Rubber Soul is a great album, but it might actually be a little under-appreciated. These days, Sgt. Pepper and Revolver (and more recently Abbey Road) get most of the praise, and a lot of fans think Rubber Soul should be right there with them.
One reason it might not be, is because of the differences between the British and American versions. They’re somewhat like two separate albums, with a six song variance. Capitol left off 4 songs and added 2. That’s half-an-album’s worth of songs!
The American version starts off with a song that had been on Help in England…”I’ve Just Seen A Face”…a country-tinged acoustic song. The first track on side two was also from Help, “It’s Only Love”, another acoustic song. Capitol Records apparently wanted Rubber Soul (released December 3rd, 1965) to fit in with the Folk Rock trend of that year. Besides adding the two acoustic songs, they took away 4 songs…”Drive My Car”, “Nowhere Man” (released as a single in February, 1966), “What Goes On”, and “If I Needed Someone”.
The British version of Rubber Soul started with a rocker, “Drive My Car”. Paul McCartney said “Drive My Car” and some of the other songs were influenced by American soul music. The name Rubber Soul came about after McCartney heard an American musician use the term “plastic soul” when referring to Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. McCartney said he thought of Rubber Soul as an English version of soul music. Meanwhile, American fans mostly thought of Rubber Soul as a Folk Rock album, because of the song choices.
Here are the album track lists. The U.S. version has 12 songs, and the U.K. version 14. The original vinyl albums divided the songs equally between the two sides.
Here’s a confession. Although my Beatles playlists basically follow the British album versions, I placed “I’ve Just Seen A Face” at the beginning and moved “Drive My Car” to the middle, because (to me) that’s how Rubber Soul starts!
Capitol Records succeeded in having Rubber Soul be mostly an acoustic album to fit the trend, but in doing so, they left off three really strong songs…”Nowhere Man”, “Drive My Car”, and “If I Needed Someone”, which hurts the overall impression of the quality of the album with Americans (even though it was extremely popular as it was). Surprisingly, the American version of Rubber Soul included no singles at all. That did have the positive effect of the album being thought of as an artistic statement, rather than just a collection of songs.
Let’s look at how the full version of Rubber Soul came to be.
Already in 1965, The Beatles had been touring, wrote and recorded the songs for the album Help, filmed the movie of the same name, and then toured America (including the Shea Stadium concert). So of course their record company wanted them to do another album before Christmas.
It was already mid October, 1965. The Beatles needed to write, record, and mix 16 new songs (14 for the album, and 2 for a single) in about a month and a half! As crazy as that sounds now, it was actually more uninterrupted time than their hectic schedule had allowed for previous albums.
While on tour, The Beatles had interacted with Bob Dylan, The Byrds, and other American artists. Dylan introduced them to marijuana and his lyrics. Both would expand The Beatles thinking and affect Rubber Soul.
“We Can Work It Out” and “Day Tripper” were selected as a double A-sided single to be released the same day as the album, but were not actually on the album.
Even though The Beatles were on a deadline, they were innovative. This was the first rock/pop album with a sitar. They also incorporated other unusual instruments, including a harmonium (a type of pump organ). George Martin was able to produce a Baroque harpsichord sound by playing a piano part along with a slowed down tape of “In My Life”, and then having the effect sound perfect at regular speed. Rubber Soul was the transitional step The Beatles needed to get to the full studio experimentation of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper.
We all know there is no definitive answer as to what Beatles album is best. Our own opinions can change. But, how does Rubber Soul stack up? When The Beatles’ 4-record “best of” collection (the red and blue albums) was assembled, the selections included more songs from Rubber Soul than any other album…8 of the 16 songs recorded during those sessions. In a 1995 interview, George Harrison said it was his favorite Beatles album.
Update: Remix producer Giles Martin says there are enough extra song takes to justify a box set for Rubber Soul. That remix was expected to follow the new Revolver box set that came out Oct. 28, 2022. However, with the November 2023 release of the new expanded and remixed Red & Blue albums, the Rubber Soul remix will likely be released in 2024. Half of the album’s 14 songs are remixed on the new Red Album, and there are a total of 9 from the Rubber Soul recording sessions (the most of any Beatles album). The original photo for the cover would look good on the front of the Rubber Soul box set.