Monday, October 29, 2012

Tony's Guitarist Picks - Jimmy Page

One of my very first guitar heroes is Jimmy Page, before I discovered the Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd, and Black Sabbath.  Led Zeppelin was his idea, his vision.  He wrote a lot of the music, and produced all the records.  Not only did he play great songs but he also looked the part of a guitar player - the long hair, the dragon-decorated stage clothes, the Les Paul slung low down by his knees.  How could he play a guitar like that?  It matters not because I like the sounds he got from his Les Paul.  Zeppelin's music exerted a significant influence.  Their music made Ritchie Blackmore want to play riff based rock in Deep Purple.  Why do I like Jimmy Page?

Light & Shade - The first time I ever heard of this in a musical context was about Jimmy Page.  When asked to define "light & shade,"  JP said this - "Dynamics...whisper to thunder, sounds that invite you in and intoxicate."  Some guitarists have it.  Most of them don't.  .  Jimmy Page has it.  Tony Iommi has it.  David Gilmour has it.  Alex Lifeson has it.  For many guitarists who play hard rock or heavy metal, it's mostly all thunder and no whisper.  Those who don't have it - think Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett.  Neil Young, as much as I like the guy, has the thunder and the whisper, but in his music it's either all thunder or all whisper.

The "CIA Connection."  CIA = Celtic, Indian, Arabic.  JP's interest in Celtic-based folk music manifests itself on Led Zeppelin III.  His desire to play Indian- and Arab-flavored music began when he was still in the Yardbirds.  His affinity for the blues is scattered all over his catalog.  In order to play the sounds he was hearing in his head, the standard EADGBE tuning would not suffice.  JP utilized several different tunings to make the songs work:

Gallow's Pole - Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb
Friends/Bron-Yr-Aur - CGCGCE
Bron Yr Aur Stomp - CFCFAF
That's the Way - DGDGBD
Hats Off to (Roy) Harper - CGCEGC
Poor Tom - CGCGCE
Kashmir/Black Mountain Side/White Summer - DADGAD
The Rain Song - DGCGCD
Going To California  - DADGBD [double drop-D]
In My Time of Dying - EAEAC#E
Dancing Days - DBGDGE
When the Levee Breaks - F Bb Eb G# C F

He’s “sloppy.”  Critics have complained that Jimmy Page’s playing is “sloppy.”  My thought is this – “So?  What is your point?”  There are two players whom I like that are very precise at what they do – David Gilmour and Ritchie Blackmore. But for the most part, precise players, the likes of Yngve Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai, they bore the hell out of me.  Give me “sloppy” players like Jimmy Page anytime.

The songs:
Brad Tolinski recently published a compilation of of interviews he did with Jimmy Page and other people about his music.  In this book is a list of "Jimmy Page's Top 10 Guitar Moments."  I have my list as well, but I didn't restrict it to just ten great moments.  That kind of thing is very subjective, so instead of a "best of," I listed "favorites."

Heartbreaker [Led Zeppelin II] – This song kicked off Side 2, and was about as heavy as Zeppelin got.  The guitar and bass are both playing the riff, which accounts for the heaviness of the song.  Some of Page’s best soloing can be found here.

Immigrant Song [Led Zeppelin III] - Like Heartbreaker, John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page play the Immigrant Song riff in unison.  For me the hook is the power chord at the end of the riff.  It just sounds very cool.

Stairway to Heaven [Untitled] – This one is painfully obvious.  Several different guitars are layered here.  There’s the famous acoustic intro, and then JP introduces the Fender electric twelve-string at 2:15.  From that point until 5:36 [your stairway lies on the whispering wind…], you hear the acoustic in the left stereo channel and the electric twelve-string in the right channel.  Then you hear the electric twelve-string in both channels, until what is probably JP’s best solo ever starts at 5:56.  JP played the solo on his "dragon" Fender Telecaster. What you hear after the solo was played on JP's Number 1 1959 Les Paul.

No Quarter [Houses of the Holy] – This song is John Paul Jones’ showcase, but I’ve always liked JP’s guitar parts.  One gets to hear more of JP on the version from The Song Remains the Same soundtrack.

