Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 5: Think For Yourself

Side One, Track Four

 

Harrison’s Mantra: “Think for Yourself”

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Janet Davis

 

Through 2021, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog has been exploring the nooks and crannies in The Beatles’ remarkable 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, Fest Historians Panel member and editorial staffer for the respected Beatles fanzine Octopus’ Garden, Janet Davis, joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a deep dive into one of George Harrison’s two original songs on the trend-setting album. Join them for an exploration of “Think for Yourself.”

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: Monday, 8 November 1965

Time Recorded: 9:00 p.m. – 3:00 a.m.

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineer: Ken Scott (and Jerry Boys, according to Margotin and Guesdon)

 

Stats: With a working title of “Won’t Be There with You,” this song was recorded during the early part of this lengthy session, and The Beatles’ annual Christmas flexi-disc was recorded later. Strangely, the entire session (not just the recording for the flexi-disc) was recorded, and knowing this, The Beatles put on quite a show! John Winn, in Way Beyond Compare, tells us that they exaggerated their Scouse accents and hammed it up. Winn says, “…references [were] made to Juke Box Jury, Cynthia Lennon, TV deodorant jingles, “Yesterday,” Rocky Marciano, the Supermarionation series Supercar and Stingray, uptight thespians, Frankie Howerd, “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” Woody Woodpecker, and Humphrey Bogart.” (p. 374)

 

The backing track was captured in one take, with many superimpositions to follow.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

 

There is a great deal of disagreement among Beatles music experts as to who is doing what on this track. Here are all of the options. Please listen to the song once again and then, “Think for Yourself.”

 

George Harrison, the composer, sings lead vocal, plays rhythm on either his 1963 Gretsch G6119 Chet Atkins Tennessean electric guitar or his 1961 “Sonic Blue” Fender Stratocaster electric guitar.

 

John Lennon sings backing vocals. Some sources say that John also played guitar on his 1964 Rickenbacker 325 Capri electric guitar or his Sonic Blue 1961 Fender Stratocaster guitar (matching George’s guitar). Other sources credit John with playing the Pianet electric piano on this song, not the guitar. Still others say John is playing the Hammond organ RT-3, not guitar.

 

Paul McCartney sings backing vocals and plays his 1961 Rickenbacker 4001S bass.

 

Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets, mans the cowbell, and possibly the tambourine. In superimpositions, Ringo added in maracas and tambourine.

 

The unusual bass distortion featured in “Think for Yourself” is provided by a fuzz box, employed by Paul McCartney. Some sources state that Paul is using a Gibson Maestro Fuzztone distortion box while others say he is using the Tone Bender fuzz box MK1, adding that it is the same fuzz box he used for the recording (years later) for “Mean Mr. Mustard” on Abbey Road. For a lengthier discussion, check the sources below. Beatles Gear includes a thorough discussion of all the “ins and outs” on this particular issue. This is quite a debate!

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 205, Lewisohn, The Recording Sessions, 67, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men Through Rubber Soul, 330-331, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 288-289, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 373-374, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 90-91, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 92, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 200 and 202, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 173, http://www.beatlesebooks.com/think-for-yourself, and Think For Yourself – The Beatles Bible.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. A “Silly Love Song” Theme – Just as John did with “Nowhere Man,” here George purposely writes a song that is not a love song. Indeed, BeatlesBible.com refers to “Think for Yourself” as the group’s “first philosophical song.” Unfortunately, years later, George had absolutely no recollection of why he wrote this indignant song or to whom. He said he might have written it to the government.

 

Harrison’s inspirational motives aside, “Think for Yourself” does show a divergence into topics unrelated to happy or unhappy love relationships. The Beatles of Rubber Soul are now composing story songs, wryly humorous songs, and this track: a blunt statement of utter disgust. Variety was the order of the day. And the LP’s diversity certainly appealed to New Musical Express critic Allen Evans, who upon Rubber Soul’s release wrote: “[The] great thing about this LP is that The Beatles are finding different ways to make us enjoy listening to them.” (Spizer, 200)

 

  1. A Willingness to Create a Non-Commercial Song All of The Beatles had to have realized that “Think for Yourself” would not be a chart-topper. However, since it always took four “yes” votes for a track to be accepted onto a Beatles’ LP, all four boys had to have approved the track. The lads have come a long way from the days of “Tell Me Why” and “From Me to You” when songs needed to be sure-fire hits, sometimes lacking in depth. The Beatles are now reaching for something more significant than popularity. They are endeavoring to make a statement, to say something they feel is important. It’s a risk, but by October of 1965, The Beatles are in perfect position to chance this. From Rubber Soul on, their songs will increasingly address thoughtful and solemn subjects such as taxes, runaways, depression, death, loneliness, and revolution. The boys (now men) are no longer simply “chart toppers.” They are becoming the multi-faceted “Spokespersons of an Era.”

 

  1. A Maturing Sound George Harrison certainly played a pivotal role in introducing strange, innovative, complex new sounds to The Beatles’ catalog. Even his very first offering, “Don’t Bother Me,” was written in a minor key during an era where most Beatles songs were bright and replete with major chords. Here, the melody line of “Think for Yourself” is extremely complex. Indeed, Jerry Hammack, in his excellent work The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, Vol. 2, states, “Martin and the technical team had the daunting task of recording the performances verse by verse, as the trio found it difficult to master the B-flat to C to G7 harmony progressions. Once this painstaking work was finished, recording on the song was completed.” (p. 91)

 

  1. A Double Shot Following the trend set on the Help! LP, George Harrison is permitted to write/sing two songs, one on each side of this record (the second track being “If I Needed Someone”). The next “promotion” will occur on Revolver, when George will serve up the LP-opener, “Taxman,” and will be allotted three tracks!

 

It’s an honor to welcome Janet Davis this month to give us a fresh, new look at this George Harrison track. Attending her first “Beatlefest” in 1979, Janet has been an integral part of various expert panels at The Fest for Beatles Fans, including the Historians Panel. She is on the editorial staff for one of only two extant Beatles fanzines in the U.S. today, Octopus’ Garden. And recently, Janet served as editor for the upcoming book about North American Beatles Fan Clubs by author Sara Schmidt, Dear Beatle People.

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Janet, across the board, Beatles music critics point out that the lyrics of “Think for Yourself” are rather pedantic. To what are they referring? And is George’s tendency here, to teach or preach, a “clue to the new direction”? How does “Think for Yourself” prefigure later Harrison songs?

 

Janet Davis: As you noted above, Jude, George himself never fully explained what the song is about. He said in I Me Mine (1980), “…I don’t quite recall who inspired that tune. Probably the government.” The lyrics can be read as dialogue with a former romantic partner, dislike of bureaucracy, self-motivation, or any combination of these themes. The overarching message is that each of us should listen carefully to our inner selves above all else.

 

For the first time ever, George’s words are strongly introspective as well as fairly ambiguous. That’s a blueprint he revisited consistently throughout his career. Many of his lyrics can be read as either prayers or love songs, for example. George lets listeners choose the way they internalize his meanings. The seeds were planted with “Don’t Bother Me,” and two years later, with “Think for Yourself,” George found the authentic songwriting voice he used for the rest of his life.

 

Kessler: This was the first song in the Beatles catalog (and one of the first in rock’n’roll) in which a fuzz box was attached to the bass…and it was George’s idea to do so! Where did George get this idea, and what does the fuzz box add to the song?

 

Davis: George explained in Anthology that he first heard the fuzz box effect on “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” by Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, back in 1962. Phil Spector was producing the song and accidentally created the distortion by overloading the guitar player’s microphone.

 

There are actually two bass lines in this song, with the second utilizing the fuzz box and played more like a lead guitar. Trying the effect with Paul’s bass was simply the result of experimenting in the studio – they all liked the sound!

 

As you mentioned above, there are conflicting accounts of which pedal was used. We may never solve this mystery, but the blurry, snarly fuzz box bass is a perfect complement to the song’s edgy attitude.

 

Kessler: “Think for Yourself” gets scanty praise. Tim Riley in Tell Me Why, for example, characterizes the song as “flaccid.” George had so little memory of the track that he couldn’t recall why he wrote it or for whom! What do you find noteworthy or interesting about this track?

 

Davis: I think this song is mistakenly underrated, Jude. It’s actually a bold step forward for George as a songwriter.

