By Johnny Memphis
The Beatles may have been known as “The Mop Tops,” but when I looked down at the crowd from my seat at the Rubber Soul lecture, all I could think was, “I have never seen so much male pattern balding in all my life.” It should have come as no surprise since it was exactly 50 years ago this fall the Beatles came off tour and went in to record the Rubber Soul album. Still, seeing the clean pate club last night at the Amherst Cinema was like going to a school reunion and realizing, “Wow, I am the same age as these people.”
I was eight years old lying on my the carpet of my family’s living room in Harrisburg, PA when I watched The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I am sixty now. My hair is receding and graying. The Rubber Soul lecturer, Scott Freiman (“Fryman”) is a bit younger than I am and still has a pretty robust head of hair and glasses. He is a Beatles nerd par excellence. This guy knows everything about how the Fab Four recorded Rubber Soul.
I remember when my college-age sister Louise showed up with the album when she came home for Christmas vacation from B. U. in 1965. In my memory we are lying on the living room rug playing the board game Risk when Louise arrives with Rubber Soul. I seem to have spent a lot of time on the carpet as a child. Chairs were for adults. All of us Risk-players were huge Beatles fans: me, my other sister B.Z., my cousins, in fact, everyone kid I knew loved The Beatles. We could tell Rubber Soul was different, but we didn’t care. Looking back I can say things like, “It is less teeny-bopper pop, more interior.” Whatever. It was still great, still catchy, still the Beatles. We loved it. The song “Yesterday” had already been a big hit in the fall of ’65 so we were accustomed to The Beatles throwing us acoustic curveballs.
Scott Freiman’s Rubber Soul lecture was essentially a power-point presentation that went day by day through the making of the album. Freiman used audio clips, video performances, interviews and isolated recording tracks to pull back the curtain on the process. He kicked it off the show with a quiz about people names in Beatles songs. Q. “Captain Marvel” A. “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.” It is unbelievable how many people in the audience knew the answers. I thought I knew The Beatles, but the lecture got me thinking about them in new ways.
The British albums are very different. I was aware of this but I never fully appreciated it. For various financial reasons, Capitol Records put out altered, truncated U.S. versions of the actual albums the Beatles made and released in the U.K. Because I so totally absorbed the U.S. Rubber Soul into my being it is shocking how different the British version is. How could it not be with the addition of powerhouse songs like “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work it Out”? The U.K. side one starts with the rocking “Drive My Car” and the U.S. side one starts with the acoustic “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” Neither song is on the other country’s version. I need to pick up the British version, preferably in mono, to see what the Beatles really intended.
Rubber Soul was written and recorded in a hurry.
Most of these songs were written or finished during 30 days of recording, from the middle of October to the middle of November 1965. Along with songs for the album there were TV appearances, a Christmas recording for the fan club and mixing and mastering to be completed in time for a holiday release on December 4.
Recording technology was crude.
They used big reel-to-reel tape recorders with essentially only four tracks. On Rubber Soul they were just starting to bounce tracks, which enabled them to eventually add more tracks on albums like Revolver and later lps. Tape was expensive and re-used so that many things got taped over and erased. They had no headphones.
The Beatles incorporated their musical influences.
The Beatles were great at “nicking” musical ideas from people and putting them into their songs. “Michelle” takes Nina Simone’s “I love you, I love you, I love you” from her “I’ve Got a Spell on You” recording. “Drive My Car” borrows the bass-line from Otis Redding’s “Respect.” “If I Needed Someone” takes the guitar sound from The Byrds “Bells of Rhymney.”
Rubber Soul was a turning point.
John Lennon said “In My Life” was the first song I wrote as an adult.” Paul McCartney said, “Rubber Soul was the beginning of my adult life.” At the Amherst Cinema I sat in the audience with a lot of adults who grew up on Rubber Soul. “There are places I remember, all my life, though some have changed…”
Here is a link to Scott Freiman’s website: