The Word is Love

Nostalgia, the pinpricks of precise memories, can be triggered by certain smells, sensations or sounds. I have my fair share of these and also experience the ghostly effects of deja vu from time-to-time. But I always have strong images associated with pretty much everything in the Beatles catalogue, because they came out when I was young and impressionable. Day Tripper reminds me of the sudden hush descending on the queue I was waiting in for a haircut at Boarding School the day after it was released and we finally got to hear it. We Can Work It Out reminds me of chipping my brother Dave whilst playing football in the garden with him.

Rubber Soul simultaneously reminds me  of being in Boarding School, where I heard it, and of escaping from there, where it pointed; Signpost and direction. Rubber Soul was the first Beatles album I bought and so was the first I took to heart and spent time decoding the unknown world it was revealing to me.  Unlike the couple of other albums I had at the time it didn’t seem to be offering me a bunch of catchy songs for entertainment, but rather to be grappling with the malleable human condition; Rubber Soul indeed. When The Beatles had sung Please Please Me they were actually trying to please us. However, with Unbutchered remaining unreleased,  Rubber Soul was the first album that said, hey we are different and we have something original to say. This time their artistry, and that alchemy which was typical of the Beatles studio work, had something to work on and the quality to realise it. A defining characteristic of the Beatles was anticipating trends and this time the Byrds lookalikes on the sleeve were ahead of the hippie revolution. Consequently for me The Word (Love) is the exemplar track. My story is about hearing it and the actions it inspired. 

The double whammy of being in a Boarding School and in a foreign country meant that Beatles records were even harder to find. Soest was 25km from Hamm and blessed with a duty-free PX. Tipped off by other boarders Dave and I would encourage our parents to visit the Canadian Army camp as much as possible. So once every three months we would get a decent coffee and the chance to buy albums discounted by around 40%. This meant that albums were about £1 and as we drove in my parents Ford Taunus I would be wistfully making selections from the pre-dominantly American artists on offer; Lovin Spoonful, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, Sonny and Cher and The Mamas and Papas were always available. Fortunately the universal popularity of The Beatles meant that their albums were always available and, finally affordable. These rare car trips to the one affordable record shop in Westphalian VW Beetleland means that the opening Drive My Car, both upliftingly materialistic and re-assuringly  engaging, is a key track for me.

Now universally recognised as a classic album, sometimes as their first, sometimes in partnership with Revolver (especially by George). Rubber Soul is arguably the first album where the second side is as strong as the first, and the first side is exceptional. Full track listing here on Wikipedia.  The sitar inflected Norwegian Wood told us something fresh was on offer. First time around it was intriguing, if opaque, but it signified that this was an album of difference and it kept on growing in the memory.

As you would imagine a pubescent adolescent, locked up in Boarding School with lots of time to reflect on their inadequacies and concerned with what the world had to offer, responded strongly to Nowhere Man. Well I was in Hamm but sometimes it felt like the middle of nowhere. Think for Yourself was the album injunction that spoke most strongly to me, but in our well-regimented context thinking for myself meant choosing between First Aid classes and the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme.

The messages and asides that littered Rubber Soul gave me much food for thought and also attacked that other pubescent concern, girls, namely Michelle.  This was the second song that I could sing along to with a French chorus, and was both plangent and mysterious. What was so special about Michelle? Whatever it was Lennon made Girl even more mysterious. As advice to the young proto-dating Fred it was baffling.

And then, just when my uncertainties were maxed out, Paul was looking through me; conundrums, ambiguities and food for thought.  The answer could be found In My Life, John’s first fully realised memoir, beautifully toned and beautifully sung. By this point Rubber Soul was perfectly realised and stuffed full of anecdotal musings that felt like the stuff of life to a fourteen year-old. My age meant the Beatles always seemed to be living just over the horizon in the most interesting part of the landscape of the sixties and Rubber Soul felt like a early inquiry to what the sixties meant; for me the Word is, and remains,  Love.

A YouTube version of this post on Rubber Soul is available on A Beatles YouTube Album

A YouTube version of a post related to this is available on A Beatles YouTube Album.

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