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Rubber Soul

Categories: Beatles albums

Beatles Rubber Soul album cover art

Another Beatles album, another iconic album cover.
Rubber Soul was recorded at the end of 1965, twelve months which had had The Beatles at as frenzied a pace as the previous year, still allowing them no opportunity to "slow down". Pretty much straight after the launch of Help! and the announcement of their MBEs, they were gigging round Europe, then back across to the States for more insanity: this time on an even bigger scale than ever. Two words sum up the mega-madness of that tour better than any others: Shea Stadium...

Somewhere in the interim, another critical event had occurred in London: the spiking of John and George with LSD. Though 'psychedelia proper' was still in the future, what George described as the "light-bulb in the head" effect of the drug marked an incontrovertible turning-point for both of them, on every level. "Think For Yourself" and say "The Word"! Ringo ('I'd take anything') wasn't far behind, turning on in California mid-tour, not long before their audience before King Elvis. Paul, for the time being at least, remained an intrigued but not fully convinced bystander.

Nevertheless, as October came round again, there was the inevitable call for the new LP in time for Christmas. Like Beatles For Sale for the previous festives, Rubber Soul was completed in just a month's worth of sessions. This time, however, there were no compromises with the recording process. Perhaps the sensory heightening of the acid together with the ongoing joints was a factor; or, as George Martin said, simply their maturity and musical experience was what had made them "ready", but the band began pushing him to try new tricks in order to attain the desired sound for specific songs. Certainly, Studio Two at Abbey Road was no longer the daunting citadel which it had been for them: indeed, it had become a kind of sanctuary from the continuing craziness outside. And at least — in contrast to playing live — they could actually hear what they were doing.

John and Paul's diverging head-states are clearly evident in the songs: "Norwegian Wood" and "Girl" both contrasting with and complementing "Looking Through You" and "Michelle", for example. While Paul was, of course, completely justified in taking his time to decide on the acid question, the consciousness barrier it must have raised between him and the others — not to mention the lack of trust they possibly perceived — can only have placed a strain on their hermetic inner circle.

George Martin, with no inclination whatsoever towards the herbal or chemical expansion of his consciousness (though turning a benevolent blind-eye to the boys' increasingly frequent 'ciggie breaks'), was in his experimental element.

In addition to his always impeccable instrumental accompaniments — "In My Life" a supreme example — the technological tamperings which were employed to achieve that rubbery-souly feel were so state-of-the-art for their day that it wasn't long before everyone was wanting to try them. Another innovation was keeping the tapes rolling, giving more scope for sections of different takes to be later spliced, or extra instrumentation layered on.

Very obviously, they were getting beyond the stage where, as John had put it, 'If we can't do it live, we don't do it on the records'. As acid was starting to seep into music, psychedelic sound was being developed — they really did set themselves up for Revolver and Pepper with this one, between them!

Being primarily a mono man, the increasing call for stereo releases was also pushing Mr M into acoustic terra incognito. His audacious channel separation here, though oh-so-crude on the face of it, just works oh-so-absolutely amazingly well... When I first got the vinyl as a spotty teen, I got completely hooked on switching from speaker to speaker (nerd, I know, but I bet I'm not the only one [lonely one...]) It was like having two albums, man! Good moment to mention the late Norman Smith, here — this being his last LP with the band, before flying off with The Floyd. Norm had been there since Day One on the edge of the Inner Circle: indeed, in the early sessions, he'd had far more to do with the sound structuring than the Big Boss himself.

American fans found a rather different Rubber Soul in their Christmas stockings than did the British ones. "Seen A Face" and "Only Love" — both omitted from Help! over there — opened the two sides. Their UK counterparts, "Drive My Car" and "What Goes On", were both held back for "Yesterday"... And Today by Capitol; along with "Nowhere Man" and "If I Needed Someone".

The rubber-face image on the sleeve photo was, however, the same: the result of a happy accident when the card which Bob Freeman was projecting onto started to peel away from the wall. Bit more tough-cool, the lads, all stubbly-chinned in their suede jackets ('fully-fledged pot-heads', said George H — who also cited it as his favourite Beatles LP). It was to be Freeman's final front cover collaboration with the band. Great selection of his black and whites on the flipside, too.

"Plastic Soul" — a black musician's evaluation of Mick Jagger, which Paul had been bouncing around for a while — was eventually twisted into the album title.
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