 

At the time he wrote this song, George was in the shadow of the two most celebrated songwriters of the era, newly influenced by Bob Dylan, and still processing his LSD experience with John earlier in 1965. Three years of Beatlemania had taken their toll. George was ready to think and write in a more sophisticated way, and able to keep up with John and Paul’s innovative work on Rubber Soul.

 

Just a few months ago, the UK website Far Out Magazine referred to “Think for Yourself” as “quite possibly the archetypal tune for the composer, not only delivering a thought-provoking piece of pop but adding a touch of sourness to [the] proceedings, too.” On such a groundbreaking album for The Beatles, the track may get lost. But it’s really the start of George’s development as a mature, unique songwriter. For that alone, it deserves to be celebrated.

 

Kessler: What are some things about “Think for Yourself” that we haven’t yet discussed? What would you like to tell us about the song?

 

Davis: Even though it’s a driving, energetic song, neither The Beatles nor George ever performed “Think for Yourself” in concert. George and Eric Clapton played it in rehearsals for their 1991 Japan tour, but that’s as close as we get to a live performance. Also, “Think for Yourself” was recorded in just a single take with overdubs, which means it’s a rare Beatles track without multiple versions or outtakes.

 

In closing, I often think of this line in the song: “The future still looks good / and you’ve got time to rectify all the things that you should.” That was George at 22. Thirty-five or so years later as his life was drawing to a close, George asked poignantly in “Pisces Fish,” “Have we time to sort all these things out?” In those bookend lyrics, one at the beginning of his adult life, the other at the end, George is saying that what’s most important is within us. Take the time to find it. I think that was one of his most powerful messages.

 

For more information on Octopus’ Garden, head here.

 

For more information on the upcoming book by Sara Schmidt on the North American Beatles Fans Clubs, Dear Beatle People, head here.

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 4: Nowhere Man

The Fest for Beatles Fans hopes you’ve been enjoying some fresh, new perspectives on the Rubber Soul songs you’ve known and loved since 1965. Our goal is to give each song a new look, and if you like that perspective, wonderful! If you have an interesting viewpoint of your own on the song, please share it! And if you’d like to continue listening to the song as you always have, shine on! We’re enjoying re-examining these classics (after 50 plus years) with some of the world’s most revered Beatles music experts and uncovering fresh perspectives to enrich what we know. And…we’re so glad to have you along!

 

This month, we’re “deep diving” into “Nowhere Man” with John Lennon Series author, Jude Southerland Kessler, and with noted historian, Beatlefan Executive Editor, and author, Al Sussman.

 

What’s Standard:

Date Recorded: First attempt on 21 October, with a complete remake on 22 October (followed by superimpositions and mixing on the 25th and 26th of October as well as 22 November)

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineers: Ken Scott (and according to Margotin and Guesdon, Ron Pender)

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

 

John Lennon, the composer, sings lead vocals and plays his 1964 Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar for the rhythm track and in superimposition, plays lead (with George) on his Fender Stratocaster

Paul McCartney, sings backing vocal and plays 1965 Rickenbacker 4401S bass

George Harrison sings backing vocal (McCartney and Harrison are double-tracked) and in superimposition, plays lead (with John) on his 1961 Fender Stratocaster

Ringo Starr plays one of his two Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl “Super Classic” drum kits

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 203, Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 65, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 201, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 284-285, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 366-367, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 78-80, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 91, Riley, Tell Me Why, 161-162, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 52-53, Miles, The Beatles’ Diary, Vol. 1, 217, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: the Quarry Men Through Rubber Soul, 322-324, and Coleman, Lennon, 298-299.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. The Definition of a “Rock Song” – “Rock songs did not usually open this way.” So say Stephen Spignesi and Michael Lewis, referring to the exquisite opening of “Nowhere Man,” a brilliant bit of three-part a cappella harmony from Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. Ranking the song as the #13 Best Beatles Song of all time, they explain that the tight vocal harmony sends chill bumps even before the lyrics begin to tug at our hearts. And although this singular sound was difficult to reproduce live, The Beatles chose to perform the haunting track on their 1966 tour, singing it in their final concert at Candlestick Park. But on that October night in 1965 when the boys recorded this stirring and unique introduction, they redefined the essence of “rock song” in one echoing moment. Mark Lewisohn sums up the work done in studio on 22 October as “A fine piece of work.” (The Beatles Recording Sessions, 65)

 

  1. The Birth of “Together, Alone” – Throughout the pandemic of 2020, the slogan “together, alone” resounded across the world. But that theme has its roots here in Lennon’s composition about shared loneliness. Later, in “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John would express the isolation of genius a bit differently: “No one, I think, is in my tree/ I mean, it must be high or low.” But no matter how John articulated it, Beatle John experienced life — utterly surrounded by co-workers, assistants, press men, business associates, and fans — in absolute seclusion. This isolation was nothing new, however. From childhood, his genius had always quarantined him; John was ever the “odd one out.”

 

  1. No Mere Love Song – Many Beatles music experts state that “Nowhere Man” is the first Beatles song that is not about love. And although, technically, that is true — since it is not a “he loves her,” “she loves him,” or “I love you” ballad — this song is about a much more pervasive, broad-sweeping love. All of The Beatles had experienced the loneliness of “a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room.” But John knew that the loneliness they had endured (and what he had always experienced) could not be unique. And so, as Tim Riley points out: in “Nowhere Man,” John sang “for the unsung, for the people who have shut themselves off from life.” (Tell Me Why, 162) John took a very personal message and made it a universal love song. A powerful one.

 

  1. The Concept of Creating Somnambulantly – Paul had created “Yesterday” in a dream. Now in the autumn of 1965, John, who had struggled for hours to pen a new song for the emerging Rubber Soul LP, gave up in frustration and “went to have a lie down.” (Everett, The Beatles as Musicians, Vol. 1, 322) As he drifted off into a restful state, suddenly, the words to “Nowhere Man” sprang to life. John said, “Then I thought of myself as a Nowhere Man — sitting in his nowhere land,” (Spizer, Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 201) and the lyrics surfaced, “words and music, the whole damn thing!”(Everett, 322) By 1967, in his “I’m Only Sleeping,” John revealed that the practice of relaxing and letting go —“stay[ing] in bed” and “float[ing] upstream” (not downstream, which would indicate sleep) — allowed his muse to speak to him. Writing songs in bed became a standard Lennon practice. And it all began here.

 

  1. Experimentation with the “Jingle Jangle Sound” – Although The Beatles didn’t corner the market on the emerging “jingle jangle” sound of 1965 (The Byrds had already released “Mr. Tambourine Man,” in June 1965.), they were one of the first groups to employ it. Paul says that he pushed Engineer Norman Smith to create a “treble-y” guitar sound. When Smith said that all he could do was “put full treble on it,” Paul pressed for more saying, “Well, put that through another lot of faders and put full treble up on that. And if that’s not enough, we’ll go through another lot of faders…” (Spignesi and Lewis, The 100 Best Beatles Songs, 53) The result was the magical aura of “Nowhere Man,” which may seem commonplace today…but in 1965, this effect was unique and enchanting.

 

A Fresh, New Look:

 

Recently, we were honored to be able to talk with distinguished historian, Al Sussman, about “Nowhere Man.” Al is the Executive Editor for Beatlefan magazine and has for many years been an integral part of The Fest for Beatles Fans.  He is also the author of Changin’ Times: 101 Days That Shaped a Generation and was a contributing author to Bruce Spizer’s The Beatles Finally Let It Be, The Beatles Get Back to Abbey Road, The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper: A Fan’s Perspective, and The Beatles White Album and The Launch of Apple. Here are Al’s insights into John Lennon’s honest and heartfelt 1965 ballad, “Nowhere Man.”

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Al, journalist and Beatles friend, Ray Coleman, in his book, Lennon, says that in John’s 1965 classic hit: “The Nowhere Man is an impotent, hollow symbol of the Swinging Sixties.” And similarly, Steve Turner in A Hard Day’s Write says that “Nowhere Man” was interpreted by some as “a comment on the erosion of belief in modern society.” Please tell us about the historical backdrop of 1965 that fueled this solemn portrait of an empty, vacuous world.

