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December 10, 2015

50 Years of Rubber Soul

beatles-ticket

Rubber Soul — the album that changed the musical world we lived in then, to the one we still live in today.
—Andrew Loog Oldham

By Harvey Kubernik

Rubber Soul was the Beatles’ first release not to feature their name on the album’s cover, an uncommon strategy in late 1965. The cover photo was by Robert Freeman, snapped in John Lennon’s garden in Weybridge.

I bought a British import copy of Rubber Soul on Hollywood Blvd. around the corner from the Capitol Records tower building at the fabled Lewin Record Paradise. I then purchased a stereo one at Thrifty’s Drugs on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. I took it to a party in downtown L.A. and watched my brand new LP get tossed into traffic on La Brea Ave., by a couple of soul brother party-goers irate about “Beatles stealin’ and took from us again.” This is a few months after the summer 1965 Watts riots. I stated my case to some angry Bubble Up drinkers that in a newspaper, at a U.S. press conference, Paul McCartney, a devoted music fan, lauded the “colored music” and the sounds of the Motown label.

Rubber-Soul

Our record hop got racial and facial. Someone hurled a pack of Kool Menthol cigarettes at me. So I hitchhiked home, from the corner of Vermont and Jefferson at 11:30 at night. But, not after a quick spin the bottle sympathy session with a couple of girls who were in my junior high school homeroom. Then they didn’t speak to me the rest of the semester.

Paul McCartney suggested the title Rubber Soul. A parody on the relationship white musicians constantly developed with influential Negro music. “Rubber Soul” was a term a Negro musician described the 1964 and ’65 sound of the Rolling Stones’ lead singer, Mick Jagger.

During a Beatles’ recording session for a take on 1964’s “I’m Down,” later housed on Anthology 2,” McCartney utters the phrase, “plastic soul, man, plastic soul.”

In a 1997 interview with me, George Harrison explained that he had first heard the sitar instrument on the set of The Beatles’ movie Help! Later that year, he would record with it on the session for John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).”
George told me about his earliest attempt at playing the sitar with the Beatles, “Very rudimentary. I didn’t know how to tune it properly, and it was a very cheap sitar to begin with. So ‘Norwegian Wood’ was very much an early experiment. By the time we recorded ‘Love You Too’ I had made some strides.

“That was the environment in the band. Everybody was very open to bringing in new ideas. We were listening to all sorts of things, Stockhausen, avant-garde music, whatever, and most of it made its way onto our records.”

this bird has flown“Today we think of the Beatles epic as one incredible breathless run, and it did all happen very fast, their 8 or 9 dizzying years,” offers writer and author. Daniel Weizmann. “But on close inspection, before Rubber Soul, there was a subtle sense that the Beatles were… almost starting to run out of steam, exhausted from all that mop-shaking. And who can blame them?

Beatlemania would have driven four less durable souls into an insane asylum. Beatles for Sale, Beatles VI, Help! — the songs are great but some near-invisible identity crisis is at work in them, a groping for more. In an alternate, less beautiful universe, the band might have even thrown in the towel right then and there. Which is partially why Rubber Soul is such a miracle — it’s not just an album, it’s an announcement that they would not back down. They had stripped down to essentials, learned to stifle their own cuteness, and were ready to push past youth, guided by introspection.

They aren’t there yet, but the plot had thickened — and Rubber Soul is the first chapter of Act II, the very best part of the story.”
“Firstly, what a fabulous elasticisable title! Puts it all in the perfect perspective,” volunteers Australian-based music historian and author, Ritchie Yorke. “Creativity grows. And it shows. On Rubber Soul, we are seeing the beast that became John Lennon’s composing heart is gaining traction and he’s beginning to let it flow on through. How blessed we were that it flowed upon our watch. And in our presence. A wonderful album made most of us realize that there was a lot more to these dudes than just pulling off limp versions of great R & B tunes.’’

Author John Kruth has just published This Bird Has Flown The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul, Fifty Years On. His book reminds us how quick the LP was done.