How Many More Times [Led Zeppelin] – Dazed and Confused got all the attention for the violin bow, but it’s here too, and this one is a better song.  JP gives the wah-wah pedal a fairly heavy workout.  There’s a “Bolero” section [3:11 – 3:35] like “Beck’s Bolero.”  Right after the Bolero section starts the violin bow stuff [3:39 – 5:30].

Black Dog [Untitled] – This was John Paul Jones’ riff, but JP’s guitar is snarling.  I don’t know how many rhythm tracks he recorded, but there are a lot of them.  It is a massive sound.  The ending solo sounds likes it’s being played through a Leslie speaker.

Since I’ve Been Loving You [Led Zeppelin III] – This is probably Led Zeppelin's best blues.  Apparently JP's solo was improvised and recorded in one take.

Baby, I’m Gonna Leave You [Led Zeppelin] – Here is proof that a song need not be electric in order to be considered “heavy.”

The whole second side of Led Zeppelin III, and one that got away - Despite Gallow's Pole being an acoustic song (complete with JP playing the banjo), it rocks pretty hard.   As hard as Heartbreaker was on the second album, Tangerine and That's the Way are delicate.  As a bonus, you can hear JP playing the pedal steel guitar for coloring.  The "one that got away" was Hey Hey, What Can I Do.  It fits right at home with the rest of Led Zeppelin III.  Friends is on side one, kind of lost among the electric songs.  I like it very much, most especially when he re-did it with the Egyptian musicians on No Quarter: Unledded.

Kashmir, In My Time of Dying, Sick Again, The Wanton Song, Bron Yr Aur, Ten Years Gone, Custard Pie, The Rover [Physical Graffiti] - Rather than repeat myself, see my comments on these songs from my blog on the Physical Graffiti album here:

Achilles Last Stand [Presence] – This one from Presence has got to be Jimmy Page’s guitar tour de force.   Layers upon layers of guitar overdubs were recorded for Achilles.  I have no idea how he could play the song live, but somehow he managed.

Tea For One [Presence] - This is a slow blues that is like Since I've Been Loving You.  The solos reflect the isolation and desolation in Robert Plant's lyrics.

In the Evening [In Through the Out Door] -  Many folks have slammed In Through the Out Door as being too much of a keyboard-driven album, especially since it came after a guitar heavy album [Presence].  But there are some magical guitar moments here if you want to look for them.  In the Evening is mostly John Paul Jones' song, but [and there's always a "but"...], JP throws his own spin on things to great effect.  The very beginning sounds like JP using his violin bow on his guitar to produce some eerie, trippy effect, but I understand he used something called a Gizmotron to make the effect instead.  JP plays along with JPJ's synth riff, but 3:42 kicks the door down with a manic, tremendous solo.  At 4:25 he slows things way down and heads in a bluesy direction, all the while playing a slow arppegio thing underneath until the main riff kicks in again at 4:56.

Hot Dog [In through the out Door] - JP plays rockabilly! Enough said...

I'm Gonna Crawl [In Through the Out Door] - Zeppelin takes one more stab at the blues, and they get it right.  This is no doubt one of the most emotional songs they ever did, and JP plays a fantastic solo [2:41 - 3:50] to match Robert Plant's turmoil.

Wearing and Tearing [Coda] – This is the very last song on the posthumous release Coda.  Apparently there were plans to put out an EP with three songs recorded during the In Through the Out Door sessions.  Wearing and Tearing was one of those three songs, but the EP never came out.  JP’s most savage riffing is here.  I think he wanted to prove something to the punks in the UK.

The elephant in the room whenever one talks about Led Zeppelin’s music is plagiarism.  JP once told an interviewer that the reason they got sued by old blues guys was because Robert Plant pinched the lyrics.  He said the music was totally original.  Rather than give a laundry list of all the blues songs that had the music totally revamped but kept the words from the originals, here are some examples where the music was “appropiated.”  A guy posted a bunch of clips under the name Clashboy1977.  The man definitely did his homework, and I thank him for it wherever he is.

