Monday, December 05, 2005

Rubber Soul at 40

The Beatles' Rubber Soul turned 40 this week. And so did I.

The album has always seemed special to me, perhaps because we share roughly the same release date. The album came out on Dec. 3, 1965, in Britain and on Dec. 6 in the U.S.

I was born on Dec. 4.

Push comes to shove, it's my favorite Beatles record, although Revolver sometimes takes that slot and the "White Album" has its days.

But the Rubber Soul I fell in love with as a kid is a lot different from the Rubber Soul I love today.



Being a second-generation Beatles fan, a kid who starting buying their records in the mid 70s after a cool older cousin exposed me to their music, meant that I was getting the U.S. versions of the LPs.

Those of you too young to remember or too old to have bothered trading in your Beatles LPs for CDs probably don't know what I'm talking about.

But before the introduction of the Beatles CDs in the late 1980s, the U.S. and U.K. versions of many of their pre-"Sgt. Pepper" albums differ.

You see, back in the 1960s, The Beatles' U.S. record label, Capitol, figured it could get more mileage out of the Beatles craze by issuing more albums than there actually were.

By all manner of slicing and dicing, they made this so. While the British albums mostly contained 14 songs, the Capitol LPs generally contained 12. In England, the Beatles never put tunes released as singles or b-sides on their albums. Capitol did it all the time.

As a result, U.S. fans ended up buying all sorts of albums that never hit the racks in Britain, including Beatles '65, The Beatles' Second Album, Something New, Beatles VI and Yesterday and Today.

Sometimes Capitol even tinkered with the sound of the recordings, drenching songs such as "She's a Woman" in echo and retaining a false start on "I'm Looking Through You" that was edited off the British version.

It wasn't until Sgt. Pepper that the American and British LPs featured the same song lineups. And once CDs were introduced, the British track lineups became universal worldwide.

For nostaligic purposes, the first four American albums were released in a CD box set a year or so ago. But, to date, the only Rubber Soul officially available on CD is the British version. Which, honestly, is superior to Capitol's hatchet job.

But it means that, when I say I love Rubber Soul, I actually love two very different albums. The one I grew up listening to and the one I slip into my CD player today.

Here's a comparison of track listings:

"Rubber Soul" American version:



"Rubber Soul" British version:



Weird, huh? And it demonstrates how little thought Capitol put into slapping their versions together. I mean, "I've Just Seen a Face" is a great song, but a bizarre choice for an album opener. It's all acoustic and folky while "Drive My Car" is electric and rocking--a proper opening track.

Still, once I switched to CDs, it took me years to get used to "Drive My Car" being the first track on Rubber Soul.

But, even in its flawed American incarnation, Rubber Soul was a great, influential album. Head Beach Boy Brian Wilson often cites it as an inspiration for his masterpiece, Pet Sounds. And he's no doubt referring to the American version. The Beach Boys were on Capitol, too, so he likely received a comp, U.S. version of the record.

Which, I guess, means that the U.S. Rubber Soul is by no means a bad album and nothing to be embarassed about loving. It's just that the U.K. one is a bit more perfect.

I think I love this album so much because it captures the Beatles in the midst of growing up. The magical experimentalism and eclecticism that marks so much of the group's later work is just starting to surface. Earlier albums stuck mostly to the guitars, bass and drums sound but here more instruments and styles are added to the mix.

Tambourine and/or maracas are on nearly every track. Acoustic guitars are everywhere. "Norwegian Wood" introduces the sound of George Harrison's sitar. "In My Life" features producer George Martin's baroque-style piano solo. "Girl" sounds like something you'd hear in a Greek restaurant. "Michelle" has Paul McCartney singing in French!

There are advances on the lyrical front, too. No longer is every tune a love song. On "Think for Yourself" and "The Word," the band shows no qualms about offering its fans advice: "Think for yourself 'cause I won't be there with you," "Say the word and you'll be free, say the word and be like me."

Sure, they're not overtly political songs. But they're about as preachy as the Beatles were comfortable being. At the same time they were tempted to use their influence to lead, they were wary of setting themselves up as the same sort of authority figures they detested and distrusted.

At any rate, this clearly wasn't the work of guys following a formula to stay on top of the charts. That would've been easy enough to do, but not for the Beatles. This was a band that changed, grew and experimented. Which is why Rubber Soul--in its various forms--still gets listened to today.

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

Of course I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Beach Boys heard the British version. I know John Sebastian (Lovin' Spoonful) fell in love with the Brit version from some fanzine I read decades ago.