 

Al Sussman: A less-oblique, more directly personal song than “Nowhere Man” is Brian Wilson’s “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” which was written around the same time as “Nowhere Man” and appears on the Beach Boys’ classic Pet Sounds album. Living in the hothouse atmosphere of the mid-60s was not easy, particularly for a still-young man in a leadership position in what John later called “the greatest show on earth/For what it was worth.”

 

With an ongoing war in Vietnam, racial unrest not just in the U.S. but in England, too, an emerging drug culture, and a media hungry for The Beatles’ views on all of this, it was easy to believe in the “erosion of modern society.” Much has been written about how The Beatles had each other to get them through the madness that surrounded them but, by mid-1965, the only one still residing in Swinging London was Paul. The others had all bought homes in the stockbroker-dominated suburbs. So, living in a mansion and in a marriage that he felt wasn’t giving him fulfillment, John was truly isolated, and his increasing intake of pot and other drugs wasn’t helping. Hence, his feeling that he was “A real nowhere man/Sitting in his nowhere land/Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.”

 

Kessler: In Tell Me Why, Tim Riley observes that in “Nowhere Man,” John Lennon reminds us that “no one can make it through life’s difficulties alone…the best crutches are other people.” (p. 162) What were some of the personal difficulties with which John struggled in 1965? What circumstances made him feel like “a real Nowhere Man living in his nowhere land”?

 

Sussman: It’s interesting to consider that, in 1965, John Lennon wrote “Help,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” and “Nowhere Man,” all of which reflected the isolation he was experiencing in his new suburban life away from “the eye of the hurricane.” It was John who later called this his “fat Elvis” period, and not just for the few extra pounds he had put on. Of course, it’s a mark of the complexity of the man and the composer that he also wrote “In My Life,” “It’s Only Love” and, yes, “Norwegian Wood” during this same period. Not being as natural a pop craftsman as Paul, it could take some cajoling from those “best crutches,” but the isolation seemed to inspire one of John’s finest composing periods.

 

Kessler: I know you really like this song, Al. What elements make this song one of your favorite Beatles numbers? Is it the music, the lyrics, the message, all of the above…or something else?

 

Sussman: I had very much been a fan of the John/Paul/George three-part harmonies on songs like “This Boy” and “Yes It Is” and, during ’65, I’d become very attached to the emerging folk-rock sound. So, when I first heard “Nowhere Man” on WABC in New York, when they briefly played the four tracks from the British Rubber Soul not on the American edition, I instantly fell in love with the song. I loved the three-part harmony vocals and the background vocals and the Byrds-influenced instrumentation.

 

Frankly, I could also relate to John’s lyrics, even as a 16-year-old. And I was disappointed, when It was released as a U.S. single in Feb. 1966, that “The Ballad of the Green Berets” kept “Nowhere Man” from continuing the string of Beatles No. 1 singles. That autumn, as a high school junior, I took a Modern Communications course and, at one point, the teacher had us bring in lyrics to a popular song of the time. Most of the kids in the class didn’t take it very seriously and brought in lyrics for typical love songs of that moment (“I’m Your Puppet”), but I brought in “Nowhere Man,” even though, at that point, I didn’t know the real meaning behind it. All these years later, “Nowhere Man” is still among my top five favorite Beatles songs, and it’s aged exceptionally well.

 

Kessler: What would you like to share with us about “Nowhere Man” that we haven’t discussed in this blog?

 

Sussman: Younger fans have somehow gotten the impression that the reason why “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love” were added to the U.S. Rubber Soul, was so the album would sound more folk-rock. Frankly, the middle-aged big band/Sinatra-philes who were running American record companies in the mid-60s wouldn’t have known folk-rock if it hit them in the face. The two most folk-rock-esque songs on the U.K. LP were George’s very Byrds-derived “If I Needed Someone” and John’s “Nowhere Man” — neither one of which made the Capitol album.

 

CLICK HERE for more information on Al Sussman’s book, Changing Times: 101 Days That Shaped a Generation

CLICK HERE to follow Al on Facebook

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 3: You Won’t See Me

Side One, Track Three

 

“You Won’t See Me”

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Tom Frangione

 

The Fest for Beatles Fans’ deep dive into the innovative tracks on Rubber Soul continues with Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, and Tom Frangione, host of the “Way Beyond Compare” program on Sirius XM’s Beatles Channel, Channel 18. For years, Tom has been an integral part of the Fest. He has also served as the popular co-host of The Beatles Channel’s “Fab Fourum.” Recently, Tom launched a third show called “Apple Jam,” with co-host David Fricke. Together, they explore The Beatles’ groundbreaking record label.

 

Here are Jude and Tom with a fresh, new look at this McCartney classic.

 

What’s Standard:

Date Recorded: Thursday, 11 November 1965

Time Recorded: Evening Session (6.00 p.m. – 7.00 a.m.)                        

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineers: Ken Scott (and according to Margotin and Guesdon, Richard Lush)

 

Stats: Recorded in 2 takes on 11 November, with superimpositions added later.

Inspiration: The melodic bass work of Detroit bass man, James Jamerson as well as the chord progression in “The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

 

Rarely is the instrumentation list controversial. In this case, however, sources widely differ on “who played what.” Some authorities list Paul’s bass plus two additional guitars at work: one, George’s and one, John’s. Some experts say John only played tambourine. Others list Ringo as manning the tambourine. Some sources say that John played the piano; far more state that the piano was played by Paul. Here is a compilation of all possible scenarios.

 

Paul McCartney, the composer, plays bass, piano, and supplies lead vocal.

John Lennon, sings backing vocal (In some sources, John is on the piano, and others have John also playing guitar.)

George Harrison sings backing vocal, and some sources designate George as playing rhythm guitar.

Ringo Starr plays drums…possibly, he plays tambourine, if John is not playing the tambourine.

Mal Evans plays the Hammond organ.

 

Sources: Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 206, Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 68, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 201,  Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 282-283, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 376, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 94-95 and 268, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 90, Riley, Tell Me Why, 159-160, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 129, Miles, The Beatles’ Diary, Vol. 1, 217, Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: the Quarry Men Through Rubber Soul, 332-333, and  Norman, John Lennon: The Life, 416.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Paul’s Waning Patience – As the desultory “war” between Jane Asher’s independence and Paul’s need for a girl who could be “here, there, and everywhere” for him waged on, his tone began to change. At first, on A Hard Day’s Night, Paul was merely wistful, regretting the fact that Jane and he were estranged so often. “Wishing [she] weren’t so far away,” but agreeing to compensate by remembering the “things [they] said today,” Paul pressed on. As months passed, he was still mildly optimistic that if Jane could “try to see things [his] way,” they “could work it out.” And yet, there was always the underlying implication if the self-determining lovers couldn’t “get it straight,” then ultimately, Paul would “say goodnight.”[1]

 

By the time that Rubber Soul was in production, very little had changed in the famous long-distance relationship. And Paul was disturbed. In “You Won’t See Me,” his tone was much less conciliatory. He bluntly stated: “I have had enough, so act your age.” Without trying to sugar-coat his discontent, McCartney vowed that if nothing altered, he would certainly “lose his mind.” Indeed, the lovers’ problems were plainly enumerated in the bridge (cleverly housed in a minor key to convey melancholy): “Time after time, you refuse to even listen…I wouldn’t mind, if I knew what I was missing!” Paul’s endurance had all but expired.

 

One wonders if it was coincidence or brilliance that McCartney (as Ken Womack aptly points out in Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles) “borrowed the three-chord sequence that undergirds ‘You Won’t See Me’” from The Four Tops’ hit, ‘It’s the Same Old Song’.[2] Because singing “the same ole song” — albeit in creative, chart-topping iterations — is precisely what McCartney was lamenting in “You Won’t See Me.” Paul was weary of the same woeful complaints, song after song. He was tired of trying to get his girl to engage. He felt defeated that Jane and he had “lost the time that was so hard to find.” So, pounding out brusque piano bursts and short, clipped lyrics, he vented his long-standing frustration. By late 1965, Paul’s patience had waned.

 

  1. Employment of Lennonesque Double EntendreBeatles fans tend to think of the “Literary Beatle,” John Lennon (author of In His Own Right and A Spaniard in the Works), as The Beatles’ wordsmith, the lyricist. And indeed, Paul was the first to admit that he wrote his music first with lyrics following later. In “You Won’t See Me,” however, Paul enjoys verbal dublage as much as John does in brilliant songs such as “It Won’t Be Long” and “Please Please Me.” Several lines in “You Won’t See Me” intertwine multiple levels of meaning.

