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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Beatles: Rubber Soul


1) Drive My Car; 2) Norwegian Wood; 3) You Won't See Me; 4) Nowhere Man; 5) Think For Yourself; 6) The Word; 7) Michelle; 8) What Goes On; 9) Girl; 10) I'm Looking Through You; 11) In My Life; 12) Wait; 13) If I Nee­ded Someone; 14) Run For Your Life.

As everybody knows, this is where the switch is flipped, without any possibility of going back. With The Beatles saw the band adopt an unbreakable «no-filler» policy (even the filler must, in one way or other, be treasurable); Rubber Soul sees it transform into a «no-routine» policy. Star­ting here, it is no longer sufficient for everything to be «good» — it has to be «expansive», with a permanent, non-stop coverage of new territory. I wonder just how exactly conscious that decision must have been — and am fairly certain that it was conscious, that an explicit goal was set, and, furthermore, that whatever aided its fulfillment the most was healthy (sometimes unhealthy) com­petition between John, Paul, and, to a lesser degree, George (but even George had decidedly join­ed the game by the end of 1965).

By the fall of 1965, the band was relatively free of heavy touring commitments, and everyone had more time to poke around and take a good look at whatever was a-happenin'. There are tons of acknowledged outside influences on Rubber Soul: from Dylan and the Byrds to Otis Redding, but, as usual, the Beatles never allow these influences to overshadow their own inspiration and craftsmanship. A lesser band would have resulted in a bandwagon-jumping mishmash; Rubber Soul, following the guidelines laid out by the era's most innovative acts, turns the trick right on them and, through sheer magic, somehow becomes the leader.

The most important quality in a leader is that the leader should be impossible to pigeonhole, and Rubber Soul is properly uncategorizable. Try to play all the seven tracks on Side A in your head at the same time (yes, it is possible if you listen to them long enough), and they will be seven dif­ferent worlds, peacefully coinhabiting the same vinyl environment. This is the highest level of di­versity on a Beatles side so far, and, as far as I'm concerned, even the White Album would have a difficult time beating it on these terms. But even the White Album, for all of its unpredictabili­ty, did not make such bold strides in all these different styles as Rubber Soul does. Think about it some more, and you will begin to understand why musicians, critics, and fans alike were flab­bergasted — including Brian Wilson, who was reportedly spurred on to the success of Pet So­unds by listening to the album. Not that anything on Pet Sounds has any similarity to anything on Rubber Soul — it's simply that, for quite a few people, Rubber Soul unavoidably acted as a catalyst. «Go on out there, we dare you to be as creative as we are». (It also ruined many a lesser band's career — with this new type of benchmark established, the old policy of developing a set formula and sticking to it for the rest of one's life was done for. Not everyone survived the transi­tion — Gerry Marsden and Dave Clark will tell you the rest of it).

Out of sheer controversy, my consciously selected favourite on Side A, for quite some time, was Paul's ʽYou Won't See Meʼ — just because so much praise was already heaved on everything else, and this was a nifty «dark sheep» to ride. But, in all honesty, even this relatively «conservative» pop tune still has an entirely different sound, mood, and feel to it than anything done previously. It reflects a real situation in Paul's life (a temporary estrangement from Jane Asher, to be reme­died later before they'd eventually break up for good), and almost everything about it — the ma­ture, if still a bit simplistic, lyrics; the vocal intonations; the darker production overtones — qua­lifies for a «singer-songwriter» style, rather than just another exciting, but formulaic pop hit. In addition, it features what I consider to be one of the Beatles' greatest vocal arrangements (it is al­ready a joy just to listen to them gain in complexity and intensity throughout the song), and pro­bably the most successful ever attempt at creating a special mood with just one single note: for the last verse of the song, trusty roadie Mal Evans is holding down the A note on a Hammond or­gan, creating this barely noticeable low hum that somehow gives the song an extra depth level. (Before the Internet came along, I'd wondered about that hum for years, actually).

But this is really just to reaffirm my faith in how amazingly consistent the whole construction is. Indeed, Rubber Soul finally sees the emergence of Paul McCartney as not only as a great melo­dy writer, but as an artist no longer afraid of taking risks, and, indeed, reveling in risk-taking. ʽYou Won't See Meʼ is, after all, fairly conservative next to ʽDrive My Carʼ and ʽMichelleʼ. The former is Paul's first non-love song, as is obvious not only from the lyrics (that are more about humorous character assassination than about anything else), but also from the melody — gritty, R'n'B-ish, and quite bass-heavy (George claimed to have laid down both the basic bass part and the accom­panying bass-doubling rhythm guitar, but I doubt it: why the heck would Paul not want to play the crucial bass part on one of his own songs?). And the latter? Chet Atkins + stereotypical Parisian atmos­phere (in live performances, Paul likes to augment the sound with an accordeon, which I find way too obvious) + sweetest bass solo ever put to tape. As corny as your average French pop song, but still genius.