“Written and recorded at breakneck speed, between October 12 and November 11th, (1965) Rubber Soul was clearly a game-changer, not just for the Beatles themselves, but as a work whose sound and ideas has lasted for decades, impacting nearly everything that transpired in popular music in its wake.”

Richard Bosworth is a longtime music producer/engineer who worked at Abbey Road.

“One of the other reasons the Beatles’ recordings sound so good still to this day,” Bosworth maintains, “is that the tape machine format was one-inch 4-track — a much wider tape width per track than any other analog tape format that has ever been conceived. The equivalent of 24-track would require that the tape format be six inches wide to get the same fidelity that the one-inch 4-track provided.
“Norman Smith engineered virtually every studio performance of the band from 1962 through 1965. On Rubber Soul, Smith captured innovative new sounds such as fuzz bass guitar, sitar and distinctly dry vocals.

“There’s a definite delineation point in the record production and musical instrument sounds for The Beatles with the release of Rubber Soul. There were hints of what was to come on Help! (‘You’ve Got To Hide You’re Love Away’). Many influential American musicians of the day believe the U.S. version of Rubber Soul is one of the greatest albums ever (including Brian Wilson). In fact the opening songs on both sides of the American Rubber Soul, ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ and ‘It’s Only Love’ respectively, are two tracks from the English Help! LP and set an introspective acoustic tone for the American release.”

Ringo StarrBig sonic changes are introduced on Rubber Soul with the actual electric guitars and the guitar amplifiers the band adopted at this point. Up until now they had stuck with the musical instruments they’re famously known for. Gretsch and Rickenbacker guitars for Lennon and Harrison and Hofner 500/1 bass guitar for McCartney, via various Vox guitar amplifiers. Rickenbacker had made a left handed 4001S electric bass guitar for McCartney that he received on the Beatles 1964 U.S. Tour and except for one song, “Drive My Car”, he used his new Rick bass exclusively on Rubber Soul. As the Rick is solid body as opposed to the hollow body Hofner, It gave a more solid electric bass sound than the more acoustic qualities of the Hofner.

“Whereas McCartney gravitated to Rickenbacker, Lennon and Harrison moved on to Fender, Gibson and Epiphone electric guitars,” reminds Bosworth. “The Beatles were aware of the brand of American guitars and amplifiers used by their idols Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. However these were not available in England until 1965. Harrison and Lennon acquired twin sonic blue Fender Stratocasters which they used to great effect on “Nowhere Man” (U.S. single/British album release.) Harrison added a Gibson SG Standard and a Gibson ES-345-TD to his arsenal. Lennon, Harrison and McCartney all purchased Epiphone ES-230-TD Casino guitars and these became their ‘go to’ instruments for the next several albums and the 1966 tours.

“The Epiphone Casino became Lennon’s main guitar for the duration of the Beatles career and he used it exclusively on his first solo album and the ‘Cold Turkey’ Plastic Ono Band single,” underlines Bosworth.

“During the Beatles’ 1965 U.S. tour, Harrison was given a second Rickenbacker 360-12 by a Minneapolis radio station and he utilized it on ‘If I Needed Someone’ (British album release) in a tribute to the sound of The Byrds.

BEATLES BOOK COVER

“Aware that many American musicians used Fender Musical Instrument’s guitar and bass amplifiers they began to buy a steady supply that continued right through the Abbey Road album. McCartney got a blonde Fender Bassman amp and soon after Harrison and Lennon bought two Fender Showman rigs with 15” JBL D130 speakers. They still used Vox amps as well. They had an endorsement deal with Vox since 1963 and once that was in place the Beatles never appeared live without Vox amps. The company always supplied the band with their latest models and during this period both Lennon and Harrison received the ultra rare Vox 7120 electric guitar amplifier and McCartney was given the equally rare Vox 4120 bass amp.”