 

First, look at the opening lines of the song. Paul sings, “When I call you up, your line’s engaged.” This phrase could mean, quite simply, that when he rings his love on the telephone, her phone line is “engaged” or as Americans say, the phone line is “busy.”

 

However, a secondary meaning hovers in the wings. “Your line” may also mean “your line of thinking.” (As in, “I’m not falling for your line!”) And the word “engaged” may also mean “put into action” or “put into play.” (As in, “He engaged his technical skills in the challenging task.”) If you insert those two secondary meanings into the song, then Paul is cleverly saying that when he tries to connect with his girlfriend to discuss their problems, her standard way of thinking (aka, “her line”) is already at work (or “engaged”). In other words, when he tries to reach out to her, she is immediately defensive and unreceptive to what he’s saying.

 

Similarly, take a look at the title phrase, “You won’t see me,” which is repeated throughout the song. In the beginning of the track, “You won’t see me,” simply translates as, “You won’t talk to me,” or “You won’t meet with me,” or “You won’t hear me out.” A very straightforward complaint.

 

But then, the meaning shifts slightly. Instead of complaining that he is being merely physically and literally rejected, Paul’s use of “you won’t see me” alters a bit here:

 

We have lost the time
That was so hard to find,
And I will lose my mind
If you won’t see me.

 

Here the singer seems to be bemoaning the fact that his love won’t try to understand him. He’s not merely despondent because she won’t connect with him face-to-face; he’s disappointed that she won’t make an effort to “see” what he is trying to say. This iteration of the phrase is akin to the popular British idiom, “You won’t see sense!” which translates, “You won’t try to comprehend the facts or the truth in the matter.” Failure to “see him” and his side of the story is the singer’s underlying grievance.

 

But…there is yet another level of meaning to the simple phrase, “You Won’t See Me.” Look at it in this final context:

 

I won’t want to stay (Ooh-ooh, La la-la)
I don’t have much to say, (Ooh-ooh, La la-la)
But I’d get turned away (Ooh-ooh, La la-la)
And you won’t see me!

 

Here the singer is threatening that if his love continues to push him away and turn a deaf ear to his rationale, then he “won’t want to stay.” He vows that he will give up trying to explain and “won’t have much to say.” And ultimately, she won’t “see” him at all, because he will walk away. In other words, the lovers won’t be “seeing each other” anymore. Their story will end.

 

This adroit use of such an unpretentious phrase illustrates the growing maturity of McCartney as a lyricist in 1965. Even on a song that he was pressed to create (because The Beatles needed to complete Rubber Soul quickly), Paul produced a title phrase that functioned on three complex levels of meaning.

 

Finally, what is one to make of the “ooh-ooh la, la, la” backing chorus verbiage? Certainly, that is not a phrase that four former leather-wearing, swearing, drinking, carousing Liverpool boys would ever say…or sing! And yet, this whimsical patter is repeated over and over, as the response to Paul’s every grievance in the song.

 

Sung in the upper scale, the “Ooh-ooh la, la, las!” appears to be the feminine response to the male singer’s objections. Is Paul depicting his love’s answer to his complaints as “Whatever!” or “Blah, blah, blah!” or “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!”? Possibly. The “ooh-ooh la, la, la” tag at the end of each line does seem to serve as a brush-off to his arguments.

 

All in all, “You Won’t See Me” is a song teeming with lyrical surprises. It is rich in the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” tradition that Scousers could master so well. This is the third song on the Rubber Soul LP that — once we examine the words— takes us by surprise.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Recently, I was thrilled to chat with my long-time friend from The Fest for Beatles Fans, Tom Frangione, who not only co-hosts two radio shows on Sirius XM’s Beatles Channel, but also hosts his own Beatles Channel program, “Way Beyond Compare.” We are so proud of our beloved Emcee for the Jersey and Chicago Fests, and we welcome Tom to the Fest Blog discussion of Rubber Soul.

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Tom, Barry Miles in The Beatles’ Diary, Vol. 1, calls “You Won’t See Me” a “superb piece of commercial songwriting.” (p. 217) What makes this track so marketable? What is the unique appeal of this late 1965 McCartney offering?

 

Tom Frangione: Well, without over-generalizing, it has all the hallmarks of the “mature” period of the early Beatles pop. They’re writing material that’s rapidly outpacing the standard Top-40 fare of the day, bringing a bit more conflict into the lyrics, stacking the harmonies in the backing vocals – not just the “oohs and aahs,” — but also in the echoed cascading phrases of the choruses (“if I knew I wouldn’t, no I wouldn’t”). That gives the song a great deal of texture. And to borrow a phrase, it provides “an early clue to the new direction” for Ringo’s drumming. The fills are much busier, and Ringo would explore this at greater length in upcoming works, including his own favorite drum part in “Rain.” Furthermore, his hi-hat work is a precursor to what we would soon hear in songs like “Paperback Writer.”

 

Kessler: The first two songs on Side One of Rubber Soul have depicted relationships with strong, autonomous women. Is the invisible female protagonist in “You Won’t See Me” portrayed much in the same vein?

 

Frangione: That’s a very interesting point I’d never considered, but yes, women are clearly taking on a more dominant, less passive role in the first THREE songs on Rubber Soul. The mix of independence and taking the lead in “Drive My Car” and “Norwegian Wood” sees the ante raised here. This female is pretty much dictating the pace of this relationship. Gone is the “but I’ll do anything to win you” urgency from her male counterpart; however, in the end you can sense a scenario where there’s a risk of losing at all costs. This theme may be an early precursor to Jackson Browne’s line years later: “You win. I win. We lose.”

 

Kessler: What haven’t we discussed/discovered about “You Won’t See Me” that you would like to share with us, Tom?

 

Frangione: The song’s structure is quite deceiving. In 2016, Paul included “You Won’t See Me” in the acoustic set on one of his latter-day tours (2016, I think), showing the underlying foundation upon which the chords were built – a 2-string descending line.

(Check it out on YouTube).

 

Yet, when we “legend in our own room” guitar types play it, we see a chord progression that actually ascends from A to B to D and back to A for the choruses. That buried descending line provides the secret ingredient. Toss in a modulation from major key to minor in the 3rd line of each verse, and the dissonance of diminished chords in JUST the right spot in the chorus (it’s right on the word “refuse”, precisely where the entire conflict of the lyrics rest), and you’ve got a very sophisticated piece of songwriting.

 

“You Won’t See Me” is another one of those Beatles songs that, had it been a single, would have a been a MONSTER hit!

 

*********

 

 

Check out Tom Frangione’s TWO new hit programs on Sirius XM’s “Beatles Channel” (Channel 18):

 

“Way Beyond Compare” – an informative look at Beatles Rarities, alternate takes, live performances, and versions of Beatles songs you’ve never heard before! This unique program debuts each week on Sunday…and “anytime at all” on the Sirius XM app as well.

 

“Apple Jam” – a close look at the history, artists (such as Mary Hopkin, Badfinger, Billy Preston, James Taylor, etc.), and records released on The Beatles’ own Apple Records label. Tom Frangione co-hosts the show with rock’n’roll journalist, David Fricke. Catch this one-hour program on the first Wednesday of each month…with repeats throughout the month and “anytime at all” on the Sirius XM app as well!

 

Also…look for Tom’s articles in Beatlefan magazine!

 

[1] Margotin, Jean-Michel and Phillipe Guesdon, “We Can Work It Out,” All The Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles’ Release, 314. Margotin and Guesdon remind us that “We Can Work It Out” was written in 1964 at Rembrandt, the Liverpool house that Paul bought for his father. Chronologically, therefore, the song and the progression of the relationship portrayed by Paul in “We Can Work It Out” falls in between A Hard Day’s Night and Rubber Soul.

[2] Womack, Kenneth, Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, 118.