People’s Exhibit One:  The Lemon Song [Led Zeppelin II].  JP breaks out Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor riff at 1:28, and once again at 5:37.  Howlin' Wolf now gets credit along with the band.

People’s Exhibit Two:  Dazed and Confused [Led Zeppelin] sounds too much like Jake Holmes’ Dazed and Confused.  Jake Holmes played on the same bill with the Yardbirds in a 1967 show in New York where JP heard the song.  The lyrics are different, but the riff from the Zeppelin song is the same as that in Holmes’ song.  Holmes finally sued JP in 2010 – they settled out of court in 2012.

People’s Exhibit Three:  Black Mountain Side [Led Zeppelin] sounds like it was pinched from Bert Jansch’s Blackwaterside that was recorded in 1965.

People’s Exhibit Four:  Bobby Walker’s Watch Your Step provides the riff for Moby Dick.

People’s Exhibit Five:  Sonny Boy Williamson’s Bring It On Home sounds almost exactly like Led Zeppelin’s song of the same name.  Willie Dixon took them to court and won.

"The good artists borrow, the great artists steal."  This quote has been attributed to both Pablo Picasso and T.S. Eliot.  I've heard other guitarists and a few songwriters [ahem...Bob Dylan, John Lennon] "take liberties" with other peoples' work, but Jimmy Page got caught.  This baffles me because for the most part he's very original and inventive guitarist and composer.  This doesn't negate his abilities as a guitarist -he executed the guitar parts extremely well - they just weren't his as he claimed them to be.  Most of the songs of which Led Zeppelin were accused of stealing, such as In My Time of Dying and Nobody’s Fault But Mine, were cases where the lyrics were pinched, sometimes word for word, from the original source.

Ever since John Bonham died and Led Zeppelin disbanded, Jimmy Page's musical output has slowed quite a bit.  He put out eight studio albums in twelve years with Led Zeppelin.  In the thirty-one years since Led Zeppelin's demise, there has been a movie soundtrack [Death Wish II], two albums with Paul Rodgers [The Firm, Mean Business], one album with David Coverdale [Coverdale/Page], two with Robert Plant [No Quarter: Unledded, Walking Into Clarksdale], and a live album with the Black Crowes.  All of these works have their moments, but not like what he produced with Led Zeppelin.  Perhaps as he approaches 70, there's nothing left for Jimmy Page to do except to keep alive the flame of Led Zeppelin.  That's still a pretty big legacy, one that I will continue to enjoy.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Neil Young - Sleeps With Angels

I have almost everything Neil Young has recorded [and released] with Crazy Horse.  I’ve seen him perform live with Crazy Horse twice, so I think I know what to expect when I see the two names linked together.  I expect long guitar jams, extremely high volume, ear-splitting feedback and mind-altering distortion.  So that was what I thought I'd get when NY & Crazy Horse released Sleeps With Angels in 1994.  However, these guys decided to throw me and their fans a filthy breaking ball, and I mean that in a good way.  Sleeps With Angels is one of the most subdued performances from them.

Kurt Cobain killed himself in April 1994.  In his suicide note, he quoted Neil Young’s song Hey Hey, My My [Into the Black]“it’s better to burn out than to fade away…”  Neil just published his memoirs, titled Waging Heavy Peace.  About Cobain’s suicide note, NY had this to say - “When he died and left that note, it struck a deep chord inside of me. It fucked with me.”  That isn’t all he had to say on the subject - he recorded Sleeps With Angels.  Apparently when Cobain’s suicide happened, NY and the Horse were already in the studio. This tragic event steered NY in the direction to make this album a song cycle about death, along the lines of Tonight’s The Night. 

My Heart – With NY on tack piano, Frank Sampedro on bass marimba and Billy Talbot on vibes, this is a very unusual beginning to an album with Crazy Horse.  It would be right at home on After the Gold Rush.  There’s the pastoral image of a shepherd who sees his flock and a shooting star, the first metaphor of death on an album filled with them – “A star is falling down from someone's hand…” 

Prime of Life – With another unusual choice of musical instruments, NY plays a Tibetan flute to color this song.  I have no idea who’s life he’s singing about, but he keeps asking the question - Are you feeling all right /Not feeling too bad myself /Are you feeling all right,my friend?

