Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Rubber Soul: Happy 50th Anniversary!

As we're in the midst of the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles' landmark album "Rubber Soul", we thought we'd run this excerpt from Harvey Kubernik's book "It Was Fifty Years Ago Today:  The Beatles Invade America and Hollywood".  

I didn't buy "Rubber Soul" when it first came out ... at the age of 12, it was a little over my head.  (In fact, I passed on the "Help" soundtrack, too, as the American version only had seven actual Beatles tracks on it ... the rest was packed with instrumental filler from the motion picture soundtrack, lost on a young kid like me.) 

But 1965 started off on a very strong note for me ... I literally played the grooves off "Beatles '65" ... I had to pick out pieces of vinyl from my needle at one point as I had worn the grooves right off the record.  I remember my mom coming in one night pleading with me to stop playing it! (I think it was the high-pitched screeching sound of the needle hitting bare metal that did her in!)  I finally had to go out and buy another copy ... but by then Beatles VI was in the stores so I bought that one, too.  Between the two of them you pretty much recreated the British pressing of "Beatles For Sale" ... back then I knew NOTHING about imports ... nor did I have the resources to go out and find them.  (I remember Ron Riley on WLS playing tracks off the British pressings of the early Beatles albums but never put two and two together to realize that I was missing out on some as yet unreleased Beatles music here in The States.)

This was also the case with "Rubber Soul" ... our US pressing had just twelve tracks ... and a couple of those turned out to be hold-overs from the British "Help" soundtrack LP.  The British version of "Rubber Soul" had great tracks on it like "Drive My Car"and "If I Needed Someone" that we wouldn't hear in America until the "Yesterday ... And Today" album was released several months later ... at that point kind of a hodge podge of thus far non-LP singles, a couple of leftover tracks from "Rubber Soul" and, incredibly some ADVANCE tracks from the yet-to-be-released "Revolver" album (like "I'm Only Sleeping" and "Dr. Robert"!)

When I did finally buy the "Rubber Soul"album, it had the "false start" intro to "I'm Looking Through You" version ... it was the only way I ever knew the song to exist as it was the only way I had ever heard it.  The false starts were precisely timed to the tempo of the song so once again I never gave it a second thought.  Many years later I bought a new Capitol Records pressing to keep unplayed in my collection ... of course that logic didn't last long ... and when I did finally play it, it had the false start beginning on it, too.  For that matter, so did the original US Capitol pressing of the "Rubber Soul" CD!!!  (In hindsight, I'm not so sure any of this was by accident!)

I remember being fascinated years later when I heard how the stretched out, elongated album cover photo came to be.  The very trippy Beatles were looking at various photographs for consideration for the cover of their brand new LP and as these photos were being projected on to a 12 x 12 white board (to simulate what it would like like as an album cover) the white display board slowly started to slip out of the chair as this particular shot was being displayed.  As soon as they saw it in its distorted view, they shouted "That's the one!  Can we have that?"  ... so they had to "stretch" the photograph (like rubber???) to simulate what had so innocently happened in that one split second of "slippage"!!!  (kk)


Rubber Soul 50 Years On   
Harvey Kubernik, Rock's Backpages, December 2015   

"Rubber Soul was the album that changed the musical world we lived in then to the one we still live in today." (Andrew Loog Oldham)   

IN DECEMBER 1965 I bought a British import copy of Rubber Soul on Hollywood Boulevard, just around the corner from the Capitol Records tower at the fabled Lewin Record Paradise.  I then purchased a stereo one at Thrifty's Drugs on Wilshire Boulevard, 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 was 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 "colored music" and the sounds of the Motown label. 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.  

Paul McCartney suggested the title Rubber Soul. It was a parody of the relationship that white musicians constantly developed with influential black music. "Rubber Soul" was a term a black musician used to describe the 1964 and '65 sound of the Stones' Mick Jagger.  

During a Beatles' recording session for a take on 1964's 'I'm Down' – later featured on Anthology 2 – McCartney utters the phrase, "plastic soul, man, plastic soul".

"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," says 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 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."  