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 2: Norwegian Wood

Side One, Track Two

 

“Norwegian Wood”: A “Roll” Reversal

 

By Jude Southerland Kessler and Bruce Spizer

 

Throughout 2021, The Fest for Beatles Fans blog will take a deep dive into the songs that comprise 1965’s innovative, transitional Beatles LP — a record that Mark Lewisohn dubs “a major turning point in The Beatles’ career” — Rubber Soul. (The Complete Beatles Chronicles, 202) In our second of the series, Louisiana natives and Beatles authors Bruce Spizer and Jude Southerland Kessler look at what we already know about this edgy song, “Norwegian Wood,” and what we can discover in a fresh, new look! Enjoy!

 

What’s Standard:

Date Recorded: 12 October and 21 October 1965

Time Recorded: 7.00 – 11.30 p.m. on 12 October

                            2.00 – 7.00 p.m. on 21 October

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team:

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith

Second Engineers: Ken Scott and Phil McDonald

(Margotin and Guesdon add Ron Pender)

Original Song Title: “This Bird Has Flown”

 

Stats: Recorded in 4 takes on 12 October and then completely re-made in 3 takes on 21 October.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

John Lennon, the composer, plays acoustic rhythm guitar and sings lead vocal.

Paul McCartney plays bass, piano, and supplies backing vocal.

George Harrison plays lead guitar and sitar. This is the first time the sitar has been used in a pop recording, according to Mark Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 63, and Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 201.

Ringo Starr plays tambourine, maracas, and finger cymbals. (In the 12 October session, Ringo played bass drum and on 21 October, he also played bass drum at the end of Take 3. Winn, 362 and 366.)

 

Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 194, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202-203, Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions, 63, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 200,  Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 278-281, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 362, and 366-367, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 63-65 and 73, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 89, Riley, Tell Me Why, 158-159, Spignesi and Lewis, 100 Best Beatles Songs, 139-141, Miles, The Beatles’ Diary, Vol. 1, 212, Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169-173, Badman, The Beatles: Off the Record, 147-148, Norman, Shout!, 155, and Goldman, The Lives of John Lennon, 184-185.

 

What’s Changed:

  1. Musical Maturity – Despite one’s personal feelings about Albert Goldman, he most aptly observed, “When John Lennon finished recording ‘Norwegian Wood,’ he was no longer Beatle John, the Man in the Bubble Gum Mask. He was now the brilliant, young innovator who was doing more than anybody in the music business to transform the rock’n’roll of the Fifties into the rock of the Sixties.” (The Lives of John Lennon, 185) Similarly, Mark Lewisohn calls even the first iteration of “Norwegian Wood” (from 12 October) a “brilliant recording,” and he quickly adds that the final version (from 21 October) is “quite different but equally as dazzling.” Indeed, Lewisohn sees the whole of Rubber Soul as “excellent musicianship with a new lyrical direction.” (The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 203)

 

By the autumn of 1965, The Beatles were no longer the innocents of “From Me to You” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” They were multifaceted in their mastery of the studio, technological production, and lyrical composition. In “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” composed very early in 1965 (and performed by John for George Martin on a skiing holiday in February 1965), John had progressed eons past his ingenue status. Indeed, he had become so introspective about his work that he could record a successful initial offering on 12 October — heavily laced in sitar and boasting superb harmony as well as an honest, raw Lennon vocal — and then reject this version to start all over again on 21 October, producing a cleaner, more commercially viable work. All of The Beatles were coming into their own as musicians, but even very early in 1965, Lennon seemed to be surging forward into the experimental “studio era.”

 

  1. Employment of Double Entendre – John Lennon loved wordplay. This propensity was evidenced in his first book (proclaimed by Foyles Bookstores to be 1964’s finest work in British literature), In His Own Write. During the spring of 1965, when he was composing “Norwegian Wood,” John was completing his second volume of prose and poetry, A Spaniard in the Works. So, phrases lavishly imbued with double meaning such as “Norwegian Wood” and “I lit a fire” (although after John’s death, Paul asserted that he had coined this famous phrase) came naturally to the Author Beatle.

 

Furthermore, in the manipulation of the melody, John also artfully added a second level of meaning to the song. In “Drive My Car,” the powerful and independent female “running the show” speaks on one note only. Thus, she emerges as a powerful but one-dimensional character. We can’t “see” her; she exists in caricature. But the woman in “Norwegian Wood” is vividly depicted as an alluring and mysterious female — through John’s exotic melody and use of remarkable instruments. In the song’s opening waltz tempo, she beckons. In the sexy sitar sound, she seduces. She serves wine in her own boudoir and dominates her potential sexual partner. Throughout her seduction, the lilting music flows as freely as the wine, but when she resolves to sleep alone, the bridge becomes sharp, staccato, hard-hitting. John not only uses words to portray his glamorous femme fatale, but he also adds the music itself to, in clever double entendre, reveal her nature through her emanating “siren song.” Quite clever. Quite Lennon.

 

  1. Inculcation of International or “World Music” – In The Anthology, Ringo is quoted as saying that on “Rubber Soul, [we] began stretching the writing and playing…This was the departure record. A lot of other influences were coming down and going on the record…We were really opening up to a lot of different sounds.” (p. 194)

 

Rubber Soul is indeed replete with finger cymbals, a ching-ring (in “In My Life”), maracas, tambourines, and a “wound-up piano” (to imitate a harpsichord, in “In My Life”). (Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169) In “Norwegian Wood,” we hear the curious and exciting sound of a sitar. Most Beatle fans know that George Harrison had been introduced to the sitar in the spring of 1965, when Director Richard Lester employed musicians to play the instrument for “comical purposes” in Help! (Norman, Shout!, 255) Badman quotes John as saying, “On the set [of Help!]…an Indian band [kept] playing in the background, and George kept staring and looking at them.” (The Beatles: Off the Record, 147-148)

 

Almost immediately, Harrison purchased his own sitar — “a 1940s or 1950s Kanai Lal & Brother sitar…[from] India Craft in London (Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 63, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169) and began learning to play it. Only seven months later, in October, we find both George and John willing to incorporate this unique, “funny sound” (as George Harrison refers to it in Badman, The Beatles: Off the Record, 147-148, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169) into their catalogue. The Beatles’ increasing willingness to embrace international or “world music” decidedly enriched their already matchless melodies. While many of the bands of the 1960s were intent upon producing a “signature sound,” The Beatles were unafraid to push boundaries. They kept expanding horizons rather than limiting themselves to what they’d done before. The result was a thrilling, melodic lushness that never grew stale.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Recently, I was honored to confer with the Guru of Beatles Music History and the author of the new book, The Beatles Finally Let it Be, Bruce Spizer, about the depth and intricacies inherent in “Norwegian Wood.” Here is our conversation:

 

Jude Southerland Kessler: Bruce, I know that one of the new books in your successful Beatles Album Series that you are working on right now takes a look at The Beatles’ 1965 Help! LP. How did the recording techniques employed on Help! pave the way for what was to come on the revolutionary LP that was late 1965’s Rubber Soul?

 

Bruce Spizer: The Beatles’ first two albums were recorded on a two-track recorder, most often with vocals on one track and instruments on the other. The two tracks were then mixed down for a mono mix in which the vocals and instruments were balanced for maximum effect. These performances were live in the studio, with The Beatles playing their instruments and singing at the same time. Sometimes an instrument, such as keyboards by George Martin or harmonica by John, would be overdubbed to enhance the track. Other times, a vocal would be double-tracked. But for the most part, the recordings were vocals backed by two guitars, bass and drums.

 

By A Hard Day’s Night, the group was recording on a four-track recorder. This gave them the opportunity to break up the vocals and instruments onto separate tracks. For example, they could record the bass and drums on track one, the guitars on track two, the lead vocal on track three and leave four free for overdubs. They could then play back the tape and record a second vocal and another instrument, such as tambourine, on the fourth track of the tape while listening to the already recorded vocals and instruments.

 

For Beatles For Sale, George Martin and the group took greater advantage of the four tracks, routinely double-tracking vocals and using exotic percussion instruments.

 

On the “Help!” LP, the process evolved even more, and the group began experimenting with different instruments and effects. George Martin added a string quartet to “Yesterday.” The Beatles were also moving towards more of a folk-rock sound, as could be heard on some of the later tracks recorded for Help!, including “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love,” both of which would end up on the Capitol version of Rubber Soul in the U.S.