Compared to this, John's breakthroughs on Rubber Soul are not as huge, but that's because he'd already covered much of that distance before. ʽNorwegian Woodʼ builds upon the foundation of ʽYou've Got To Hide Your Love Awayʼ, but this time adding a distinct, instantly hard-hitting melody to the bare accompaniment, not to mention the lyrics and their vocal delivery being far more true to the John character — this time around, the bitch actually gets it. (Whoever said the Rolling Stones were more «dangerous» than the Beatles? Mick Jagger only warned the girl about the dangers of playing with fire; John Lennon is not afraid to light the fire in person). Of course, the song is mostly famous for George's sitar part, which was, at that time, added somewhat spon­taneously, on a momentary whim, but ended up predicting his future career.

[Side note: I actually agree with Alan Pollack that the sitar in ʽNorwegian Woodʼ is rather «clun­ky sounding», and that the song could have been just as strong without it, as existing early takes de­monstrate. In fact, both the Yardbirds' ʽHeart Full Of Soulʼ and the Kinks' ʽSee My Friendsʼ, although the songs only imitate the sitar rather than use it — the Yardbirds actually did record a sitar version, but abandoned it because it did not resonate with enough power for a single release — both these songs are far more adept at setting an «Indian» mood. Which does not deny the ac­tual pioneer move, since ʽNorwegian Woodʼ was the first original pop song to use a sitar; nor does it mean that there is anything «wrong» with the move — George's «clunky», minimalistic playing quite matches the basic melody and feeling.]

ʽNowhere Manʼ must have appeared out of nowhere indeed: nobody saw it coming, and the sight of the Beatles performing the song live during their last international tours in 1966 is extremely confusing, because, if there ever was one song in their pre-Revolver catalog not to be addressed to seas of screaming girls, it is this one. Okay, so I stand corrected: this is a real milestone for John, his first pronounced attempt at carrying himself away into a parallel world; and he would forever retain this penchant for parallel worlds, regardless of all the disillusionments and the con­fessionals and the politics and Yoko and whatever else — there is a straight line from ʽNowhere Manʼ not only to ʽLucy In The Sky With Diamondsʼ, but to ʽDream No. 9ʼ as well, and maybe even right down to ʽ(Just Like) Starting Overʼ, in a way. The coolest thing about John's parallel worlds, of course, is that he wastes no time on building them — they just descend upon him all by themselves, while he is doing nothing: "Nowhere man, don't worry, take your time, don't hurry, leave it all till somebody else lends you a hand" — get it? That's the way to go about it. Greatest single moment about the song: the high ringing E at 1:03 that concludes George's guitar solo like a sudden burst of inspiration / revelation. It didn't necessarily need to be there, but that's what makes a Beatles classic a Beatles classic.

Speaking of George, his Side A contribution, ʽThink For Yourselfʼ, is a major leap forward as well — also his first non-love song, more like a simple socio-philosophical rumination on the pe­rils of brainwashing (but, mind you, still not tainted by Indian motives, which would only begin rearing their head on Revolver). No bridge, no solo, three verses of straightahead preaching, a grumbly, fuzzy bassline carrying the main melody — decidedly a claim to something special. But I think that what really makes the song are the effortless tempo transitions from verse to chorus: the verses, frankly speaking, are a little bit boring, and we all know it is the easiest thing in the world for George to write a boring, mid-tempo, preachy song, so each time the tune transforms into an aggressive faster-paced pop-rocker, it's cheer time. The result is probably not a true mas­terpiece on the level of George's later songs, but the whole thing is still quite intriguing — in fact, it is well nigh impossible to even understand the exact genre of the song, which takes a little bit of melodic stuffing from almost everywhere.

Finally, there is no forgetting ʽThe Wordʼ as the first ever «anthemic» song to be recorded by the guys — a direct predecessor to ʽAll You Need Is Loveʼ, stating the same message in cruder terms, but, actually, with more of that crude-rocking energy (and it has the best Ringo fills on the entire album, too). It's not the most inventive track on the album (twelve-bar blues form, mostly?), per se, but it is the first time in the Beatles catalog where they deliver an explicit message to the world, and the bluntness of the melody is appropriate, because that's what most anthems are. And again, it never prevents them from scattering little tricks all over the place — such as George Martin's harmonium solo, giving the whole thing a bit of a religious feel (for lack of a church or­gan, that is), or my favourite bit, when the repetitive "Say the wooooord..." chorus is pushed up to ecstatic falsetto levels on 1:39. That's right: if you're gonna be repetitive about it, at least don't be monotonously repetitive. Give the people a little bit of hysteria.

