Rubber Soul is the sixth album by English rock band The Beatles, first released in December 1965. It was recorded in just over four weeks to make the Christmas market, and was a major achievement, with reviewers taking note of The Beatles' developing musical vision. Like most Beatles albums, the record was produced by George Martin and achieved widespread commercial success.
The album was a major artistic leap for the group, and often cited by critics, as well as members of the band, as the point where The Beatles' earlier Merseybeat sound began to morph into the eclectic, sophisticated pop/rock of their later career. Lennon later said this was the first album on which The Beatles were in complete creative control during recording, with enough studio time to develop and refine new sound ideas.
Musically, The Beatles broadened their sound, most notably with influences drawn from the contemporary folk-rock of The Byrds and Bob Dylan. The album also saw The Beatles broadening rock n' roll's instrumental resources, most notably on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)". This track is generally credited as being the first pop recording to use the exotic Hindustani stringed instrument, the sitar and "Norwegian Wood" sparked a musical craze for the sound of the sitar in the mid-Sixties. The song is now acknowledged as one of the cornerstones of what is now usually called "world music" and it was a major landmark in the trend towards incorporating non-Western musical influences into Western popular music.
Harrison had recently been introduced to Indian classical music and the sitar by David Crosby of The Byrds. He soon became fanatically interested in the genre and began taking sitar lessons from renowned Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar.
Recording innovations were also made during the recording of the album — the keyboard solo in the middle of "In My Life" sounds like a harpsichord, but was actually played on a piano. George Martin found he could not match the tempo of the song while playing in this baroque style, so he tried recording with the tape running at half-speed. When played back at normal speed during the mixdown, the speeded-up sound gave the illusion of a harpsichord.
Other production innovations included the use of electronic sound processing on many instruments, notably the heavily compressed and equalised piano sound on Lennon's "The Word"; this distinctive effect soon became extremely popular in the genre of psychedelic music.
Lyrically, the album was a major progression. Though a smattering of earlier Beatles songs had expressed romantic doubt and negativity, the songs on Rubber Soul represented a pronounced development in sophistication, thoughtfulness, and ambiguity. In particular, the relationships between the sexes moved from simpler boy-girl love songs to more nuanced, even negative portrayals. "Norwegian Wood", one of the most famous examples and often cited as The Beatles' first conscious assimilation of the lyrical innovations of Bob Dylan, sketches a poetically ambiguous, extra-marital affair between the singer and a mysterious girl. "Drive My Car" serves as a satirical piece of reverse sexism. Songs like "I'm Looking Through You", "You Won't See Me" and "Girl" expressed more emotionally complex, even bitter and downbeat portrayals of romance, and "Nowhere Man" was the first Beatles song to move beyond a romantic subject.
After completing the album and the accompanying single "We Can Work It Out" and "Day Tripper", The Beatles were exhausted from years of virtually non-stop recording, touring, and film work. They subsequently took a three-month break during the first part of 1966, and used this down time exploring new directions that would color their subsequent musical work. These became immediately apparent in the next album Revolver.
The album had a 42-week run in the British charts starting on December 11, 1965, and on Christmas Day took over from Help!, The Beatles' previous album, at the top position in the charts, a position the album would hold for eight weeks. The album became a classic — on May 9, 1987, it returned to the album charts for three weeks, and ten years later made another comeback to the charts.
Rubber Soul is often cited as one of the greatest albums in pop music history. In 1998 Q magazine readers voted it the 40th greatest album of all time, while in 2000 the same magazine placed it at number 21 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2001 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 6. In 2003, the album was ranked number 5 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The album was released on CD in 1987, using the 14-song UK track lineup. As with the CD release of the 1965 Help! album, the Rubber Soul CD featured a contemporary stereo digital remix of the album prepared by George Martin. This remix is a bit controversial among Beatle fans — many purists prefer the 1965 mix. Strangely, a few Canadian-origin CD editions of Rubber Soul and Help! accidentally use the original mix of the album, presumably due to a mix-up as to which tapes were sent to the pressing plant. As of 2006, these "mistakes" sell for a fair amount in the second-hand market, when properly identified.
Until very late in their career, the 'primary' version of The Beatles' albums was always the monophonic mix. According to Beatles historian Mark Lewison, the group, producer George Martin and the Abbey Road engineers devoted most of their time and attention to the mono mixdowns, and the band were usually all present throughout these sessions and actively participated in them. Even with their landmark Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, the stereo mixdowns were considered less important that the mono version and were completed in far less time than the mono mixdown.
While the stereo version of the original release of Rubber Soul was similar to that of their earliest albums, featuring mainly vocals on the right channel and instruments on the left, it was not produced in the same manner. The early albums were recorded on twin-track tape, and they were only intended for production of monaural records, so they kept vocals and instruments separated allowing the two parts to later be mixed in proper proportion. By this time however, the Beatles were recording on four-track tape which allowed a stereo master to be produced with vocals in the center and instruments on both sides, as evidenced in their prior albums Beatles For Sale and Help!. But George Martin was looking for a way to easily produce a stereo album which sounded good on a monaural record player. In what he admits was some experimentation, he mixed down the four-track master tape to stereo with vocals on the right, instruments on the left, and nothing in the middle.
The photo of The Beatles on the Rubber Soul cover looks stretched. Paul McCartney describes the story behind this in Volume 5 of the documentary film Anthology. The photographer was Bob Freeman, and he had taken some pictures of The Beatles at John Lennon's house. Bob was showing the photos to The Beatles in London ; he was projecting the photos onto a cardboard of album size so they could imagine exactly how it would look like as an album cover.
They came across a photo that they liked. Just about when they were about to switch photos, the slide card fell backwards a little bit, which elongated the photo and it stretched. Then they shouted: "Ah! Can we have that? Can you do it like that?". Bob told them: "Yeah, I can print it like that." And that was how the unusual Rubber Soul album cover came to be.
Rubber Soul came out in the United States three days after the British release, and began its 59-week long chart run on Christmas Day. It topped the charts for six weeks from January 8, 1966, before dropping back. The album sold 1.2 million copies within nine days of its release, and to date has sold over four million in America .
Like other pre-Sgt. Pepper Beatles albums, Rubber Soul differed markedly in its US and UK configurations; indeed, through peculiarities of sequencing, the US Rubber Soul became something of a "folk-rock" album, thanks to the addition of "I've Just Seen a Face" and "It's Only Love" (leftovers from the UK Help!) and the deletion of some of the more upbeat tracks ("Drive My Car", "Nowhere Man", "If I Needed Someone", and "What Goes On"). The tracks missing on the US version would later surface on the Yesterday . . . and Today collection. The track variation resulted in a shorter album length, clocking in at 29:59. In addition, the US stereo version has a "false start" at the beginning of "I'm Looking Through You."
The American version of the album also greatly influenced The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, who "answered" the album by releasing Pet Sounds in 1966. In turn, Pet Sounds greatly impressed The Beatles and served as inspiration for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
There were two different stereo versions released on vinyl in the US : the standard US stereo mix, and the "Dexter Stereo" version (a.k.a. the "East Coast" version), which has a layer of reverb added to the entire album.
The standard US stereo mix is available on CD as part of The Capitol Albums, Volume 2 box set.