Driveby – Suddenly after NY asks “are you feeling all right” in Prime of Life, you get Driveby, where someone is struck down at random, someone who is in the “prime of life.”  This is a story of someone NY knew who was killed in a driveby shooting and the randomness of how somebody can be here today and suddenly gone tomorrow [“like a shooting star…”].  For a song with Crazy Horse, the instrumentation is very different.  The Billy Talbot/Ralph Molina rhythm section assume their normal bass/drums roles, but NY plays the acoustic guitar while second guitarist Frank Sampedro plays the piano.

Sleeps With Angels – This is the one song that is specifically about Kurt Cobain and his wife Courtney Love.  This is a quick and dirty meditation on Kurt Cobain’s suicide that has the thunder one normally expects from Crazy Horse.

Western Hero – Like Driveby, NY plays acoustic guitar while Frank Sampedro takes the piano.  Western Hero shares the same melody as Train of Love.  Here NY talks of a man who “fought for you” and “fought for me” on the beaches of Normandy, but now is “just a memory.”  To me, this is a song about another dead guy.  It continues the “songs of death” cycle.

Change Your Mind – This is the centerpiece of Sleeps With Angels.  Clocking in at 14:40, it has the look and sound of Down by the River and Cowgirl in the Sand from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.  This one stresses the importance of having love in someone’s life, as if that is the way to get through life and enables on to “fade away” gracefully rather than take Cobain’s method of “burn out.”  Even the music seems to enforce that message – when NY sings about being confused and the world is getting you down, it’s all in minor chords.  But when the message of hope [the “change your mind” bit] are all in major chords.  It’s like alternating between sad and happy. 

Blue Eden – Rarely does one see a song on a Neil Young album credited to anyone besides Neil Young.  This one credits all four guys with songwriting, which tells me this is a made-in-the-studio jam.  The somewhat anarchic character of the music was my second clue.  It’s anarchic, and it’s bleak.  The words are a mash – it’s like an overview of the album.  The words came from three other songs from Sleeps With Angels [my third clue]:

Embracing, distorting, supporting, comforting
Convincing you, consoling you
Controlling you, destroying you
All over you
[from Change Your Mind]

I know someday we'll meet again
We come and go that way my friend
It's part of me, it's part of you
[from Train of Love]

You feel invincible, it's just a part of life
You feel invincible, it's just a part of life
[from Driveby]

Safeway Cart – This one has a sinister vibe.  The music is bleak.  Mostly it alternates between E Minor and G, but every so often B Minor and C sneak in there.  Frank Sampedro plays the Oberheim and Wurlitzer piano in the background to set the mood while NY quietly strums his guitar.  NY blows a heavily distorted harmonica that sounds like an air raid siren.  Wherever this “safeway cart” rolls down the street, “it’s a ghetto dawn.”  It sounds like someplace I don’t want to be.

Train of Love – After the dust settles from Change Your Mind, Blue Eden and Safeway Cart, here’s another pastoral piece where the singer tries to make sense of what just happened.  Train of Love recycles the melody and arrangement from Western Hero.

Trans Am – Lyrically, I’ve got nothing here – the meaning escapes me.  Sometimes that happens with NY’s songs.  Sometimes only he “gets it.”  But the music is ok… 

Piece of Crap – This song is a gratuitous piece of comic relief bemoaning the lack of quality in manufactured goods, especially what one would buy from QVC. 

A Dream That Can LastSleeps With Angels ends here on a note of guarded optimism.  Like My Heart, NY plays an upright tack piano while he sings about heaven and hope.