The second side of the album is a tiny bit of a letdown in comparison, but not even the Beatles could handle fourteen individual breakthroughs in a row. Of course, there are no bad songs, but certain facts speak for themselves. I have never cared all that much for ʽWaitʼ, a sort of slightly updated take on ʽWhen I Get Homeʼ but with way, way too little happening to the song once the first solid verse/chorus pair is over; it was hardly a surprise to discover that it was, in fact, an out­take from the Help! sessions, carried over at the last moment to plug a gap (so, «filler» from an objective perspective). John himself would harbor and occasionally express hatred for ʽRun For Your Lifeʼ — well, he probably was ashamed of the misogynistic lyrics, I just think that, while the song itself is sorta okay as an aggressive pop-rocker, they did miss a spectacular chance to close a spectacular album with a spectacular song (a mistake that would never ever be repeated again — beginning with Revolver, the Beatles always took good care of their codas).

There is also ʽWhat Goes Onʼ, an excellent piece of country-pop that is a sheer improvement over ʽAct Naturallyʼ (and Ringo sings it just as well as he did on the latter), but, again, it feels kinda slight; and so does Paul's ʽI'm Looking Through Youʼ, which is set a little in the vein of ʽTell Me What You Seeʼ, but has a distinctly more aggressive edge, having also been written about his turbulent relations with Jane Asher. Good songs, all of them, yet with hardly any pizzazz next to the first side monsters. George's ʽIf I Needed Someoneʼ also has an excellent melody, but this is the only time on Rubber Soul where the influences show up a bit too much — the whole thing ends up sounding like a respectful homage to Roger McGuinn, belittling the album's pretense at flagmanship. (Not that there's anything wrong with a little self-belittling!)

In the end, Side B is semi-rescued by John — ʽGirlʼ and, particularly, ʽIn My Lifeʼ are the two giants that push it closer to Side A's standards, and, if it were up to me, I would certainly have set ʽIn My Lifeʼ as the album closer; it is exceptionally strange that the idea did not come up origi­nally, unless, of course, it did come up and everyone thought of it as too «obvious», so they deci­ded to humbly end the record on one of the lesser tunes instead. (Another possibility is that they just wanted to cut things off on a rock'n'roll punch — like they used to on all of their previous al­bums, with the exception of A Hard Day's Night. Too bad, since, at this point, the Beatles were no longer a genuine «proverbial» rock'n'roll band).

Still, as it goes, Side B is a «failure» only as far as it fails to comply with the «no-routine!» mot­to: its only flaw is that there are a few songs on it that either aspire to something grander than they really are, or even a few songs that do not aspire to anything at all, and that goes against the cur­rent policy. For the standards of 1964, ʽWaitʼ would have been as good as anything, but it just feels small and defenseless sitting next to the downright orgasmic ʽIn My Lifeʼ. But who cares, really? Things were going great in late 1965, and everybody knew that this was not going to be the last we hear from the Beatles.

Let's just conclude this by stating one further dislike and one further like. I have never cared much for the album sleeve. It was quite telling at the time — not just an «artsy» perspective, but a distinctly psychedelic one — but it sort of makes the Beatles look like four scrawny Indians in the jungle, and that is definitely not the mood on any of Rubber Soul's music. What I have always cared about, conversely, is the marvelous stereo split that George Martin conducted for this al­bum — over the years, it has been a regular delight to listen to all the tracks in one channel and then in the other one. With the mix separation, it's like you are getting a couple Stack-o-Tracks-like bonus records with your original purchase. Considering, among other things, that Rubber Soul marks the beginning of Paul's most creative period as a bass player, it is not just recom­men­dable, but actually obligatory that everyone listen at least once to the bass / drums channel on its own — it gives an entirely different perspective on the album, and an extra reason to admire Paul as a technically limited, but wildly imaginative musician. And, as that last drop / straw / whatever, it takes away the wish to reward it with a rating — giving a «thumbs up» to Rubber Soul or to any subsequent Beatles album is as ridiculous as giving it to a da Vinci painting. It's the Beatles in their prime, for Chrissake. Why waste good red ink?

