Claiming to be a Beatles fan is an act of courage in this world, as Beatle fandom doesnt seem to allow for middle-of-the-spectrum devotion: Either youre trekking to Abbey Road on the River-type festivals each summer and can recite track lists and release dates for both the U.K. and U.S. albums, or you like Love Me Do and I Want to Hold Your Hand just as much as the next guy. There is no in-between.
Well, maybe there is Id rate myself a low B/high C in terms of my Beatles knowledge, especially in comparison to some of the fans Ive encountered (whose ranks include not one but two long-term ex-boyfriends, as well as classmates from a Beatles Ensemble guitar class at Chicagos own Old Town School of Folk Music). Sure, I may know the story behind I Am the Walrus (in that there really is no story), and Ive even been to two Abbey Road festivals (with members of the aforementioned class, naturally), but if you start talking to me about B-sides and unreleased tracks and demos and, hell, Pete Best, you probably will know just as much as, if not more than, I do.
So its been said: C+ general-knowledge base, folks. And let us proceed.
Rubber Soul is my favorite Beatles album, although, admittedly, its by default. More on that in a minute. When it comes to the great debate of just when and where the Beatles transitioned from putting out boy-band-worthy cheery pop songs into being true artists, most people seem pretty divided between Soul and its immediate successor, Revolver. Really, it depends on what appeals to your personal rock aesthetic folksy or psychedelic. That, and if you can get behind the song Michelle. In any event, I was introduced to Rubber Soul in fall 2001, when I was studying in Rome and first met one of the aforementioned ex-boyfriends. This era largely predated iPods, iTunes, MP3 players, and even YouTube, so all of us had to make do with the few CDs we had crammed into our suitcases for the year. For the boy, Rubber Soul was one such album. It just grew on me after a while.
However, I dont think this takes away from the fact that its a highly listenable album. I would argue that there isnt a bad song in the mix, and yes, that even includes Michelle. Lets take a close, close look:
Drive My Car is just groovy. The bass line sort of hooks you right away, and the song is even more fun once you realize how naughty its lyrics are. Then there’s the flavors in Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), the first example of a mainstream pop-rock song to incorporate the sitar (thanks to George Harrisons burgeoning interest in all things India). This, too, represents a step away from the cheery subject matter of album predecessors and reflects some of the band members growing disillusionment with romantic relationships in this case, through an allusion to one of John Lennons many affairs, though perhaps not the affair. Im still not sure whether or not the legend is true that Lennon didnt know how to end the song, and Paul McCartney told him to simply burn the house down. Either way, the classic riff built around the D chord is just gorgeous.
Don’t get me started on You Wont See Me. How could anyone not like a song that contains a backing chorus of Ooh, la lala? Or even the open door ruthlessness of Nowhere Man, Lennons moment of raw honesty born out of an afternoon of writers block?
Think for Yourself” is vital for a reason. The verses contain a somewhat imploring tone, which heightens their contrast to the peppy chorus: Do what you want to do and go where youre going to/ think for yourself cause I wont be there with you. As this and other tracks will demonstrate, this album is truly the champion of making bitterness sound cheerful.
Then there’s… Michelle. Maybe I appreciate this song only because it includes some of the most complicated walk-downs I ever attempted on the guitar, but you have to admit that this tune hooks you. Unless, that is, you cant stand it. Theres probably no in-between. For me, its a worthy addition to the Beatles extensive library of female-name song titles. These are words that go together well.
Moving along, we’ll have to recognize What Goes On, as it’s the only Ringo Starr-penned tune of the mix, which surprisingly sounds just a little bit country. Girl is one long sigh, starting with the opening lines, Is there anybody going to listen to my story all about a girl who came to stay? to the brilliant and bitter bridge, Shes the kind of girl who puts you down when friends are there, you feel a fool/when you say shes looking good she acts as if its understood. (Wikipedia is claiming that the songs deep inhalations were meant to resemble the sounds of toking, which doesnt seem like too much of a stretch.)
Towards the bottom of the album, we arrive at Im Looking Through You. Yet another entry within the line-up of oddly cheerful-sounding songs barely masking relationship disillusionment. The lyric Im looking through you could be interpreted a couple different ways: The narrator is evaluating the other person, or simply looking beyond the other person already. “In My Life sticks to similar themes, though feels sweetly wistful (There are places Ill remember all my life though some have changed/ some are dead and some are living/ in my life Ive loved them all”).
Wait is the 1960s equivalent of 21st-century relationship ambivalence, one too often manifested in cross-purposes rounds of text messaging. (Im not currently bitter or anything.) But really, what the hell do these lyrics even mean? Its been a long time, now Im coming back home but if your heart breaks, dont wait, turn me away. Why didnt they just sing Meh and be done with it?
But let us not forget Run for Your Life. I feel bad for admitting this, but never before has an utterly misogynistic song sounded so fun. I guess an abundance of the D chord makes everything better. Still, once you get past the upbeat musicality and actually listen to the lyrics, youll be a little disturbed: You better run for your life if you can little girl/ hide your head in the sand little girl/ catch you with another man, thats the end, little girl. And better: Id rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man.” At least Lennon acknowledges the fact that hes a wicked guy who was born with a jealous mind.
You can see why this one sticks, huh?