"What a fabulous elasticisable title!" says Australian-based music historian and author Ritchie Yorke. "It puts it all in the perfect perspective. Creativity grows and it shows. On Rubber Soul, we are seeing the beast that became John Lennon's composing heart 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 realise 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 11thRubber 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's worked at Abbey Road. "One of the other reasons the Beatles' recordings sound so good still to this day," he 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 he 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."  

Big 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. 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. 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 Abbey Road. McCartney got a blond 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 the Beatles vocally are influenced by Bob Dylan during this period," says 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 to be the first Beatles' album released in the U.S. that more or less to corresponded to its U.K. counterpart," suggests photographer Heather Harris, former Entertainment Editor of the UCLA Daily Bruin. "1965 was rather late in the game to issue the themed Beatle musical thinkpieces recorded at the same session rather than grab-bags of singles from one and meat-and-potatoes from another two or three. 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 calibre of largesse from these songwriters, only to find it successively topped in the two 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.  That cover: pure inspiration, in and of itself and to anyone interesting in the field of graphic art, photography and trailblazing visuals ... " 

"With their own, unique version of Rubber Soul, American Capitol finally got it right," claims Canadian Beatlemaniac Gary Pig Gold. "Up until then of course, all of Parlophone's precious Fab LP's had been thoroughly sliced, diced and, I quote, 'Prepared for release in the U.S.A. with the assistance of Dave Dexter, Jr.' With varying degrees of success, shall we say. But no sooner had John Lennon caught sight – not to mention sound – of Capitol's slapdash 'very special movie soundtrack souvenir album' for Help! than the (in)famous Dex was given the heave-ho by the powers-that-were at EMI's London HQ, leaving substitute Capitol international A&R exec Bill Miller's staff to assemble a Rubber Soul for 1965's all-important North American Christmas market. 

"And what a fine job they did! For the first time leaving the Beatles' U.K. cover photos and graphics of choice intact – one of the '60s most iconic long-playing images, absolutely – Miller's men cobbled together what some still profess to be a 'folk-rock' blend containing two left-over numbers from the British Help! LP while removing several of the rougher, as in fully plugged-in tracks from Rubber Soul U.K. In doing so however, the core of the band's intricate original running order was wisely left as-is and the ultra-refreshing result was a slightly more 'mellow' perhaps ('mature' was the word many startled reviewers used in '65) package from those hitherto poppy-go-lucky mop-tops. 

"Nevertheless, discriminating ears from Los Angeles to the Canadian Laurentians immediately took notice … not the least of which to the very air of savvy sophistication – though some detected second-hand jazz-cigarette smoke as well – which permeated the entire proceedings, from Lennon's provocatively fishy-eyed 'I dare you to find anything wrong with this' gaze on the front cover to the Strat 'n' sitar-soaked sounds within. Why, for starters as we all know, no less than a certain Beach Boy, upon first removing Rubber Soul from his turntable, immediately vowed to 'answer' it asap by himself making 'the greatest album ever!' And if, because of that challenge alone, the American Rubber Soul should be hailed, even a half-century later, as a resounding, unqualified utterly game-changing success." 

"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. 

"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!" 

"Rubber Soul is the Beatles album that illuminates the simple fact that when you strip away some of the early Beatles raw electric energy and manic song power," says music and radio business veteran Elliot Kendall. "You simply find that more endless talent awaits you, to positively blow your mind in this new semi-acoustic setting.

"Focusing on the American version for now, current personal favorites include the defiant Harrison track 'Think For Yourself' with its attitude-packed 6-string fuzz bass (furiously played by McCartney) and subversive funky rhythm section. Is it the ghost of Motown's Funk Brothers (specifically bassist James Jamerson and rhythm-section spirits) who pay a brief mystical visit to this musical space? Take a closer listen next time you spin. 

"'The Word' is positively pulpit-pounding evangelist action. This track bears repeated listening for a multitude of reasons, a few listed here: Lennon's vocal is nothing less than a man let loose with the truth, with the driven need to share his newfound revelations with the world. So ... how about a stack of those bad books for our research, Winston O' Boogie? 

"Lyrical intimacy rules the aura of this album. On 'Girl', Lennon is positively confessional. The Greek-inspired acoustic guitar work (evoking an old world bouzouki) only serves to underscore the emotion and reflective surrender of this piece. 

