1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die + 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
Tom Moon hits the nail on the head in his synopsis of The Beatles' "Rubber Soul." He discusses that although "Soul" is often cast aside when compared to forthcoming blog-post fare like "Revolver" and "Sgt. Peppers," the album stands as a monumental moment for the world's biggest band, and should not be ignored.
I'm as guilty as any for ignoring "Rubber Soul" among The Beatles' greats. From a strict enjoyability standpoint, "Soul" is not very satisfying (in my opinion, of course). Up until now, we've looked at two versions of the Beatles, both of which are very fun to listen to. On one hand, we just looked at "A Hard Day's Night," which represents the group at its upbeat, skiffle/Merseybeat best. On the other hand, "Abbey Road" displayed how much The Beatles were capable of when feeling experimental. "Soul" has its swinging moments, but not in bulk. It has its instrumentally experimental moments, but nothing on an "Abbey Road" scale.
First, there's the issue of the group getting away from its skiffle roots. Much of this has to do with the band's (primarily John Lennon's) fascination with folk icon Bob Dylan and his approach to songwriting. Lennon didn't jump from "I Want To Hold Your Hand" to "Like A Rolling Stone," but shades of Dylan are present. "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" is an example of Lennon moving towards a more narrative style. For the rest of the album, the band gets away from a, let's call it "sappy," outlook on romance. There are fewer happy endings on "Rubber Soul," and Lennon's "Nowhere Man" is one of the first Beatles tracks that doesn't have anything to do with love.
The album may not be the band's most instrumentally experimental, but as with the record's lyrics, "Rubber Soul" is a major turning point for the band. Once again, "Norwegian Wood" is a key example. George Harrison would become one of the biggest proponents of the sitar in pop music, and "Wood" was the first rock song to feature a real sitar (The Kinks had simulated the instrument using a standard guitar previously). The rest of the album is heavily colored by acoustic guitars, probably another arm of Dylan's influence, but "Revolver" would further the movement away from standard instrumentation.
Rereading my work here, it might seem that I'm suggesting that "Rubber Soul" is a watered-down version of other Beatles' classics. It's important to step back and look at the big picture however. At the time, "Soul" was huge. Recall that this is the album that moved Brian Wilson to take the next step with The Beach Boys and create "Pet Sounds." Listening to "In My Life" from "Soul" makes it easy to see where Wilson drew inspiration for "God Only Knows." "Rubber Soul" is a huge album from an influence standpoint.
INTERESTING FACT: Much of "Rubber Soul" was never performed live. Paul McCartney resurrected much of it when touring solo, leading to the first performance of "You Won't See Me" in 1997, and "The Word" in 2011. He serenaded Michelle Obama with "Michelle" at the White House in 2010, where he said "I could have been the first first guy ever to be punched out by a president."