Check "Rubber Soul" (CD) on Amazon


  1. A sign of how multifaceted these songs are: apparently many people who grew up with the American version of "Rubber Soul" find it very weird that "Drive my car" or "Nowhere man" are in the British version because "they don't fit". Capitol intentionally *made* Rubber Soul a Byrds/Dylan style folk rock album by tacking "I've just seen a face" in there and dropping some of the tighter songs, *and that change made the rest of the songs sound different*.

  2. Just a comments about your interpretation of the lyrics

    Michelle - Is that really a love song? I used to thought it was a paul mccartney love song and I used to hate it because it just doesn't make any sense as paul mccartney sounds completely patronising throughout the song. How on earth are lyrics like "I will say the only words I know that
    You'll understand." Is Paul Mccartney calling his "lover" an idiot who can only understand simplistic "I Love you" statements? My interpretation is that yes he is calling the person an idiot.

    In my mind this song is actually a parody of teen pop. In fact that interpretation probably suits the "concept" of this album (which is disillusionment with women). The song is about writing songs with lyrics that "go together well" and doesn't have a deep meaning. Michell my belle sounds great together. He sings "I love you" because that is the only word the teenage fans of the beatles understand. Of course he will continue singing those lyrics "until he finds a way" to sing something more deep that the "fans" be able to understand.

    "I need to make you see,
    Oh, what you mean to me.
    Until I do I'm hoping you will
    Know what I mean."

    I always find those lyrics to imply that those fans mean nothing to him and his hoping that one day they know what he means.

    After re-interpreting the lyrics I find this song to be hilarious and the great signal of their "maturation" phase by satiring his earlier lyrics that really just goes together well. It connects well with the themes of other songs of the album (especially Think For Yourself and If I Needed Someone)

    1. Uh... nice try, but I sort of thought "I will say the only words I know that you'll understand" refers to his inability to communicate with a French girl in English. It's not that the lover is an idiot, it's that McCartney only knows two words in French.

      On a semi-related note, he sang the song to Michelle Obama at the White House - and had the nerve (courtesy?) of omitting the whole "I want you I want you I want you" bit.

    2. yeah that kind of makes sense ....... but my interpretation is a lot more fun

    3. Let just say this, whether Paul McCartney intended it or not (I wouldn't completely rule it out though).

      If you read the lyrics under the lens that this is a parody of the shallowness of teen pop, the lyrics fits perfectly, and it does it in a subtle way that could easily be interpreted it as a conventional love song as well.

      Whether it was intentional or not, I still think it's genius that it could be interpreted that way.

    4. _How on earth are lyrics like "I will say the only words I know that you'll understand." Is Paul Mccartney calling his "lover" an idiot who can only understand simplistic "I Love you" statements? My interpretation is that yes he is calling the person an idiot._

      Well, on the one hand, as George says, he's talking about his inability to speak French.

      On the other, what he's really saying is "John gave me this great 'I love you, I love you, I love you' bridge, and now I've got to find a way to transition to the next verse." (Musically and lyrically.)

  3. Maybe it's the cynical me talking. I always thought that "The Word" sounds like a satire of evangelist preachers. The intonation of Lennon sounds like he is joking with the lyrics rather than some sincere universalist statement there.

    The song is structured with "say the word you'll be free" in a very preachy and repetitive manner that some people may find annoying (I know people who are annoyed with it). Pretty much saying empty platitudes about how people are going to be free by accepting the 'truth' without really going into the details how that's going to work.

    john Lennon pretty much summarise that the only real thing he got out of religion is that love is important and he believes he could summarise all religion with it. The idea that love is important, the rest is all hot air (which the repetitiveness of the lyrics symbolises)

    In the end however "Now that I know what I feel must be right, I'm here to show everybody the light" he sings that in a very aggressive voice which symbolises how the original intentions of love" gets twisted and becomes oppressive.

    Ok, maybe I'm over-analysing it but I do think it is more than just a universalist "love" anthem. There is a speck of that there but I do hear cynicism in the song rather than pure sincerity.

  4. In my experience, the Beatles' most unpretentious fans consider this to be the band's greatest album. That wouldn't be me, but I can see their point. In a way, Rubber Soul is the last 'old-school' (what's that?) Beatles album - and one of their most consistent. Help! sessions or not, I could never see what is wrong with "Wait" (which is a gem), but let's just admit that "What Goes On" is a weak song. I almost agree with Prindle to the extent that that is the reason why they gave it to Ringo. I mean it's certainly better than "Act Naturally", but that's a humiliating compliment.
    And yeah, thumbs up would look silly here...

  5. Ah, the first Beatles album you've reviewed that I've actually got. Of those, it's probably my least favourite, but of course it's still great.

