs are fantastic. They’re just not the quantum leap in quality over the songs on Help that most people make them out to be, and this makes sense. Help was the pinnacle of early Beatles pop material, and it is arguably the greatest pop record ever recorded. Whereas Rubber Soul is just the first page of a new chapter of Beatles material, so how can we expect it to be perfect? In other words, the seeds of seriousness were planted thematically on Rubber Soul, but we won’t hear the full results bloom until future albums.
As for the songs, “Norwegian Wood” is a true highlight, and it is also one of my personal favorite Beatles songs. It shows them branching out and tackling lyrical content that they would have never touched on their early albums. “Norwegian Wood” is also a major step forward musically, in that it features George Harrison on his newly acquired sitar from India (Click here to listen to Norwegian Wood).
“Nowhere Man” is also a standout, and it continues Lennon’s string of songs about despair that he started on The Beatles for Sale album with “I’m a Loser,” and he then continued on the Help album with the title track. Aside from the song dealing with Lennon’s frustration and sadness, it is an incredibly unique track. McCartney and Lennon sing together in an almost blurred harmony, and it gives the track a great psychedelic feel. (Click here to listen to Nowhere Man).
Then there’s “In My Life.” For me, it is one of the Beatles’ most moving songs, and I still get chills every time I hear it (click here to listen to In My Life).
Circling back around, I’ll make a few final comments. First, you cannot judge an album by its cover, although most people do with Rubber Soul. Second, although The Beatles were intentionally going for a more mature and serious sound on this album, I actually enjoy the Help album more because it is the zenith of their straight pop period of music, whereas Rubber Soul is just the first chapter in their more serious style of song writing.
Everyone has always made a huge deal over George Harrison’s sitar work on “Norwegian Wood” because of how revolutionary it was for him to use a foreign instrument on a pop song. It does sound great, but it is not nearly as revolutionary as you might think. The Kinks had traveled to India before the Beatles, and they released “See My Friends” before “Norwegian Wood.” Although both songs are great, “See My Friends” is much more Indian inspired and much more psychedelic than “Norwegian Wood.” (Click here to listen the Kinks’ See My Friends)
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