During the Rubber Soul sessions, the group cut the double A side single “We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper.” During these dates is when the band began questioning the production authority and sonic techniques of George Martin and the recording engineering staff of EMI Studios. They had garnered commercial success and wanted to expand the music beyond their initial Beatlemania sound, both vocally and instrumentally.

“I think vocally the Beatles are influenced by Bob Dylan during this period,” delineates Bosworth. “They had noticed there weren’t effects like reverb and vocal delay on Dylan’s vocals and it gave his performance an intimacy that really suited the lyrics.

“The Beatles own lyrics were taking on a new depth and they felt this kind of vocal sound would accommodate the new songs. They would say to George Martin and recording engineer Norman Smith ‘Why do our vocals have to have echo on every song? Why do we always have to do things the same way every time?’ With the release of Rubber Soul, the Beatles signaled they were not going to be artistically trapped by their success.”

“Rubber Soul seemed the first Beatles’ album released in the U.S. more or less to correspond to its U.K. counterpart, 1965 being rather late in the game to issue the themed Beatle musical think pieces recorded at the same session rather than grab-bags of singles from one and meat and potatoes from another two or three,” suggests photographer Heather Harris, the former Entertainment Editor of the UCLA Daily Bruin.

“Therefore American fans could rejoice simultaneously with their British our new musical heroes waxed experimental while still remaining front runners in the pop game. Brian Wilson wasn’t the only one who noticed. Harpsichord, Franglais, actual threatened violence, Dylantries et al. stewed and brewed through … the world’s best selling pop band?! We teens reveled in the high caliber of largesse from these songwriters, only to find it successively topped in the 2 years to come with Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. Acute bliss.
“Lastly, psychedelic font lettering on an anamorphic stretch photo by Robert Freeman, exponent of natural and directional lighting, and director of Performance-type precursor insofar as it deftly balanced fey pop culture and butch violence, The Touchables. That cover: pure inspiration, in and of itself and to anyone interesting in the field of graphic art, photography and trailblazing visuals…”
“I want to give extra props to the U.S. Rubber Soul,” hails musician Jim Wilson of Motor Sister, who previously worked with Sparks and Daniel Lanois. “Of course I love the 14 track U.K. version, but as a young record collector who grew up with a mid-’70s Apple pressing, I’ve always have a soft spot for the American track listing. Plus, it has all the songs you played with your buddies when the acoustic guitars came out.

“Now, the U.S. Revolver suffers in comparison because you’re just getting less tracks, but I really dig the Rubber Soul mix with the folky Help! songs. Besides, we got all the extras on Yesterday & Today with a great cover photo to stare at (two actually!). And no matter what John Lennon says, I absolutely worship ‘It’s Only Love.’ Oh yeah, don’t forget we got the cool false start on ‘I’m Looking Through You.’ You have to have them both!”

“I was listening again to Rubber Soul today, trying to think which songs would work as flute instrumentals and I couldn’t really throw them out,” muses vocalist and flute player,” Libbie Jo Snyder.

In my current-decade recording, Reflections: A Beatles Tribute I played ‘Michelle’ and ‘In My Life.’ I think the Beatles’ melodies might last as long as humankind lasts. They are lively, soulful, original and well-crafted with great variety of character and feel, and, they are great fun to play on the flute!

Even ‘Baby You Can Drive My Car’ would be fun on bass flute with piccolos playing that instrumental hook that goes through the song — just one idea of the many that floated through as I was listening. I don’t tire of playing their songs.”

In 1998, I interviewed Elvis Costello in Hollywood during his Painted By Memory recording sessions with Burt Bacharach. We briefly discussed Rubber Soul.

“I have a perspective on it that someone of my years probably shouldn’t have. I always heard Burt’s tunes in cover form first. And that was important. The stuff that my [musician] dad brought home were ‘A’ label singles.

“Like The Beatles ones I had were the non-single tracks like ‘Michelle,’ and songs from Rubber Soul that they (Northern Songs) thought were better suited for covers than, maybe, ‘Drive My Car’ was. They were sent over on demonstration acetates. Rather than having the Parlophone label, which never pressed ‘Michelle’ as a single, Dick James Music (Northern Songs), the publisher, pressed an acetate. And that was how small they were thinking about that ‘radio cover.’”