 

And it wasn’t just the recording of the Help! album that influenced Rubber Soul and well beyond. On the set of the movie Help!, as Jude mentioned, George became acquainted with the sitar, an Indian string instrument. There was a scene in a restaurant where musicians were playing Beatles songs on Indian instruments. This was the idea of the film’s musical director, Ken Thorne, who was used instead of George Martin, who did not get along particularly well with the film’s director, Richard Lester. Had Martin been the film’s musical director, he may not have chosen the Indian instruments and Harrison may not have been introduced to the sitar on the movie’s set. On the other hand, Martin had used sitar on a Peter Sellers’s recording, so he may very well have used Indian instruments in the film’s soundtrack. We will never know if Harrison would have picked up the sitar had Martin done the score. We do know that it was Thorne’s use of Indian instruments that exposed George to a whole new world of music.

 

Anyway, by the time The Beatles recorded Rubber Soul, they had mastered the recording techniques on the four-track and were branching out to different instruments, going way beyond the two guitars, bass and drums line-up. They were looking for new sounds and were using different instruments to get those sounds.

 

Kessler: You mentioned the sitar…let’s talk a bit more about that emerging instrument. From its debut on Rubber Soul, the sitar became a staple with The Beatles, specifically with George Harrison. But learning to control the sound of this exotic, new instrument was a journey. How did the sitar’s presence alter and develop on “Norwegian Wood” from Take 1 to Take 4? What were the technical difficulties inherent in recording the sitar?

 

Spizer: As Jude has pointed out, The Beatles recorded “Norwegian Wood” at two separate sessions. Take 1 was recorded on 12 October 1965, under the title “This Bird Has Flown,” during the first day of recording for the album. Although it was completed in one take, the song was given several overdubs. The finished master featured John’s lead vocal, his and Paul’s backing harmonies, acoustic guitar and bass, percussion (finger cymbals, tambourine and maracas) and George on sitar. While the sitar adds a new sound for The Beatles, George’s playing is a bit labored. He is gaining familiarity with the instrument, but still has a long way to go.

 

Although Take 1 was remarkable and could have been issued “as is,” The Beatles decided to completely re-record “Norwegian Wood” on 21 October. John had difficulty with his acoustic guitar part on Takes 2 and 3, but nailed it on Take 4. The basic backing track included John on lead vocal and acoustic guitar, Paul’s backing vocal and bass, and George on 12-string acoustic guitar. George overdubbed a much-improved sitar part. Knowing George Harrison’s dedication to getting his solos exact, I am sure he practiced it many times over before the re-recording of the song. Other embellishments included tambourine, a clapping sound, Ringo’s bass drum, and a crash cymbal at the end of the song.

 

The sitar must have posed issues for the Abbey Road engineers. The sitar does not have an electric pickup, so its sound signal is not sent directly from the instrument to an amplifier like an electric guitar or bass guitar. It must be recorded through a microphone. The trick is where to place the microphone as it needs to pick up the strings on which the melody line is played as well as the drone strings.

 

Based on the recording appearing on Rubber Soul, I think George and the engineers did an excellent job, particularly considering their relative unfamiliarity with the sitar.

 

Kessler: In Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald claims that “Norwegian Wood” is “the first Beatles song in which the lyric is more important than the music.” (p. 130) Do you concur? We know John was a master of wordplay, especially double entendre. How did he use that tongue-in-cheek literary technique in this song?

 

Spizer: I wouldn’t go as far as Ian on that one. I would say that the lyrics and the words are equally important. And while the words to “Norwegian Wood” are a long way from “Love, love me do/You know I love you,” John had already showed his fondness for the double entendre on “Please Please Me,” way back on the group’s second single. Similarly, the lyrics on “There’s A Place” from the group’s first album go way beyond the simple love songs of the day, hinting at John’s reflective nature that would find its way into later songs, such as “I’m A Loser,” which also was recorded before “Norwegian Wood.” The song was not even the first by John to tell a story. That distinction goes to “No Reply.” No doubt the words to “Norwegian Wood” are among John’s best from 1962 – 1965, but I would not consider the song to be the first where the words were more important than the music.

 

Also, as I’ve already said, the music on “Norwegian Wood” is equally important. It has a catchy melody line and excellent guitar playing by John and George. And it provides a new sound for the group through George’s sitar playing. As Jude pointed out, it represented the first time the sitar was featured in a released rock song. (The Yardbirds tried sitar on their 1965 recording of “Heart Full Of Soul,” but it didn’t sound quite right. Instead, Jeff Beck played his guitar part to emulate the sitar.)

 

John’s lyrics were in and of themselves a double entendre in the sense that there is more than one thing going on. John was trying to write about an affair, but to disguise it so that his wife Cynthia wouldn’t catch on. John had a great opening line that lent itself to telling a story: “I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.” Now that’s really tongue-in-cheek! From that line, the song evolved into a story of an evening in a woman’s flat where the principal décor was wood—cheap pine, often referred to then as Norwegian wood. (Thus, the tile of the song refers to the apartment’s furniture.) After being led on by the girl and then forced to sleep in the tub, the singer awakes to find himself alone. Although the ending words, “So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood,” could be interpreted to mean lighting a fire in the fireplace to keep warm, Paul has said it meant that the singer burned down the house as an act of revenge.

 

Kessler: Bruce, can you tell us something about “Norwegian Wood” or about Rubber Soul that we haven’t considered or discussed?

 

Spizer: “Norwegian Wood” is the second song on both the Parlophone U.K. version of Rubber Soul and the Capitol U.S. version of the album. Interestingly, however, it follows two completely different style opening tracks.

 

On the U.K. album, the song follows “Drive My Car,” which is a hard rocker. It sounds totally different than “Norwegian Wood,” but the two songs work well together because of their lyrics. “Drive My Car” is not a typical pop love song. It has a story line about an interesting girl who want to be famous, but is not quite there yet. She doesn’t even have a car! And, of course, the phrase “drive my car” is one that serves as sexual double entendre. And even though, musically, the first two songs on the album are worlds apart, the “Beep beep beep beep, yeah!” ending of “Drive My Car” flows nicely into John’s lovely acoustic guitar intro to “Norwegian Wood.”

 

On the Capitol album, “I’ve Just Seen A Face” is the perfect musical lead into “Norwegian Wood.” Both have intricate acoustic guitar parts and have that same folk-rock sound that dominates the Capitol version of Rubber Soul. As for the lyrics, “I’ve Just Seen A Face” is a typical pop love song, whereas “Norwegian Wood” certainly is not.

 

The bottom line is that “Norwegian Wood” is such a great song that it works well as the next track to two completely different sounding songs!

 

An oddity: The song was originally titled “This Bird Has Flown.” Then, it was nearly called “This Bird Has Flown (Norwegian Wood)” before the final title became “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).”

 

A remarkable achievement about the Rubber Soul album in general: The recording sessions were rushed as The Beatles needed to complete 14 songs for an album plus two more for a single in time for release for the 1965 Christmas season market. Yet these sessions yielded the best crop of songs for any album. Out of the 16 tracks recorded during the session, eight (one-half) appear on the red hits collection! No other album session comes even close!

 

To learn more about Bruce Spizer and his remarkable Beatles Album Series, including the new book, The Beatles Finally Let it Be, CLICK HERE

 

And follow Bruce on Facebook HERE

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Rubber Soul Deep Dive Part 1: Drive My Car

Rubber Soul

 Side One, Track One

“Drive My Car”: And Suddenly, Everything Changed!

 

by Jude Southerland Kessler and Ken Womack

 

Throughout 2021, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog will explore the intricacies of The Beatles’ astounding 1965 LP, Rubber Soul. This month, Kenneth Womack, author of Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of The Beatles, Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer, George Martin, and his new best-seller, John Lennon 1980 (among many others) joins Jude Southerland Kessler, author of The John Lennon Series, for a fresh, new look at the exciting opening track of this pivotal LP.

 

What’s Standard:

 

Date Recorded: 13 October 1965

Time Recorded: 7.00 p.m. – 12.15 p.m.

Studio: EMI Studios, Studio 2

 

Tech Team

Producer: George Martin

Engineer: Norman Smith and Ron Pender

Second Engineer: Ken Scott

Stats: Recorded in only four takes. “Best” take was Take 4. However, a plethora of overdubs completed the song in later sessions.

 

Instrumentation and Musicians:

Paul McCartney, the composer, sings lead vocal, plays bass on his Rickenbacker 4001S, piano, and possibly, lead guitar on his Epiphone Casino (Margotin and Guesdon).