    My favourites include "Drive My Car" (love the vocal melody), "Nowhere Man" (love the tone), "I'm Looking Through You" (again, vocal melody) and, belive it or not, "Run For Your Life". I always assumed the lyrics were written from the point of view of some anonymous scary, possessive villain - they were always creepy to me (especially in the end - "I'd rather see you dead" makes the whole "catch you with another man, that's THE END" take on a whole 'nother meaning), but I assumed this was intentional. I still shall - as it is, the relative subtlety means I consider it one of the only cases of conventionally good lyrics in my small Beatles' catalogue (as opposed to "unconventionally good", like I Am The Walrus or Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite).

    In the end I prefer the next album, generally because I find the guitarwork on that album more memorable and catchy.

  6. My Re-evaluation of the meaning of Rubber Soul

    Why this is a misogynist concept album about how women suck and why feminist should have burned this album

    Drive My Car: Points out the materialism of women

    Norwegian Wood: About a women being a cocktease (publicly Lennon may have declared it about an affair but I don’t see any sex in the lyrics) and then retaliating by burning down her house.

    You Won’t See Me: About a relationship where the girl won’t see the guy due to her own

    Nowhere Man: Although technically there is no mention of women or girl in the song. However when you connect the theme with the rest of the album, the person is clearly a “nowhere man” because the guy spends all his time trying to make the girl happy, that he has no sense of personal identity of his own.

    Think For Yourself: About how woman can be clingy and unable to think without the presence of the man

    The Word: Clear sarcasm about how powerful “love” is. It is clearly tongue in cheek that romantic love with woman isn’t as crack up to be.

    Michelle: Denouncing woman as unable to understand anything instead of generic “I Love you” lyrics.

    What Goes On: Lamenting about a dishonest girl treating the guy unkind.
    Girl: This song goes through the crushing feeling in being in a long term relationship which ended up killing the guy.

    I’m Looking Through You: About stripping away the attractive veneer and seeing the monster inside of the girl

    In My Life: Is this a beautiful song about nostalgia? Or a powerful love song? No, in fact this song is pointing out the dangers of obsessive “romantic” love that men have for woman because it shows that it causes selfishness where the guy puts the girl above their own friends and their own family and even the human race as a whole. Lennon is such a genius there in pointing it out

    Wait: This song goes through the story of a guy trying to (unsuccessfully) ween himself out of his dependency he has for the girl realising that the relationship has failed and yet fatalisticly hopes for a happy conclusion that he knows is not going to happen.

    Run For Your Life: A fitting and elegant closure to this concept album about the disillusion he has towards women and he posit a solution to all the problems. Simply killing the girl

    That concludes Beatles first and arguably only concept album of their entire career about their misogynist feelings towards women. This put the misogyny of cock rock bands like AC/DC to shame as they do it in a more subtle and intelligent (and hence dangerous and more influential) manner. :)

    My attempted copycat of Prindle Over.


    2. Wow, a Beatles-related thing I actually disagree with! Not the album itself, which is obviously stellar. But I greatly disagree on the stereo separation thing. I hate these kinds of stereo mixes for normal listening. It's one thing if you are trying out a stack-o-tracks thing and separating the instruments, but that's the kind of thing that should be saved for fan-only releases and boxsets, not made the primary mixes for the vast majority of people. 95% of the time you just want to hear the song normally and the separation (not just on this album but on all the Beatles stuff that did this) is very distracting for me in that context. For casual listening I vastly prefer their mono mixes.

    3. Michael
      I hope I was clearly being sarcastic and joking around there (although in all honestly it may well be cringe worthy humour, I'm not exactly the greatest judge on what's funny and what's not). I thought the whole Nowhere Man, The Word and In My Life description was a dead giveaway that I was fooling around and twisting the message to fit the theory.

      Although saying that there is a clear theme of disillusionment of love or disillusionment of teenage fans that links together half of the song in the album.

      Really regarding the trope, in my mind personal interpretation trumps author interpretation all the time with a caveat that the person declaring their personal interpretation is solely their own and not try to put words in the author mouth.


      Oh yeah I forgot
      If I Needed Someone - About man declaring their independence from influence by other woman.

    4. Ken/George

      I am of both opinions on the stereo mix issue. The geek in me loves to listen to the different instruments and "audial easter eggs", but when I'm driving in my 12-year old car with crappy stereo and all I can hear is John's acoustic, bass and drums and no vocals, the geek is overrun by the road rager. Still, glad to know it wasn't just me that heard the difference!