“Rubber Soul is beautiful,” proclaims Greg Franco, Rough Church bandleader. “There is a switch for the Beatles. Well-groomed fun loving, fashion plates, cute boys, mop tops, (actually they were a scrappy bunch of hoodlums in the Hamburg days) Brian Epstein turned them into a boy band, but they were smoked out by Dylan. Not too many boy bands were smoked out by him after that.

“Chaos became embedded in the later part of the decade, but the Beatles kept us from going crazy. I think we are at a similar place in the themes of change in the middle part of this decade, but will different and similar issues, We gotta get through this, but maybe we don’t have yet the voices of the decade in focus. Maybe we will still have to listen then to a 50 year old record to be inspired. Beatles! Thanks for giving us a Rubber Soul.”

During November and December, Isn’t It Good? The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, a syndicated National Public Radio documentary, has been broadcast. The program includes comments from Jim Fusilli, Paul Zollo, Ashley Kahn, Scott Freiman, John Kruth, Shawn Colvin and myself.

The radio special continues to air on different stations in 2015, as well as be archived for online listening at the Public Radio Exchange (www.prx.org).

“Rubber Soul really feels like the pivot point for the band,” says Paul Ingles, the award-winning public radio producer.

“Rubber Soul is also when they were experimenting with new instruments and spending more time dialing in the sounds in the studio.

That started a trend that would continue and flourish through albums like Revolver and Pepper.”


Harvey Kubernik has been a music journalist for over 44 years and is the author of 8 books. This past November 2015, Back/Beat/Hal Leonard published Harvey’s book on Neil Young, Heart of Gold.


It was 50 Years Ago Today

In 1967 “…twenty years ago today” represented a lifetime to a twenty year old listening for the first time to the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band lyrics,” ponders Michael Fremer, the editor of analogplanet.com and senior contributing editor, Stereophile.

“Fifty years ago today was then an unimaginable dark expanse of time. Yet here we are, on the Fiftieth anniversary of Rubber Soul’s release, still writing and talking about an album that today twenty year olds still listen to — some of us lucky enough to be able to pull from a shelf and play the very vinyl copy we bought in the fall of 1965 and hear it sounding as clean and fresh as it did that memorable first play (and sounding more life-like than any tinny digital reissue).

“Fifty years later it feels to me like yesterday (though my troubles don’t seem so far away) that after counting down the days to its arrival there, I drove down the hill from Cornell to a hole-in-the-wall Ithaca, New York record store to buy that copy.

“Back then, you may have heard on an AM radio station about a record’s release (we listened to ‘clear station’ WWKB 1520, in Buffalo, New York for all things Beatles) but you didn’t get to see the 12×12 cover art until you confronted it in person.

I can still see myself standing in front of the counter gasping at the solemn faces of the even longer haired quartet, who last time I met them were like carefree kids. ‘Uh oh,’ I remember telling myself, ‘What’s wrong? Did I miss something? What happened?’ Rubber Soul? They don’t look so bouncy. Am I going to have to get somber now too?

“I remember putting the record on my Dual 1009SK turntable and the Koss Pro 4A headphones on my head and lying in my frat-house bed for that first listen. ‘What? Is this a country and western album? Is that why George is wearing a cowboy outfit on the back cover?’ Then comes a sitar (not that I knew what it was) and ‘having a girl’ or her ‘having me.’ ‘She said it’s time for bed?’ Not in my world!

What’s that weird fuzzy sound? The word is good? Lyrics in French?”

“And that was just side one!

“It’s doubtful young streaming music listeners today will remember fifty years hence where they were when they first streamed music that a half-century later still holds meaning for them. They pay nothing and fifty years from now they will have nothing.””






One Comment


  1. Peter Burbank

    Tickets were 6 Bucks! … now if you multiply that by 4, you’ll have money to park your car!



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