Sleeps With Angels would end up being the last album NY would make with producer David Briggs, who died of lung cancer the following year.  From what I’ve read about David Briggs, he was the only guy who could tell NY when the emperor had no clothes.  Between playing the grand piano, the Wurlitzer, Oberheim, bass marimba and guitar, Frank Sampedro is this album’s MVP who finally put to rest any comparisons with the long-lost Danny Whitten.  Sleeps With Angels is one of the most musically diverse albums Neil Young has recorded with Crazy Horse.  This album is a lost nugget in the huge Neil Young discography.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bob Dylan - Tempest

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – “the best Dylan album since Blood on the Tracks…” Whenever Bob Dylan puts out a new album that’s any good, the inevitable comparisons to that great album seem to make their way into print.  And so it is with Tempest, Bob Dylan’s newest.  Critics everywhere have fallen over themselves in heaping effusive praise on Tempest.  Is Tempest a good album?  Yes.  It’s very good, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it great, or to say it’s “the best Dylan album since Blood on the Tracks…” [For the record, that honor goes to “Love & Theft,” IMHO].  Though Tempest is not as great as some reviewers would lead you to believe, it definitely extends Bob Dylan’s winning streak that he started with 1997’s Time Out of Mind.  Since that album’s release, Dylan has alternated between being playful and being serious.  “Love & Theft” and Together Through Life were playful, each with some laugh out loud moments.  Modern Times was a somewhat serious album that had its playful moments.  I put Tempest in the same category as Modern Times, only he’s just pissed off and he’s not shy about letting you know about it.  His moods go from wistful to feisty to lecherous to just downright mean.  Tempest is in a dark place.

Dylan’s ragged voice has been going the way of Tom Waits the past couple of albums, but it’s a lot better to take than the nasally whine of his early years.  As on 2009’s Together Through Life, David Hidalgo from Los Lobos lends his talents to the proceedings.  It seems Dylan has a weakness for Hidalgo’s accordion and violin.  Charlie Sexton and Stu Kimball are still a great guitar tag team, and David Hidalgo’s guitar is thrown into the mix for good measure.   Donnie Herron is as versatile as ever, playing whatever the songs need, be it the steel guitar, mandolin, banjo or violin.  The rhythm section of Tony Granier and George Receli is solid as always.  Dylan has once again made an album that sounds old timey without sounding outdated.

Duquesne Whistle – The video for this one is pretty violent.  It starts out innocently enough with a guy who sees a girl to whom he’s attracted, steals a rose from a sidewalk flower stand, and gives her the flower.  Soon after, some kidnappers grab him off the street, beat the shit out of him, and then turn him loose.  But at least the video does follow the narrative about this guy wanting to follow this girl anywhere she wanted to go.

Soon After Midnight – Bob is a creature of the night, always on the prowl for female companionship.  He’s been with Holly [who took his money], Charlotte the Harlot [who dresses in scarlet], and Mary [who wears mink].  He has a date with an unnamed “fairy queen” [has he been to Bon Temps, Louisiana?], but he has his heart set on someone else with whom he’d rather spend his nights.  There’s a guy named Two Timin’ Slim, whose corpse he’d like to drag through the mud.  Bob isn’t in his “happy place” here.

Narrow Way – The story of every couple who splits up…Dylan is not happy about it.  This song has another blues-standard riff that I just can’t place, but I know I’ve heard it before somewhere.

Look down angel from the skies
Help my weary soul to rise
I kissed her cheek, I dragged your plow
You broke my heart, I was your friend 'til now…

We looted and we plundered on distant shores
Why is my share not equal to yours?
Your father left you, your mother too
Even death has washed its hands of you…

You got too many lovers waiting at the wall
If I had a thousand tongues I couldn't count them all
Yesterday I could've thrown them all in the sea
Today even one may be too much for me…

Long and Wasted Years – Here’s an old married couple who have been together for a long time [maybe too long], way after the thrill has gone.

It's been such a long, long time
Since we loved each other and our hearts were true
One time, for one brief day, I was the man for you

Last night I heard you talking in your sleep
Saying things you shouldn't say
Oh baby, you just might have to go to jail someday…

I think that when my back was turned
The whole world behind me burned
It's been awhile since we walked down that long, long aisle

We cried on that cold and frosty morn
We cried because our souls were torn
So much for tears, so much for these long and wasted years…

Pay in Blood – This song drips with contempt for some woman who had done him wrong. Some unnamed women were similarly skewered in Like a Rolling Stone or Idiot Wind. 

“I could stone you to death for the wrongs that you done/Sooner or later you make a mistake,
I'll put you in a chain that you never will break/Legs and arms and body and bone
I pay in blood, but not my own.”

