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Music / Rubber Soul

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"I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me..."

"Rubber Soul is the Beatles' first step into the mystic and, although subsequent albums seemed to extrapolate these visions much further, the insight—and cutting social comment—showed that the group had ditched the jelly babies forever....It was obvious that the group were no longer concerned with their public image as 'lovable mop tops' etc. They were Artists and, like Artists, they wanted things done their way (for the sake of the Art). Rubber Soul was."
Roy Carr & Tony Tyler, The Beatles: An Illustrated Record

Rubber Soul is the sixth studio album by The Beatles, released in December 1965.

As the page quote describes, the album marked an important step forward in the group's artistic development, as they began to shed their early image as the innocent, fun-loving "Fab Four". From the stylish cover art (which didn't even have the band's name on the front) to the introspective, poetic, often bitter lyrics, the Beatles were taking their music to the next level.

Indeed, Rubber Soul's innovations led directly to Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Such tracks as "Drive My Car", "Norwegian Wood", "In My Life", "Michelle", "Nowhere Man", and "Girl" became huge international hits.

Tracklist (Standard Version):

Side One

  1. "Drive My Car" (2:25)
  2. "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" (2:01)
  3. "You Won't See Me" (3:18)
  4. "Nowhere Man" (2:40)
  5. "Think for Yourself" (2:16)
  6. "The Word" (2:41)
  7. "Michelle" (2:33)

Side Two

  1. "What Goes On" (2:47)
  2. "Girl" (2:30)
  3. "I'm Looking Through You" (2:23)
  4. "In My Life" (2:24)
  5. "Wait" (2:12)
  6. "If I Needed Someone" (2:20)
  7. "Run for Your Life" (2:18)

Tracklist (US Version):

Side One

  1. "I've Just Seen a Face" (2:04)
  2. "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" (2:01)
  3. "You Won't See Me" (3:18)
  4. "Think for Yourself" (2:16)
  5. "The Word" (2:41)
  6. "Michelle" (2:33)

Side Two

  1. "It's Only Love" (1:53)
  2. "Girl" (2:30)
  3. "I'm Looking Through You" (2:23)
  4. "In My Life" (2:24)
  5. "Wait" (2:12)
  6. "Run for Your Life" (2:18)

Principal Members:

  • George Harrison - lead and backing vocals, guitar, bass, sitar
  • John Lennon - lead and backing vocals, guitar, piano
  • Paul McCartney - lead and backing vocals, bass, guitar, piano
  • Ringo Starr - lead and backing vocals, drums, percussion, organ, tambourine, maracas, cowbell, bells, cymbals

In my life, I've troped them all:

