The Beatles…Rubber Soul (Two Versions)

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 it’s not Rubber Soul without it!

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.

(Here’s the original pose before it was fashioned into the cover.)

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.

The Beatles’ songwriters came through.

John Lennon was the most prolific.  He was the lead writer on 9 songs…including “Norwegian Wood”, “In My Life”, “Day Tripper”, “Girl”, and “Nowhere Man”…which John said just came to him all at once.

Paul McCartney was the main writer on 5 songs…“Drive My Car”, “You Won’t See Me”, “We Can Work It Out”, “I’m Looking Through You”, and “Michelle”…one of the most recorded songs of all time.

George Harrison provided 2 songs…”Think For Yourself” and “If I Needed Someone”…which was a salute to the style of their new friends, The Byrds.

“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.

Rubber Soul accented three-part vocal harmonies to go with the more sophisticated lyrics.

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 known as 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.

3 Replies to “The Beatles…Rubber Soul (Two Versions)”

  1. The best Beatle album in my opinion. I combined the American and British versions and added Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out for an absolute masterpiece. All of their albums were masterpieces, including Yellow Submarine. Really listen to George Martin’s score on that album…unreal listening.

  2. Thank you for your columns on The Beatles and “Rubber Soul,” specifically, your writings on which I’ve just discovered today. But as someone whose favorite Beatles album is definitely this one and still owns his original Capitol vinyl copy from 1965, I must ask if there was ever a CD version produced that included all 16 possible Tracks for “Rubber Soul” including both the Capitol and Parlophone releases? (I realize that it is possible to create my own recording.)

    In terms of rare (vinyl) Albums, I also have a 1982 EMI recording from England called “Reel Music” filled, obviously, with songs from their films, including “Hard Day’s Night,” “Help,” Magical….., ” Yellow Submarine,”through “Let it Be” and was accompanied by a multi-page, glossy booklet with color pages devoted to each movie. The text, in this and on the back of album cover, are in Spanish! It was initially produced by George Martin and re-produced by Phil Spector. Thank you.

    Editor: You’re right that the only way to get all of the Rubber Soul songs from the U.S. and U.K. versions together, is to make your own recording/playlist. I had completely forgotten about the “Reel Music” album, even though I have the single of the movie medley that was edited together. I added the album to my Beatles Albums article. Thanks!

  3. Hello, I communicated with you re: Rubber Soul in late July, and you were kind enough to respond. But one other thing about this great album has been truly confounding me for the last several years, in this era of Box Sets, Deluxe Reworks, and Anniversary Editions. That is, if you have any idea why Rubber Soul never got any formal upgrade with Extra Tracks, multiple disc offerings, wonderful graphics, photo spreads, and the like? There must have been access to some recordings from that time, I would assume. Thank you again.

    Editor: Apple started the 50th Anniversary releases with Sgt. Pepper, and have worked their way to Let It Be. Giles Martin says he’s waiting to remix Rubber Soul & Revolver until the software allows him to better separate the voices and instruments, because the limited recording process caused voices and instruments to be together on the same recording tracks. There will certainly be the full box set treatment including extra takes, but because some were used for the Anthology series, there may not be many surprises.

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