Another politician pumping out the piss/Another angry beggar blowing you a kiss/You’ve got the same eyes that your mother does/If only you can prove who your father was…”

Scarlet TownI don’t know where Scarlet Town is, but I know that I don’t want to live there.  This song has a rarity for any Dylan song – a guitar solo.  This one bears a strong resemblance to Forgetful Heart [from Together Through Life] and the early version of Ain’t Talkin’ [from Tell Tale Signs].

Early Roman Kings – I like this one – a lot!  I’ve heard the tune before, back when it was called Mannish Boy [or Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man – take your pick].  David Hidalgo’s accordion plays the Mannish Boy start-stop riff where you’d expect to hear a harmonica.  Who are these “early Roman kings” in their sharkskin suits?  Are they the Wall Street bankers who are “too big to fail”?  Whoever they are, Dylan calls them out –

They’re peddlers and they’re meddlers
They buy and they sell
They destroyed your city
They’ll destroy you as well
They’re lecherous and treacherous
Hell-bent for leather
Each of ‘em bigger
Than all of them put together

Tin Angel – This one has a love triangle where everybody dies.  The man suspects wife is cheating, and he asks servant where she went.  The man goes looking for wife and finds her with her lover.

The man says "Get up, stand up, you greedy-lipped wench/And cover your face or suffer the consequence /You are making my heart feel sick /Put your clothes back on, double-quick"

She replies "Oh, please let not your heart be cold /This man is dearer to me than gold"…to which he retorts "Oh, my dear, you must be blind /He's a gutless ape with a worthless mind…"

The other guy then killed the man who was cheated on, but then she in turn kills him.  After he dies, she kills herself. 

Tempest – a 14-minute song about the sinking of the Titanic which was taken from an old Carter Family tune.  Why?  The ship sank 100 years ago.  Did Dylan feel left out of commemorating this event?  I like the melody, but 45 verses are a bit much to take.  Desolation Row this is not.

Roll On JohnTempest ends on somewhat of a bummer with this, an elegy for John Lennon that’s about thirty years late.  Again, why?  George Harrison was the Beatle that Dylan was close to, not John Lennon.  I wonder if Dylan ever heard Lennon’s homemade Serve Yourself or the other uncomplimentary Dylan parodies from the Lennon box set?  I’ve listened a few times now, and I get the impression that this isn’t a heartfelt tribute to a dead colleague as it is an impersonal ode to a legend.  That Bob Dylan actually knew this legend is mere coincidence.
Starting with the movie soundtrack song Things Have Changed, Bob Dylan made two decisions that have paid enormous dividends for his career.  The first decision – produce his own records [under the name of his alter ego Jack Frost].  The second decision was to dispense with the studio musicians and make records with his touring band.  They know what he wants, and they deliver.  He has not made a bad record since making those decisions.  Tempest is a solid outing that continues Bob Dylan’s resurrection.  It’s an album worth owning.

Standouts:  Pay in Blood, Early Roman Kings, Narrow Way, Scarlet Town

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Beatles - Rubber Soul

This week in 1965 the Beatles began recording their sixth album.  Rubber Soul is one of the first Beatles albums I ever owned.  My big sister gave it to me after she was done with it [she also gave me A Hard Day’s Night, Meet the Beatles, and Yesterday & Today].  This album, and the single Help!, was my first exposure to The Beatles.  It is probably the biggest reason I became a Beatles fan.  Because my sister is 12 years older than I am, the Beatle hand-me-downs were the original albums. Though I was but a little kid when I got them, I remember them from when they were still somewhat new. The Help! 45 had the orange-and-yellow Capitol swirl label.  I’m Down was the flip side. 

Unlike albums that came before it, Rubber Soul had a decidedly acoustic feel.  Many writers about all things Beatle attribute this to the Beatles listening to Bob Dylan a lot.  Dylan apparently introduced them to marijuana, so there’s that perspective to throw into the mix.  And lyrically, they [especially John] began to move away from the boy-girl love songs that were their stock in trade.  On several songs, the Beatles seemed to take a more jaundiced view of women.  John started to look inward, to use himself as inspiration for his work.  Paul wasn’t as cute and cuddly lyrically.  George was a bit acerbic as well.