John Lennon sings accompanying lead vocals and some sources say he plays piano on Studio 2’s Steinway Grand. Some sources attribute the tambourine to John.

George Harrison sings backing vocals and plays his Fender Stratocaster Sonic Blue.

Ringo Starr plays one of his Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic drum sets, mans the cowbell, and possibly the tambourine.

 

Sources: The Beatles, The Anthology, 194, Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Chronicle, 202, Lewisohn, The Beatles: Recording Sessions, 63, Margotin and Guesdon, All the Songs, 276-277, Winn, Way Beyond Compare, 363, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, 66-67, Turner, A Hard Day’s Write, 88, Riley, Lennon, 287, Spizer, The Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, 200, and Babiuk, Beatles Gear, 169-173.

 

What’s Changed:

 

  1. Later Recording Sessions – Beginning with the work done on Rubber Soul’s opening track, The Beatles began recording at times conducive to their best work…at night. In his The Beatles: Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn notes that prior to “Drive My Car,” only ONE other recording session went past midnight. That occurred on 10 May 1965, but Lewisohn rapidly points out that this was not truly a “recording session,” but was a mixing session. (The Complete Beatles Chronicles, 202) On 13 October 1965, the famous four assume mastery of their work environment. Henceforth, they will record at times best suited to them. [Note Womack’s remarks in answer to interview question 1.]

 

  1. Unique Instruments and Unique AssignmentsRubber Soul is replete with Beatles happily playing instruments that they do not ordinarily play, and “Drive My Car” is no exception. John is generally given the nod for manning the tambourine and, most sources state that he is not playing his accustomed rhythm line.

 

There is much debate among experts about whether George is playing the song’s lead line or whether it is performed by Paul McCartney. In 1977, George said in an interview: “I simply played a guitar line that was, in fact, very close to ‘Respect’ by Otis Redding. I played this part, and Paul followed me on bass.” However, in The Anthology, George said, “I played the bass line on ‘Drive My Car.’ It was like the line from ‘Respect’ by Otis Redding.” (p. 194) Many experts feel that Paul played the bass line and also played the lead solo. (Winn, Way Beyond Compare, p. 363, Hammack, The Beatles Recording Reference Manual, p. 66)

 

There are two schools of thought on the introduction and coda. In All the Songs, Margotin and Guesdon, assert that the song’s opening intro was played simultaneously by George and Paul. (p. 277) Winn, however, credits the lead solo, intro, and coda to Paul alone.

 

One thing is certain: no longer were there inviolable “roles” in the creation of Beatles songs. The boys were beginning to branch out and play what was needed when it was needed. From henceforth, nothing would be the same.

 

  1. Evolving Attitude Toward Women – The women of Rubber Soul are not the demure, adored women addressed in “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “Do You Want to Know a Secret” or “I Need You” or even the somewhat reticent “If I Fell.” The women of this late 1965 LP are no longer placed on pedestals, longed for, or revered.

 

Instead, they are the “unkind” female of “What Goes On.” They are the female “who puts you down when friends are there” in “Girl.” In “Think for Yourself,” we see them telling lies. And in “Run for Your Life,” they are suspected of being unfaithful. Even the least offensive female, in “You Won’t See Me” practices avoidance techniques and “refuses to even listen.”  Hard-hearted women, all.

 

The female protagonist of “Drive My Car” is no exception. She is an aggressive, aspiring actress with her own agenda.  This woman is determined, and her saga sets the attitude for the rest of the LP. The Beatles’ altering attitude toward relationships demonstrates the boys’ new, wide-eyed maturity. As Tim Riley observes in Lennon, “The Beatles had outgrown the teen market that once defined them and reshaped rock…with adult characters, situations, and inner lives.” (p. 287)

 

“Drive My Car” may make us smile, but its quirky ending makes that smile a wry one. Since the phrase “drive my car” is blues slang for sex (Margotin and Guesdon, 276), fans here observe the “dominant male” role shifting in Rubber Soul’s opening track. (Of course, The Beatles quickly doubled down with a second woman-dominated encounter in “Norwegian Wood.”) Betty Friedan’s 1963 work, The Feminine Mystique, championing the female’s “fully equal partnership with men” had fashioned a remarkable change in society. Here, The Beatles (who were always, as Lennon observed, in “the crow’s nest”) inculcated this emerging mindset into Rubber Soul.

 

A Fresh New Look:

 

Recently, we sat down with noted Beatles expert (author of John Lennon 1980) and biographer of Sir George Martin, Dr. Kenneth Womack, to discover what is going on behind the scenes in “Drive My Car.”

 

Kessler: Ken, as you know, John Lennon had traditionally been the Beatles’ “official/unofficial” LP opener. On With The Beatles, John opened the album with “It Won’t Be Long,” and on the A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack, it was John’s “A Hard Day’s Night” that led listeners into the grooves. On Beatles for Sale, John once again led the way with “No Reply.” And naturally, with the Help! LP, fans commenced their musical journey with John’s “Help!” Then came Rubber Soul, and fans discovered an LP opened by Paul McCartney singing “Drive My Car.” Is this new role for McCartney perhaps a “clue to the new direction”? Are the band’s leadership roles shifting by late 1965?

 

Womack: “Drive My Car” marks a number of intriguing shifts in the group’s internal calculus. In the case of the song’s placement on the LP, Rubber Soul was the first Beatles album in which the band members themselves had input into the sequencing of the record’s contents. Prior to Rubber Soul, George Martin held sway over most of the presentation of the Beatles’ work. To my mind, Rubber Soul is the turning-point LP where the Beatles take charge of their music as an artistic body of work. As Paul later remarked, “We gradually became the workmen who took over the factory. In the end, we had the run of the whole building. It would be us, the recording people on our session, and a doorman. There would be nobody else there. It was amazing, just wandering around, having a smoke in the echo chamber. I think we knew the place better than the chairman of the company because we lived there. I even got a house just ’round the corner, I loved it so much. I didn’t want ever to leave.” (The Anthology, p. 93) In short, Rubber Soul marked a new direction for the band in more ways than one.

 

Kessler: One of the elements of early Beatles music that attracted female fans was The Beatles’ admiration for songs written by females. They covered hits by the Shirelles, Donays, Marvelettes, etc. and in doing so, expressed a unique feminine voice, a singularly feminine point of view. How does Paul successfully achieve this, once again, in “Drive My Car”?

 

Womack: I’ve long interpreted “Drive My Car” and “Norwegian Wood” as being cut from very similar cloth. As with such compositions as “Ticket to Ride” and “Day Tripper,” “Drive My Car” and “Norwegian Wood” are key examples of Lennon-McCartney’s proto-feminism. In these particular songs, they depict very strong, self-assured female characters. In each instance, these female characters call the shots, refusing to be subservient to their male counterparts. To my thinking, these are revolutionary songs in terms of the Beatles presenting female-positive characters. As songwriters, Lennon and McCartney were ahead of the curve in terms of the ways in which they presented these strong female characters—and pointedly, for a very large female audience across the globe.

 

The band deserves great credit for their egalitarian approach to the world in an era when they were clearly on the vanguard. This was true both in terms of issues associated with feminism and race. With “Drive My Car,” McCartney was clearly speaking directly to a large segment of the group’s demography. From their earliest days as hitmakers, John and Paul understood the immense power of their bully pulpit as members of the Beatles. As McCartney later noted, “We knew that if we wrote a song called ‘Thank You Girl’ that a lot of the girls who wrote us fan letters would take it as a genuine thank you. So a lot of our songs—’From Me to You’ is another—were directly addressed to the fans. I remember one of my daughters, when she was very little, seeing Donny Osmond sing ‘The Twelfth of Never,’ and she said ‘he loves me’ because he sang it right at her off the telly. We were aware that that happened when you sang to an audience.” (Lewisohn, The Beatles: Recording Sessions, p. 9) With “Drive My Car,” McCartney moved beyond romantic love to depict a female character who is comfortable being herself and not waiting for any man to validate her existence.

 

Kessler: Paul McCartney said that on Rubber Soul, the group had “written some funny songs — songs with jokes in.” Certainly, “Drive My Car” produces a chuckle. Do you see “Norwegian Wood” in that same vein, or is it, from your perspective, a bit darker?