  7. _when the repetitive "Say the wooooord..." chorus is pushed up to ecstatic falsetto levels on 1:39. That's right: if you're gonna be repetitive about it, at least don't be monotonously repetitive. Give the people a little bit of hysteria._

    Never thought about that before.

    Never consciously noticed the harmonium drone on "You Won't See Me" before either.

    And your remarks on "Nowhere Man" here and on your old website are some of the best commentary on John's songwriting that I've seen anywhere.


    1. Agree that the change in rhythm between the verse and chorus makes "Think for Yourself". Agree that if the whole song sounded like the verse, it would be boring. But in the context of the song as it is, I'd say the verse is a great piece of work. Good enough that the Byrds ripped it off a year later for "Thoughts and Words".

    2. You call the lyrics for "Drive My Car" 'character assassination', and that seems to be the general consensus about the song. But while on one level they're obviously satire, I'd say the only thing being satirized is pop song conventions ("Hey, look, it's a car song, except the girl's driving! Except she doesn't have a car!") - not the characters.

    If anything, it's the other way around. I get the sense that Paul admires the girl's pluck. (Confident she's going to get to the top; hustling the boy into being her sidekick; though she doesn't even have a car yet. "I've found a driver, and that's a start!")

    3. Regarding "I'm Looking Through You", I'd say the opening acoustic guitar lick, the odd percussion (Ringo tapping on a matchbox), and especially the "subtle but still viscerally powerful" transition between the verse and chorus (when the cymbals, the electric guitar licks, and those stabbing organ chords kick in, and Paul goes from singing "I'm looking through you" to screaming "you're not the same") (Greil Marcus rhapsodizes about this in Rolling Stone's Illustrated History of Rock & Roll) amount to as much pizzazz as just about anything else on the album.

    1. I agree with your analysis of Drive My Car. I don't see Paul putting down anybody. In fact, he's putting himself in the sidekick role, which is pretty liberated for '65. Not that I'm an expert on that sort of thing.

      The only song I can think of that has a similar "Alpha Girl" perspective is the Beach Boys' Fun Fun Fun. But even the girl's dad has the final say in the matter (Daddy took her T-Bird away). Incidentally, another car song--speaks to the American belief that if you got wheels, you got freedom and confidence.

  8. Just a few points. "I'm Looking Through You," is simply gorgeous folk rock. The melody is perfect, Paul's voice is perfect, and the lyrics are perfect. It's a perfect pop song. The song possesses a strait-forward sort of rootsy non-pretentiousness that is as beguiling as it is masterly. I think you underrated it in your review. Hahah.

    I also feel the same way about "If I Needed Someone." First of all, I'll take it over ever Byrds song, personally. I love the way all the Beatles sound harmonizing the chorus with George. It encapsulates their particular camaraderie at the time. I just think it has a breezy magnificence overall, what with its sort of platonic message and chiming 12 string electric twangs.

    Lastly, "Nowhere Man," is the masterpiece of the record. It has elements of the last two songs I described, folkishness, rootsiness, breeziness, non-pretentiousness, stunning harmonies, but transcends all of those things and becomes something else entirely. What that is? I'm not sure. Probably an avatar of Beatle genius, fully realized. A shining monolith people can point to, like a mountain in the mass consciousnesses as proof of Beatle greatness. Obviously I like this record.

  9. In all seriousness though.

    I think this album is underrated even by you George (it's the only Beatles album that I rate higher than you and I'm nowhere near a Beatles fanatic as you are).

    The general consensus was that this was a major transitional album to the "mature' period of the beatles. However since it is a transitional album, it is merely a stepping stone (although brilliant stepping stone) to later albums where Beatles reach greater heights.

    In my mind that is complete rubbish. This is as good as or even better than any other Beatles album in their catalogue this is their most consistent album until Abbey Road was released. In terms of song quality, I don't know understand why people just declare that this album is inferior to Revolver

    No bad songs in the album (What Goes On and Run For Your life are merely average) and everything else rules. Beatles were clearly maturing and writing emotional resonant pop songs but without going off the deep end with experimentation with psychedelia where Beatles had mixed success with (I'm sorry but I'm nowhere near as enamoured with the trio of Revolver/Sgt Peppers and MMT even if I rate the first two album a 14 and a MMT a 12). Beatles are in their element when writing mature pop songs that is more grounded in reality(which explains why my favourite beatles album is this one along with White Album and Abbey Road) rather than psychedelic experiment even if they are talented enough to write brilliant songs in that genre.