"Romantic disillusionment haunts both McCartney-led tracks 'You Won't See Me' and 'I'm Looking Through You,' both tracks said to be inspired by the state of his then-relationship with Jane Asher. Both are loaded with daring innovation and a new sophistication previously unheard in pop recordings, as with the entire album. 

"Rubber Soul had no single released in the U.S., which is bewildering in hindsight. 'Drive My Car" and 'Nowhere Man' (both included on the UK versions) were released as singles on both sides of the pond, but not included on the American LP pressings." 

Says writer Paul Body, "'Day Tripper' and 'We Can Work It Out' were already available as a two-sided singles. Help! had been out for the Summer of Yesterday. Now Rubber Soul to end the year on a quiet note. of course the import and domestic versions of Rubber Soul were different but that was cool. You either bought domestic version at Sears or bounced over to Lewin Record Paradise to get the import. 

"It seemed like a perfect winter album, all dark and moody. They had come a long from 'I Want To Hold Hand.' It was cool to hear 'Nowhere Man' on the album before it was a single; I never will forget that when I saw them LIVE. George Beatle played that cool lead break and I remember you could hear that bell sound at the end, even in Chavez Ravine. The harmonies were stunning on 'If I Needed Someone.' The Hollies covered it but the Beatles version was the ONE. 'Michelle' was great to listen to on a cold winter night, felt like Paris. 

"Yeah, the Mop Tops had come a long way. The country stomp of 'I'm Looking Through You' made you want to dance, the European grimness of 'Girl', sounded like something from a Truffaut movie, all black turtle neck and black beret chic. Francoise Hardy. 'In My Life' was sad then and it's sadder now. Yeah, Rubber Soul was pointing towards the future and what a future it turned out to be." 

Adds Mark Ellen, author and former editor of Word magazine, "Rubber Soul sows the seeds of psychedelia, a wonderfully loose and reflective record with an almost entirely John Lennon second side which gives it a particular character: five of those six songs are John's – 'It's Only Love,' 'Girl,' 'In My Life,' 'Wait' and 'Run For Your Life'." 

Michael Seth Starr is the the author of the just published comprehensive in-depth biographical study Ringo Starr With a Little Help. "In my opinion," he says, "Rubber Soul is not one of the better showcases for Ringo's drumming style, since the album is more folksy in tone and, for the most part, requires Ringo to keep it simple. That being said, his singular, slightly-behind-the-beat style is showcased right off the bat in 'Drive My Car,' the album's opening track. I love the way in which his opening drum roll underscores the first few notes of Paul McCartney's bass riff – and how Ringo's propulsive thwacking 'drives' the song and underscores its double entendre lyrics.

"Ringo also proves why he and McCartney were such a cohesive rhythm section on 'The Word,' which features McCartney's bouncy bass line and Ringo's straight-ahead drumming – complemented by his 'only Ringo could do that' fills (partly the result of his being a lefty, but playing a right-handed drum set). While 'What Goes On' is Ringo's first co-writing credit as a Beatle – he's given lyrical props alongside John Lennon and Paul McCartney – his drumming on this track is standard-issue and unremarkable. However, I like his sensitive touch on 'In My Life', Lennon's bittersweet autobiographical paean. Ringo's hi-hat / snare drum combination nicely underscores Lennon's vocals – and the song's overall tone." (Incidentally, a variation on Ringo's 'In My Life' drum beat can be heard on 'Get Together,' the hit single by the Youngbloods, which came out in July 1967, around a year-and-a-half after Rubber Soul.) 

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. 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, 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  (   

"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 of the studio.  That started a trend that would continue and flourish through albums like Revolver and Pepper.

Harvey Kubernik's It Was Fifty Years Ago Today: The Beatles Invade America and Hollywood was published in 2014 by Otherworld Cottage Industries.

And be sure to check out Harvey's latest book "Heart Of Gold:  The Neil Young Story".

FH Reader (and British Broadcaster) Geoff Dorsett just interviewed Harvey on his radio program and sent along this link to share with our readers ...

New this year from The Fest For Beatles Fans ...

Check out this awesome looking "Rubber Soul" lava lamp!!!  Too much!  

Order yours here ...