The Beatles’ sixth UK album and 11th US long-player, Rubber Soul showed the group maturing from their earlier pop performances, exploring different styles of songwriting and instrumentation, and pushing boundaries inside the studio.

In October 1965, we started to record the album. Things were changing. The direction was moving away from the poppy stuff like ‘Thank You Girl’, ‘From Me To You’ and ‘She Loves You’. The early material was directly relating to our fans, saying, ‘Please buy this record,’ but now we’d come to a point where we thought, ‘We’ve done that. Now we can branch out into songs that are more surreal, a little more entertaining.’ And other people were starting to arrive on the scene who were influential. Dylan was influencing us quite heavily at that point.

Rubber Soul furthered the group from the straightforward love songs that had characterised their early recordings, and continued the exploration of wider themes that had begun in songs such as ‘Help!’ and ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’.

John Lennon, in particular, was enjoying a songwriting peak, creating some of his best work such as ‘Girl’, ‘In My Life’, and ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’.

In ‘Nowhere Man’, Lennon detailed his lack of confidence and feelings of insecurity, and ‘Norwegian Wood’ dealt obliquely with an affair he was having, yet didn’t want his wife to discover.

‘In My Life’, meanwhile, began as a nostalgic set of memories of Liverpool. In 1980 Lennon described it as “my first real major piece of work”,

I think ‘In My Life’ was the first song that I wrote that was really, consciously about my life, and it was sparked by a remark a journalist and writer in England made after In His Own Write came out. I think ‘In My Life’ was after In His Own Write… But he said to me, ‘Why don’t you put some of the way you write in the book, as it were, in the songs? Or why don’t you put something about your childhood into the songs?’ Which came out later as ‘Penny Lane’ from Paul – although it was actually me who lived in Penny Lane – and ‘Strawberry Fields’.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Paul McCartney’s songwriting, too, was maturing, although his creative peak as a songwriter arguably didn’t arrive until 1966’s Revolver.

‘I’m Looking Through You’ and ‘You Won’t See Me’ were inspired by McCartney’s often turbulent relationship with Jane Asher, while album opener ‘Drive My Car’ – a playful humorous song with a twist in the tale – showed the lighter side of his songwriting.

In their rush to complete the album, Lennon and McCartney resurrected some older songs. ‘Wait’ had been recorded for Help!, and with a few overdubs in late-1965 was deemed good enough for inclusion on Rubber Soul.

‘Michelle’, meanwhile, was one of McCartney’s oldest songs, dating as far back as 1959. It was inspired by Austin Mitchell, one of John Lennon’s tutors at the Liverpool College of Art.

He used to throw some pretty good all-night parties. You could maybe pull girls there, which was the main aim of every second; you could get drinks, which was another aim; and you could generally put yourself about a bit. I remember sitting around there, and my recollection is of a black turtleneck sweater and sitting very enigmatically in the corner, playing this rather French tune. I used to pretend I could speak French, because everyone wanted to be like Sacha Distel…

Years later, John said, ‘D’you remember that French thing you used to do at Mitchell’s parties?’ I said yes. He said, ‘Well, that’s a good tune. You should do something with that.’ We were always looking for tunes, because we were making lots of albums by then and every album you did needed fourteen songs, and then there were singles in between, so you needed a lot of material.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
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