    In My Life is probably the greatest love song ever written. It's a song where I want it to be played at my future funeral and my future wedding and it works well both way. If it's played during a funeral, the protagonist is saying goodbye to all the friends and lovers who the person has fond nostalgic memory of gather around for the funeral and if it was played in a wedding, it's celebrating all the family and friends who attend whilst giving special attention to the bride to be. This song is the crowning jewell of The Beatles career (along with A Day In The Life)

    I also don't get the dislike towards Wait. It's a great song catchy and also dynamic. I love the contrast between the verse and chorus and how the song just jumps out when Lennon sings 'wait". The bridge by McCartney is awesome as well and I love at the end "you'll wait for me" and then the rest of the band cuts off leaving behind that "I need you" guitar sound from Help that gives this downbeat feeling that the person isn't going to wait for him .

    The rest of the album ,well I think George and the fellow commenters described it well about how great the songs are.

    1. You make a lot of strong points, but am I the only one bothered by the fact that you said "future funeral" before "future wedding"?

    2. hah

      Good point that I got that in the wrong order.

      Then again there may be so cheesy horror movie out there where the bride marries a zombie so maybe it makes sense there.

  10. Man ! I almost got a heart attack when I saw that there was no red at the end of the review ! Don't you EVER do that again ! :o)

  11. Excellent review as always. I just wanted to say that while I have always loved "You Won't See Me," I have always thought it was a direct sequel to "What You're Doing." I don't think there's anything obviously more evolved or singer-songwritery about YWSM at all. If the group shouts of "look" added a sense of "distance" to the singer of WYD, the harpies singing "ooh la la la" from paradise island offer a similar aloofness to the proceedings on YWSM. Anyways, I love both of those songs, but I think they are sung by the exact same Paul without any huge transition worth pointing to.

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  13. I have always believed John wrote 'Nowhere Man' about Paul, just as I believe Paul wrote 'Paperback Writer' about John.

    I think John resented Paul for beginning to assert control over what John considered was his band ("making all his nowhere plans for nobody"), Paul's emphasis on PR and image over substance ("doesn't have a point of view"), and Paul's then-resistance to expanding his mind through LSD ("please listen, you don't know what you're missing, nowhere man, the world is at your command")

    I think in Paperback Writer, Paul resented what he saw as John's undeserved reputation as the artist and intellectual of the group, and first took aim at John's literary accomplishments. ("it took me years to write...based on a novel by a man named [Sir Edmund] Lear")

    Then I believe Paul took aim at John and Cynthia. "It's a dirty story of a dirty man, and his clinging wife doesn't understand."

  14. I've read a post in the old side written by a reader, it said (more or less) than the Velvets achieved a "perfect adecuacy" at their sound, as the Stones, in opposite of the Beatles, wich (maybe because of John and Paul's way of singing) never got. I agree and I don't agree with the common view of The Beatles as de "perfect band" because they always (George included) forget to talk about this problem. The Beatles were, without a doubt, the most talented songwriters and their career was the best because they made very little "filler" and almost no "bad" album. When I listen to a collection of "best pop rock songs" I often feel like listening some "timeless music" until a song of the Fav Four appears and it makes a contrast, since it sounds "dated" and "sixties" in comparision, specially if the song is from the 62-65 era. There's something in songs like "I wanna hold your hand", "From me to you", "Help", "Paperback writer" or "In my life" that makes them to be unperfect, although they are brilliant songs. I think that some bands that achieved the "perfect" factor, although they were less consistent in quality, were The Stones, The Kinks, The Velvets, The Who, The Doors or The Beach Boys. Some artist got it in one or two songs, like The Animals or Stevie Wonder. Sorry for my English.

    1. Great. That's what has bugged me for a long time. And you put it in words just right.

    2. "here's something in songs..."
      I am not a fan of the Beatles - I don't own a single album of the band - but when reading this quote I'd like to know what that "something" is.
      I have never bought the "dated" argument. We don't apply that to Mozart and young Beethoven either, who both definitely sound like end 18th Century. The "dated" argument is based on the presupposition that new is better.

    3. I try to explain that "something" in those 16 lines. In part because of John/Paul throat-singing (specially John), in part because the planned hysterical sound (the older years), in part because some of the instruments sound thunderous in the mix... A total classic song sounds like "it's simply there and it always has been", I rarely find this attribute in The Beatles. Songs like "Surf's up", "House of the rising sun", "Superstition", "Gimme shelter", "Naked eye", "Echoes", "Lola", "Love me two times", "The thrill of it all", "Hotel California", "Layla", "Everybody's talkin"... are some examples. I don't understand what you say about the "dated" argument since i'm comparing the Beatles with contemporary artists.