 

Womack: McCartney liked to refer to these songs as “comedy numbers,” which I’ve always found rather charming, given that the comedy is largely sexual in nature. “Drive My Car” and “Norwegian Wood” are not humorous songs, per se, but rather, compositions in which the male characters discover, somewhat belatedly, that they’ve been had. In the case of “Drive My Car,” the female character is all business, all the time. The song is loaded with sexual innuendo, with “baby, you can drive my car” being one of Paul’s more obvious come-ons. The same can be said for “Norwegian Wood,” which is somewhat playful at the beginning: “I once had a girl, / Or should I say, / She once had me.” By the end of the song, the female protagonist has, quite literally, laughed out loud at the male narrator, who very obviously pines for a sexual liaison, only to find himself consigned to a night alone in the bath. The latter song may very well be darker, especially with McCartney’s suggestion that the narrator has committed arson, having woken up alone the next morning.

 

Kessler: Finally, Ken, what don’t we know about “Drive My Car”? Is there anything you’d like to share with us about this late 1965 LP-opener?

 

Womack: To my ears, “Drive My Car” is the finest example of the Beatles’ performance of “plastic soul,” the phrase from which the Rubber Soul LP draws its title. As Beatles fans well know, at the end of the first take of the raucous “I’m Down,” Paul famously described the band’s sound as “plastic soul, man”—an ironic reference to the sonic textures of American rhythm and blues that the Beatles had become veritable masters at emulating. From their earliest days together, the Beatles—four ethnically homogenous Englishman—thoroughly imbibed American R&B and remade it in their own image. “Drive My Car,” with its funky, blues-oriented sound, epitomizes the ways in which Rubber Soul acts as the group’s valentine to their American rock and roll roots.

 

To learn more about the work of Dr. Kenneth Womack, including his new book, John Lennon 1980 and his “Everything Fab Four” podcast, go to https://kennethwomack.com/

 

Follow Ken on Facebook HERE and on Twitter @kennethawomack

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Rubber Soul: The Back Story

For the next 12 months, the Fest for Beatles Fans blog will each month move track-by-track through the magical LP that was Rubber Soul. Many people consider Revolver to be The Beatles’ “transitional” LP. Others, including myself, think the pivot point in The Beatles’ career was Rubber Soul. John Lennon, in fact, stated that Rubber Soul was “the album on which The Beatles began dominating the recording process.” (Hertsgaard, 168-169) In almost every way, the late 1965 LP was a bold directional change. Let me explain…

 

They had more than a month to devote to the new LP — a luxury never before afforded to the lads. Please Please Me — comprised of a few original songs and a plethora of numbers from their old Cavern Club show — had been honed on the Helen Shapiro Tour bus and recorded in a single day. The songs for A Hard Day’s Night had been written in between concerts in a Georges Cinq hotel room in Paris, January 1964. And the country-and-western themed tunes for Beatles for Sale had been hastily churned out prior to the 1964 North American Tour, refined in “catch-as-catch-can” moments on tour, and recorded in a handful of days immediately following the tour. Never had the boys ever been given a full month dedicated solely to the planning, writing, polishing, and recording of a new LP.

 

But the results of such an extravagance were well worth the wait…and the devotion. Rubber Soul was, according to New York Times and Rolling Stone journalist/author Mark Hertsgaard in A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of The Beatles, “…the finest album to date, and some say, [The Beatles’] finest album ever. With Rubber Soul, The Beatles offered, for the first time, an album with virtually no weak spots. It was made up of songs that were immediately captivating and enduring.” (p. 167)

 

The motifs of the late autumn 1965 LP were significantly more mature than the subject matter found on earlier albums. The popular themes of “she loves you,” “I love you,” and “you love me” were superseded by complex, mature, adult themes: struggling relationships (“Think for Yourself,” “What Goes On,” “Girl,” and “I’m Looking Through You”), casual dalliances (“Drive My Car” and “If I Needed Someone”), adultery and female-scorned liaisons (“Norwegian Wood” and “Drive My Car”), deep-seated jealousy and anger (“Run for Your Life”), and lingering self-doubt (“Nowhere Man”). But the album’s catalog was also graced with emotional songs of friendship and love, such as “In My Life,” “Wait,” and “Michelle.” And there is even a track, “The Word,” which celebrates agape love, that universal bond that could ultimately bring us all together.

 

Not only are the themes of Rubber Soul more developed and considered, but the music itself is also enriched with variety. The enchanting harmonium work in “The Word,” “We Can Work It Out,” and more subtly, in “If I Needed Someone” is sublime, as is the harpsichord-sounding piano in “In My Life.” Harrison’s sitar work (once pared down a bit from the overpowering first takes) makes “Norwegian Wood” soar. And McCartney’s fuzz bass in “Think for Yourself” enhances the power of Harrison’s lyrics. Wonderfully, the Beatles signature techniques, such as handclaps and three-part harmony, are still present and still viable as the boys retain their unique identity. Indeed, in Rubber Soul, nothing is abandoned but much is added.

 

Given the opportunity to focus entirely on their work, the late 1965 Beatles raised an already-elevated bar. Their lyrics became edgier, allowing the listener to investigate myriad levels of meaning. Their story songs offered multiple conclusions. And as they embraced global influences (such as The Byrds in “If I Needed Someone,” The Yardbirds in “Norwegian Wood,” and Dylan on many of the new tracks), the boys rose to equal their peers and surpass them.

 

Noted Beatles music experts have widely varying theories about why Rubber Soul affected (and still continues to affect) listeners so powerfully. Some point to the music; others, to the unique Scouse wit, and still others, to poetic lyrics. And all of this mattered. But one can’t ignore the importance of the record’s inherent vulnerability as a tremendous point of connectivity.

 

In almost every song on the Parlophone LP, one or more of The Beatles is admitting weakness. And in the words of St. Paul, “…when I am weak, I am strong.” John, Paul, George, and Ringo find a universal connection to their fans in simply confessing that they — just like the members of their audience — often feel isolated, lonely, afraid, frustrated, angry, and unfulfilled. The Fab Four are no longer “fab.” In Rubber Soul, they become human. They emerge “a bit like you and me.”

 

In his classic work, Tell Me Why, Tim Riley states, “Rubber Soul intensified the bond with the audience…it drew [The Beatles] closer to their listeners, as the frenzy of their tours continued to isolate them.” (p. 153) By freely admitting their own flaws, failures, and fears, The Beatles bridged the gap that the stadium fans were always trying to hurdle. The band dismantled that barrier. In Rubber Soul, the fans and The Beatles find an avenue to “come together.”

 

I can’t wait to explore this album with you as over the next twelve months we walk, track-by-track though Rubber Soul. Up first, we’ll take a fresh look at “Drive My Car” with noted author, Dr. Kenneth Womack (author of the best-selling new work, John Lennon 1980) about this clever opening track. Join us in just a few days, and our Rubber Soul adventure will begin!

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Live Rubber Soul

With today being the 49th anniversary of the release of Rubber Soul in the UK, we’ve put together “Live Rubber Soul” – the nine Rubber Soul tracks that have been performed live either by the Beatles or solo Beatles.
 
The Beatles’ decision to retreat full time into the studio after their concert at Candlestick Park in 1966 was a deliberate one. However, as we all know, the group was churning out songs that were either impossible to play live or nearly impossible to duplicate live well before late-1966.
 
Of the 14 tracks on Rubber Soul, nine have been performed live. Two of the songs were regulars on the Beatles’ set list during their final US tour, five have been performed live by Paul McCartney (solo), one was performed live by George Harrison, and one has been performed live by Ringo Starr (solo).
 
The songs on Rubber Soul that have never been performed in concert by the Beatles or solo Beatles: Norwegian Wood, Think For Yourself, Girl, Wait, and Run For Your Life.
 
Drive My Car (Paul McCartney solo)

 
You Won’t See Me (Paul McCartney Solo — first time since 1965 on record)

 
Nowhere Man (at the Circus Krone)

 
The Word (Paul McCartney Solo — first time since 1965 on record)

 
Michelle (Paul McCartney Solo)

 
What Goes On (Ringo Starr Solo)

 
I’m Looking Through You (Paul McCartney Solo)

 
In My Life (George Harrison Solo in 1974)

 
If I Needed Someone (Live in Japan)

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