There are British and American versions of Rubber Soul.  The original British Rubber Soul release had 14 songs.  The American version had 12 songs.  Capitol Records had a nasty habit of cutting songs from the British versions and compiling albums unique to the American market.  For instance, Yesterday & Today is a purely American creation – there were no Yesterday & Today album sessions.  In the UK, Help! was just a regular album that happened to have a movie tie-in.  But in the US, Help! had only six Beatles songs with the remaining songs consisting of incidental music from the movie.  Capitol cut Drive My Car, Nowhere Man, What Goes On and If I Needed Someone from the British Rubber Soul, cut Act Naturally and Yesterday from the British Help!, cut I’m Only Sleeping, And Your Bird Can Sing, and Doctor Robert from the British Revolver, and used the Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out single.  Put all these songs into one collection and voila! – Yesterday & Today.  For the US version of Rubber Soul, Capitol added two songs they cut from Help!I’ve Just Seen a Face and It’s Only Love.  To compound things, Capitol would also release two versions of the American albums – one in mono, the other in a new mix called “stereo.” 

Confused yet?  This butchering of their work prompted the infamous “butcher” sleeve for Yesterday & Today. This practice ceased with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Beginning with that release, the American and British versions of their albums would have identical track listings.

UK Version
Drive My Car / Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) / You Won't See Me  / Nowhere Man / Think for Yourself  / The Word  / Michelle  / What Goes On / Girl  / I'm Looking Through You / In My Life  / Wait  / If I Needed Someone  / Run for Your Life

SingleDay Tripper / We Can Work It Out – recorded during the Rubber Soul sessions, but released separately from the album.

US Version
I’ve Just Seen a Face / Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) / You Won't See Me / Think for Yourself  / The Word / Michelle / It’s Only Love / Girl / I'm Looking Through You / In My Life / Wait / Run for Your Life

Just where did the name Rubber Soul come from?  The genesis can be traced back to an outtake of I’m Down [found on Anthology 2], after which Paul McCartney can be heard to say “plastic soul, man, plastic soul…”  How did the album cover make The Beatles look like they all had long faces? When the band was looking at proofs of the album cover, they were being projected on a wall.  One proof got tilted somehow and they all said something to the effect of “we like that one! Use it!”  So there you have it.

The songs:
Drive My Car – Paul and John sang the lead vocals together.  George played the same lines on guitar and the six-string bass in unison.  One can’t tell where the guitar ends and where the bass begins – it sounds like one instrument.  George got his inspiration for that after hearing Otis Redding’s Respect.  Paul played the lead guitar track.  Beep beep, beep beep…yeah!

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)John wrote a song about an affair that he didn’t want his wife to know about.  Paul suggested the character burn down the girl’s house after she made John sleep in the bathtub.  Cool sitar, George… J  The first version of the song was recorded a couple of steps lower than what appeared on Rubber Soul.  This version can be found on Anthology 2.  John didn’t like the result, but when he put a capo on his guitar at the second fret, presto!  David Gilmour’s song Murder [about John Lennon’s murder] sounds like this one [capo on the second fret on this one too].

You Won't See Me Paul wrote a couple of songs for Rubber Soul about fights he had with his girlfriend, Jane Asher.  This is one of them.  Apparently Jane was ignoring Paul for awhile, so he wrote an uncharacteristically bitter song about it.

Nowhere ManGeorge played one of his most recognizable solos on Nowhere Man.  I still have no idea how he got that “ping” at the end of the solo.  If you want to know what a Fender Stratocaster without any effects sounds like, play this song.  The three-part harmonies of John, Paul and George are exquisite.  John was trying to write a song, but inspiration was lacking.   When he stopped thinking about it so hard, he said this song came to him, words, tune, everything all at once as he was drifting off to sleep.  Neil Young’s producer David Briggs once said this about making music – “If you think, you stink.”  Here’s an example of what happens when you try to “force it” and when you don’t try to “force it.” After two or three years of writing love songs, he came up with this.  Who was this Nowhere Man?  John Lennon, of course…