    4. I would like to add that "While my guitar gently weeps" is a perfect song from every point of view.

    5. None of the songs you mention, including While my guitar gently weeps, sounds like "it's simply there and it always has been". None of them sound like "they have been there" even a few decades before they were written, let alone a few centuries before. Moreover they all definitely sound like second half of the 20th Century. They couldn't have been composed in any other era. They belong to their epoch as much as Mozart etc. to the 18th Century and Gregorian chanting to the Middle Ages.
      Your "logic" only betrays your personal tastes. Now there is nothing wrong with personal tastes, but they become bias if you try to present them as if they are objective, like you do. Exactly because of that fallacy you don't understand why I apply your logic to Mozart, Haydn and young Beethoven.
      Timeless music only exists in your biased imagination. So it's silly to hold it against The Beatles or any other band that they didn't write timeless music. It's not the music that changes, it's our perceptions.

    6. I don't agree. The argument of "everything is subjective" is lazy. There are pieces of art that become inmortal and timeless and pieces that don't. Not everything that Mozart did is brilliant. Why the 25th sympony is still played and acclaimed today and other compositions totally ignored? "Le trou", "Ordet", "The third man", "Harakiri", "Once upon a time in the west", "Apocalypse now", "Psycho", "A touch of evil", some films that remain eternally fresh and young. "Topaz", "Roma", "Saló", "Midnight cowboy", "Quadrophenia", "Play misty for me", "The raven", some films that are dated and have aged badly. The same for music.

    7. I didn't write "everything is subjective". I wrote that your argument "it's simply there and it always has been" is an attempt to hide that you are subjective; the same for "some movies/music have aged badly". Thus according to yourself you are the lazy guy, not me.
      Neither did I write that everything Mozart wrote is brilliant. That's two strawmen you pulled off.

  15. Un lector de la vieja página decía en un post (más o menos) que los Velvet lograron una interpretación "perfecta" de su sonido, como los Stones, en oposición a los Beatles, que (quizá por la manera de cantar de John y Paul) nunca alcanzaron. Estoy de acuerdo con él y no coindido con la visión frecuente de los Beatles como el "grupo perfecto" porque todo el mundo tiende a olvidar (como George) hablar de este problema. Los Beatles fueron, sin duda, los compositores más talentosos y su carrera fue la mejor porque apenas lanzaron "relleno" y no tienen prácticamente un solo álbum malo. Cuando escucho una recopilación de "mejores canciones de pop y rock", con frecuencia siento estar escuchando una música atemporal hasta que suena una canción de los cuatro de Liverpool y noto un contraste, ya que suena "anticuada" y "sesentera" en comparación, especialmente si pertenece a la época 62-65. Hay algo en canciones como "I wanna hold your hand", "From me to you", "Help", "Paperback writer" or "In my life" que las hace imperfectas, aunque sean brillantes. Creo que algunos grupos que consiguieron el "factor de perfección", aunque hayan sido menos consistentes en cuanto a calidad, son los Stones, los Kinks, los Velvet, los Who, los Doors o los Beach Boys. Algunos artistas lo alcanzaron en una o dos canciones en toda su carrera, como los Animals o Stevie Wonder.

  16. Dean "Best Group Effort" LaCapraraMay 11, 2013 at 8:35 PM

    I must've commented on this after George's fascinating look at what some (rightly?) feel is their finest hour, although personally the White Album & Abbey Road are untouchable. The problem with both is they sound like individuals throwing in contributions, especially in '68.
    Here the quartet are still functioning as the unit we all adore, touring still on the horizon and Brian Epstein's death a couple of years away. John is the king throughout while Paul gives us the second most-played ditty in radio's long history (apparently "Yesterday" is #1). Inspired the Beach Boys, folk-rock and probably Dylan in 1966. Love these tunes but actually own the US butcher version on vinyl.

  17. Did I miss it or Michelle was not mentioned even once?

  18. Four scrawny Indians? With all due respect, and as someone who was not born while the Beatles made their music, I'm going to trust Ray Manzarek's perspective on the album cover because he was around and aware at the time.

    On an FM radio station in the early 80's, I heard him describe the cover as menacing as hell, not just to their mop-top loving teeny-bopper fans but to other musicians as well. According to him, John's expression in particular spoke right to the competition: something like, "Look out mutherfuckers, we're looking down from new psychedelic heights and we're out to GET YOU." Manzarek's point was that the cover had an attitude that spoke volumes at the time (for those with eyes to see and ears to hear) especially coming from a band packed with the genius to back up their subliminal, psychedelic threat.