  • Advertised Extra: Longtime roadie Mal Evans gets credited for playing organ on "You Won't See Me". His "playing" consists of holding down a single note for the last minute or so of the song.
  • Age-Progression Song: "In My Life" deals with the singer's reminiscences of past friends and lovers, and concludes that, rather than feeling as though he is in love for the first time in his current relationship (which he feels is a betrayal of the memories of past loves), he finds he loves his current paramour most of all.
    But of all these friends and lovers
    There is no one compares with you
    And these memories lose their meaning
    When I think of love as something new
    Though I know I'll never lose affection
    For people and things that went before
    I know I'll often stop and think about them
    In my life, I love you more
  • Album Filler: "Wait" was a song that remained from the Help! sessions.
  • Anti-Love Song: Almost all the songs are about relationships that have some sort of negative aspect. "Norwegian Wood" is about a one night stand gone sour. "You Won't See Me", "Think for Yourself", "What Goes On", and "I'm Looking Through You" are complaints from one lover about how the other is ignoring them or leading them on. "Run for Your Life" also belongs in that group, but the narrator is a Crazy Jealous Guy. "Girl" is sung by a guy in love with a frustratingly-fickle woman. "If I Needed Someone" is sung by someone who's in a relationship but falls in love with someone else. Even the more positive songs have a bittersweet edge: "Michelle" is about an affair that runs into a Language Barrier, "In My Life" mentions that people that the singer used to know have died, and in "Wait", the narrator warns his lover that he'll leave again if he feels betrayed.
  • Baroque Pop: "In My Life" has a baroque-influenced piano solo.
  • Be Yourself:
    • "Think For Yourself" involves the singer telling the object of the song to stop living a lie and start thinking clearly.
    • "If I Needed Someone" where the protagonist stresses the "if".
  • Bilingual Rhyme: The Gratuitous French in "Michelle" gets rhymed with English at the beginning of the song. The following appearances of the hook use a French translation of the English line, which also rhymes.
    Michelle, ma bellenote 
    These are words that go together well
  • Car Song: "Drive My Car", about a girl who looks for a chauffeur to drive her car.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: "Run For Your Life" is all over this trope. See Misogyny Song below.
    You know that I'm a wicked guy, and I was born with a jealous mind...
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The Beatles' stretched-out image on the album cover. A photographer had taken their picture and was projecting it on a piece of cardboard as a mockup for the cover. The board tipped backwards, causing the image to elongate, and the band liked it well enough to approve it as the final artwork.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In "Norwegian Wood", the narrator burns a woman's apartment down for refusing to sleep with him.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: "Girl", in which the singer laments his misery at the hands of the title character. Worse because no one believes him.
  • Either/Or Title: "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)".
  • Epic Rocking: "You Won't See Me" runs a mere 3:18, but was the longest song they'd released up to that point.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French:
    Michelle, ma belle, sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble, très bien ensemble.
  • Face on the Cover: A group shot of the band, but stretched out.
  • Fun with Homophones: The title Rubber Soul intentionally sounds like "rubber sole".
  • Gratuitous French: In "Michelle", the second line is initially sung in English ("Michelle, ma belle / These are words that go together well"), and for the rest of the song, it is sung in French ("Michelle, ma belle / sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble").
  • Gratuitous Panning:
    • Good luck trying to hear the vocals on "Norwegian Wood" if your right channel/speaker/ear is broken.
    • "Run For Your Life" puts the rhythm section entirely on the left channel.
  • In the Style of: The Byrds on two specific songs.
    • "If I Needed Someone" borrows a lot from "The Bells of Rhymney" (the guitar riff especially, which George admitted).
    • "Nowhere Man" takes many of its cues from "Mr. Tambourine Man".
  • Just Ignore It: "You Won't See Me" about someone ignored by a former partner.
  • Love Epiphany: Inverted with "I'm Looking Through You", in which the singer finds he has fallen out of love with the object of the song; to quote the bridge, "Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight".
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Norwegian Wood" is set to a trance-inducing 3/4 waltz with a sitar in the background, in a very laid-back manner. The lyrics are about the narrator burning down a woman's wooden house because she didn't put out the night before.
    • "What Goes On" is written in Ringo's preferred peppy, almost country style. The song is about a man who goes completely unnoticed by the woman he loves.
    • "I'm Looking Through You," a poppy upbeat little number about basically writing off an ex's existence. "You're thinking of me / The same old way / You were above me / But not today / The only difference is you're down there / I'm looking through you, and you're nowhere"
    • "Run For Your Life" is a happy, peppy tune whose lyrics are, in essence, "BITCH IMA CUT YOU IF YOU EVER LEAVE ME!" Interestingly, the opening line of "Run For Your Life" ("I'd rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man") is taken verbatim from Elvis Presley's "Baby Let's Play House" (which like other Elvis songs is a cover song). Not only is that song also a peppy rockabilly number, but the rest of the lyrics just focus on the narrator wanting the girl to get back together with him, with no other implied threats, so that one line comes from out of nowhere.
  • Misogyny Song:
    • "Run For Your Life". The narrator tells his lover that if she decides to end her relationship with him, he will hunt her down and murder her. As with the earlier "You Can't Do That", Lennon later regarded this song as an Old Shame.