Think for Yourself  - Paul played two bass parts – a normal bass, then an overdub with a distorted fuzz that would be Jack Bruce’s trademark in Cream. Curiously, Paul wouldn’t use this sound again until Abbey Road on the song Mean Mr. Mustard.  So just who is George telling to “think for yourself”?  For a long time I thought these words were directed at some girl, given the many songs on Rubber Soul that don’t portray women in a very positive light.  Now I’m not so sure…

The WordThe “word” is “Love.”  This was the Beatles first venture into peace, love and hippy shit.  Say the word and you’ll be free… Free from what?  I don’t know, but John said he was “here to show everybody the light.”  This song is “John Lennon as preacher.”  It wouldn’t be the last time he would be “preaching practices.”  This is a precursor to All You Need Is Love.  Paul McCartney played a medley of The Word/All You Need Is Love on tour recently.  It was neat to hear him sing a couple of John’s songs.

The Beatles – The Word

Paul McCartney – The Word/All You Need Is Love [First time live – ever!]

MichellePaul’s song with a little help from John [the I love you, I love you, I love you bridge].  This excellent ballad is a lot like Here, There and Everywhere which appeared on Revolver in 1966.  A fine piece of work, this one… J

What Goes On Ringo’s vocal turn on Rubber Soul.  John wrote most of it, to which Ringo [in his own estimation] contributed about five words.  This resulted in the unique Lennon-McCartney-Starr songwriting credit.  My thought on this song – yawn…

GirlJohn’s song about a not-very-nice girl whom he can’t help but fall in love with.  She’s the kind of girl who puts you down when friends are there, you feel a fool/When you say she’s looking good she acts as if it’s understood, she’s cool… Listen closely and you can hear tit tit tit tit in the background vocals.  Somehow the censors missed that one…

I’m Looking Through YouThis is the other Jane Asher song written by Paul.  It has the same mood as You Won’t See Me – bitter.  On the American Rubber Soul, the song has two false starts.  The British version cut out the false starts.

In My Life This is one of the best songs John Lennon ever wrote.  A British reporter once challenged him to write a song about his childhood.  John did, but didn’t like what he came up with, so he made changes from very specific things, places and people to more general things [There are places I remember/Some have gone and some remainLovers and friends I still can recall/Some are dead and some are living …].  George Martin recorded the piano solo at half speed.  The harpsichord sound comes from playing the tape at regular speed.

Wait Filler.  It’s not a bad song, but it’s not very memorable either.

If I Needed Someone I argue that this is George’s first great Beatles song.  George’s twelve-string Rickenbacker work was inspired by The Byrds’ The Bells of Rhymney. Roger McGuinn bought a twelve-string Rickenbacker after he, David Crosby and Gene Clark had seen A Hard Day’s Night, so with this song George returned the compliment.  The funny thing about this song is that John seems to sing more of the song than George.  This was the only George Harrison original the Beatles ever played live.  Eric Clapton played it during 2002’s Concert for George.

Run For Your LifeThe Beatles did many great songs, and even more merely good ones.  This song fits neither category.  John wrote it, and even he hated it.  He wrote it to finish the album.  It was a filler track and John knew it. 

Day TripperJohn came up with the riff and most of the words.  Paul sang lead on the verses while John harmonized.  This went against type as for almost all Beatles songs, the main writer sang lead.  John played the guitar solo, too.  Apparently the “she’s a big teaser” line was originally written as “she’s a prick teaser.”  Jimi Hendrix recorded a neat version of Day Tripper for the BBC [it’s on BBC Sessions].  Legend has it that John Lennon sang on it – he didn’t.  The other vocalist you hear is Noel Redding.

We Can Work It Out – This is a true Lennon-McCartney effort.  The verses were Paul’s while the middle eight [the Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting bit] came from John.  Paul sang lead on the verses while John’s vocals came to the forefront on the middle eight.  On a humorous note, when Paul McCartney did an Unplugged® show for MTV, he forgot the words and had the band start over again.  They left that bit in the broadcast – very refreshing.

Is Rubber Soul the best Beatles album?  No…that would be Revolver.  But this one is a fine collection.