The Beatles - Rubber Soul
I recently realized that listen is an anagram of silent. The lesson? If you want to hear something, shut the fuck up. Rubber Soul reflects the power of that sentiment, and a key strength of the Beatles at their best.
Clocking in as the fifth Beatles record by the Beatles in the top 30 of Acclaimed Music’s Top 3000 albums list, Rubber Soul is an important example of the value of listening: art is not created in a vacuum. Art is a product of the time in which it was created, as much as the artist’s statement. Rubber Soul represents the Beatles listening in a more important way than before.
If you’re as familiar with the history of the Beatles, you’re already aware that they were fantastic listeners, up until the end— to Brian Epstein wanting to clean up their image by unifying their haircut and giving them suits, to the fans demanding ever more, and most importantly, to each other. Indeed, Beatles music is defined by a sense of listening and paying attention. Rubber Soul demonstrates that musically, rather than aesthetically.
The influence of Psychedelic Rock and Hindustani Classical Music is scattered but persistent, such as the sitar work on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)” and the lyricism of “Nowhere Man,” but the most overt changes are due to George Harrison’s interest in The Byrds’ folk-rock style and a more general group-wide interest in things other than romantic love.
The album has this energy of awakening that is unshakeable. The lyrics are no longer sweet and to the point. The ambiguities of morality come into play. The lyrics for “Norwegian Wood” are about an affair, and poking not-so-subtle fun at Bob Dylan’s headier lyricism. Frequently the love songs are bitter, and the songs about life are harder-edged. The veneer starts to peel back.
The compositions are more varied; the songs have character, and a sweet, tangy and plain sadness is scattered everywhere.
All the while, the musicianship remains peak and tight. McCartney’s basslines are melodic flourishes just shy of Motown great James Jamerson; Lennon’s wit and chord-based ideology is on full display (singing “tit tit tit” on the track “Girl” is just subtle enough to be subliminal and biting); George Harrison expands his instrumental interest…and then there’s Ringo. Still love Ringo, still have a lot of mileage on that joke.
This album also represents a distinct milestone on the Beatles’ path to musical maturity. The compositions are more varied; the songs have character, and a sweet, tangy and plain sadness is scattered everywhere. Songs like “In My Life” also inspire intense nostalgia for youth.
Nowadays, I think of the song “Michelle.” I had a Michelle but didn’t understand what she had to say; I was so busy trying to learn French that I didn’t listen. Now she’s gone. That’s why the listening aspect sticks out to me for this record. The heartbreak pops far more because of it.
The object lesson? Stay silent, and you’ll be able to really listen. And maybe you’ll grow too, I know I have.
Until sont les mots qui von tres bien ensembles.