    • The narrator of "Norwegian Wood" commits Disproportionate Retribution and burns downs the house of a woman after she refuses to sleep with him. It's probably worth noting that this was intended to be Lennon's way of writing about an affair without arousing the suspicions of his then-wife Cynthia.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: "Drive My Car", about a girl who wants to become a "star on the screen" and searches for someone to be her driver, despite the fact that she hasn't even got a car yet.
  • New Sound Album: Rubber Soul was the first album in their output to sound significantly different compared to the previous albums. Even the album cover looks bizarre. "Nowhere Man" was notable for being the first original Beatles song without any reference to love. "Norwegian Wood" also surprised listeners with its exotic sounding Indian sitar sound.
    • In the US, because of the augmented tracklist, it sounded more like a Folk Rock album – a musical trend that was rising fast at the time.
  • The Not-Remix: George Martin was unhappy with the original stereo mix, so for the 1987 CD release, he remixed the album. The 2009 remastered version used this new mix.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: "Norwegian Wood" (though in this case, it's the lady who owns the house that leaves; the guy replies by torching the place)
  • Obsession Song: "Run For Your Life" is a pretty aggressive example, so much that John regretted writing it.
    I'd rather see you dead, little girl,
    Than to be with another man.
    • Those two lines were, however, taken word for word from the Elvis Presley song "Baby Let's Play House" from The Sun Sessions.
    • "You Won't See Me".
  • Oddball in the Series: "What Goes On", featuring Ringo on lead vocal, is the only song the Beatles ever recorded that received the songwriting credit "Lennon-McCartney-Starkey." When Ringo was later asked what he contributed to get a credit alongside John and Paul, he answered "about five words."
  • One-Man Song: "Nowhere Man".
  • One-Woman Song:
    • "Michelle" is named for the object of the singer's affection, who lives on the other side of a language barrier.
    • "Girl" does not actually name the title character, but the song revolves around the singer's inability to get over her in spite of the toxicity of their relationship.
  • One-Word Title: "Girl", "Wait".
  • The Power of Love: "The Word". As the chorus tells us:
    Say the word and you'll be free
    Say the word and be like me
    Say the word I'm thinkin' of
    Have you heard, the word is "love"
    It's so fine, it's sunshine, it's the word "love"
  • Pun-Based Title: "Rubber Soul", a pun on "rubber sole shoes", plus a riff on a Black musician calling The Rolling Stones (and by implication other White rock groups) "plastic soul" (apparently, the Beatles were stoned when they heard about that and thought "Rubber Soul" would be a hilarious name for an album).
  • Questioning Title?: "What Goes On (In Your Heart)?"
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: "Norwegian Wood" was supposedly based on an awkward encounter John Lennon had with another woman (although the encounter did not end in arson).
  • Revenge Ballad: "Norwegian Wood", where a man takes revenge on a woman for not sleeping with him by burning her apartment down while she is gone.
  • Scatting: "Girl" has a rather amusing background harmonic vocal accompaniment of 'tit tit tit tit' appear before the chorus.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The girl in "Drive My Car" never had a car to begin with.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The reference in "In My Life" to "lovers and friends/I still can recall/some are dead and some are living" is a Shout Out to Lennon's close friend and former bandmate, Stuart Sutcliffe, who died in 1962.
    • The opening line of "Run For Your Life" ("I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man") was borrowed from "Baby Let's Play House", a 1954 Arthur Gunter song that was Covered Up in 1955 when Elvis Presley released it as his fourth single for Sun Records.
  • Silly Love Songs: Notably averted with "Nowhere Man". It was the first original song the Beatles ever released that wasn't a love song—every other original song on their first five albums, as well as every single and B-side, was a love song ("Help!" was kind of ambiguous, but "I need somebody...not just anybody" tilts it into love territory). You could also argue that "The Word", as a song about the concept of love, rather than a song about being in love, counts as an aversion too.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: "Wait", about two lovers who are separated from each other.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Ringo takes his turn at singing lead for "What Goes On".
  • Studio Chatter: While never legitimately released, there's a widely-bootlegged (and absolutely hilarious) 20-minute outtake from a session for "Think for Yourself". You can hear it (in two parts) here and here.
  • This Loser Is You: The title character of "Nowhere Man" lives an aimless life, and John compares him not only to listeners, but also himself.
    Doesn't have a point of view
    Knows not where he's going to
    Isn't he a bit like you and me?
  • Wham Line:
    • "Drive My Car"
    I got no car/ and it's breaking my heart/ but I found a driver and that's a start.
    • "Norwegian Wood"
    And when I awoke/ I was alone/ this bird had flown/ so, I lit a fire/ isn't it good? Norwegian wood.
  • What You Are in the Dark: "I'm Looking Through You"
    You're thinking of me, the same old way
    You were above me, but not today
    The only difference is you're down there
    I'm looking through you, and you're nowhere
  • World Music: "Norwegian Wood" is one of the first rock songs to incorporate influences from other traditional cultures, in this case India. George Harrison plays sitar during this track, an instrument he learned to master thanks to Ravi Shankar. He would play it again on "Love You To" from Revolver (1966) and "Within You, Without You" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).