Headphoning It In: Rubber Soul, the Key to Psychedelic Rock

Madee Sadozai

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1965: Fifty-four years ago, the sound of music changed forever. Not just because the film Sound of Music was released that year, but because Rubber Soul, the Beatles’ sixth studio album, came into existence. Allow me to so bold as to make my intentions clear: my one and only agenda in life is for everyone I meet to fall in love with and cherish Rubber Soul the same way I do. It isn’t the album most referenced in popular culture, it isn’t defined for being the most daring or adventurous, yet it is still their most unique and underrated masterpiece to date. In the middle of Beatlemania, Rubber Soul is a bridge between two distinct eras – being preceded by Help! and followed up by Revolver and the iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Although I have listened to this album dozens of times, I took a trip (unlike a typical Beatles ‘trip’) through the groundbreaking psychedelic rock paragon that is Rubber Soul. My unfiltered thoughts and opinions are as follows:

“Drive My Car” is punchy, fun, and probably the most out of character song from Rubber Soul. It has that early ‘60s feel that probably led to the decision of putting it as the first track. I can’t think of sound effects catchier than beep beep (sorry to the na-na-nas of “Hey Jude”).

“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” is a psychedelic rock staple and legitimately changed the course of music forever. George Harrison is “This Bird” and he “Has Flown,” ascending to legendary status and a highly debated spot as the best Beatle (yes, I took it there). This masterpiece is the introduction of the sitar to Western music, yet is still steeped in simplicity, with folksy instrumentation and interesting extramarital Lennon lyrics.

The poppy, foot-tapping, head-nodding, loveless love song – a Beatles necessity. The ascending harmonies in the chorus of “You Won’t See Me” are beyond satisfying. You’ll be humming this song involuntarily for the rest of your life. A solid track all around.

Nine seconds into “Nowhere Man,” the guitar starts strumming on the off-beat, sounding like a most perfect mistake. If not for its waviness, thanks to The Beatles’ drug experimentation, this track could have been a soft, crooning ballad for the likes of Paul Anka or Frankie Valli. That simple strumming pattern really warrants this one as a repeat listener.

“Think For Yourself” has powerful guitars and even more commanding maracas. To be quite honest, the maracas are really the most memorable aspect of this track. But, even as a filler song, it has had such a clear influence on today’s psychedelic rock; Tame Impala has definitely taken a page from “Think For Yourself”’s book.

“The Word,” spoiler alert, is love and is reminiscent of songs from Please Please Me. Rubber Soul is so irreplaceable and exceptional, not because it defines The Beatles’ sound, even though I think it does, but because it’s a table of contents for all other Beatles hits.

There is nothing quite like Paul McCartney singing in French. “Michelle” is a Grammy-winning Lennon-McCartney staple and one of the most popular tracks from Rubber Soul. The track is legendary, a solidified Beatles classic, one of the greatest love songs. It paints such a distinct visual: listen to “Michelle,” close your eyes, and get transported back to 1960s Paris – walking along the Seine, strolling amidst the gardens, and whistling this tune.

“What Goes On” is strange, to say the least, but is one of the reasons why Rubber Soul is the way it is. The record is a bit whiny and weirdly produced, but it pulls the listener into a whirlwind of emotions. The guitar fading in and out makes it sound more like a demo than a finished product. It’s raw and real and makes the music feel more grounded.

Now, there are not enough words in the English language to explain the genius of “Girl,” which is easily in the top three best Beatles songs of all time. With a simple strumming guitar and melancholic harmonies, it captures unrequited heartbreak in a mere two and a half minute span of time. No song communicates emotion the way “Girl” does; I feel like I’m inside Lennon’s mind, his heart, his rubber soul, if you will. The one-sided struggle for a love so flippant and arrogant is more than evident and tells an entire story, past, present, and future. The record closes with two different guitars playing harmonious yet contrasting melodies which, in itself, is a representation of the self-aware discordant being.

“I’m Looking Through You” is “Girl”’s less emo counterpart. They have the same message, but wildly different energies. I’m more than convinced this track was meant to be a demo forever, so if we want to get technical, it’s actually flawed in a myriad of ways. From incomplete guitar strums, to inconsistent tambourine usage, to slight mic feedback in the second verse, even great musicians don’t need to shoot for perfection to actually be the greatest. If we were to look at the vaster Beatles catalog, I actually prefer the version on Anthology 2, one of The Beatles’ many compilation albums, because it takes on a beachy, surf rock feel.

“In My Life” is the embodiment of self-reflection and introspection. The harmonies are captivating and George Martin’s piano interlude is angelic and harpsichord-adjacent. This record is definitely the most recognizable from Rubber Soul and is an outstanding love song. For the sake of self-care, go listen to it.

“Wait” – a genius pop anthem! This track is probably the most underappreciated from the Beatles’ catalog to date. It perfectly balances the duality of harboring emotions and moving on from past experiences. “Wait” is too flawless to have slipped under the mainstream radar for so long, when really, it should be in the same conversation as “Michelle,” and deserves to be recognized in the same breath.

“If I Needed Someone” is classic Beatles. It could be pinned into any of their eras and transcends time itself, with a very spacey sound that only a master like George Harrison could accomplish.

Unfortunately, “Run For Your Life” is actually worth running away from. It is not that great and I often skip it. Rubber Soul’s evolution goes from being a “Nowhere Man,” to loving “Michelle,” to suffering at the hands of the “Girl,” and conclusively demanding for the faceless, nameless female love interest to “Run For Your Life.” This song genuinely concerns me since it’s another punchy number, yet with less than pleasant lyrics about threatening to kill. It’s Lennon’s least favorite Beatles song, and I can understand why.

The age-old question remains: why Rubber Soul? A work of auditory art dubbed “the pot album” need not be swept under the rug or forgotten amongst an overindulgent catalog of Beatles hits. Rubber Soul influenced the birth of psychedelic rock, defined the future of The Beatles’ trippy sound, and is essential to the conversation on defining the evolution of rock and general music history. For an album with simple, yet passionate, instrumentation, and almost every song under three minutes, Rubber Soul has no place for overelaborate production, complex guitar riffs, or overwhelming drums. There is beauty in its simplicity that one and all can appreciate.