Other songs on Rubber Soul were written more collaboratively by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. ‘The Word’ was one: the first of The Beatles’ anthems about love, and a precursor to songs such as ‘All You Need Is Love’.

It sort of dawned on me that love was the answer, when I was younger, on the Rubber Soul album. My first expression of it was a song called ‘The Word’. The word is ‘love’. ‘In the good and the bad books that I have read,’ whatever, wherever, the word is ‘love’. It seems like the underlying theme to the universe. Everything that was worthwhile got down to this love, love, love thing. And it is the struggle to love, be loved and express that that’s fantastic.
John Lennon

The song was written at Lennon’s home in Weybridge. After writing it, Lennon and McCartney drew a coloured lyric sheet.

We smoked a bit of pot, then we wrote out a multicoloured lyric sheet, the first time we’d ever done that. We normally didn’t smoke when we were working. It got in the way of songwriting because it would just cloud your mind up – “Oh, shit, what are we doing?” It’s better to be straight. But we did this multicolour thing.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

As he had on Help!, George Harrison contributed two songs to Rubber Soul: ‘Think For Yourself’ and ‘If I Needed Someone’. He also played a key role in the studio collaborations, suggesting a number of arrangements and instruments which defined the sound of the album.

Harrison’s love of American soul and R&B influenced the guitar and bass lines on ‘Drive My Car’, which were inspired by Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’. His burgeoning interest in Indian music, meanwhile, found an outlet in Norwegian Wood’s sitar part – one of the first times the instrument had been used in a Western pop song.

Ringo Starr wasn’t being left out either. He secured his first songwriting credit for ‘What Goes On’, which was uniquely attributed to Lennon-McCartney-Starr. At a press conference in 1966 Starr described his contribution as “About five words, and I haven’t done a thing since!”

The Rubber Soul sessions yielded only one unreleased song. ‘12-Bar Original’ was The Beatles’ first instrumental since the group signed to EMI in 1962, and was a largely unsuccessful attempt at an R&B/soul recording in the style of Booker T and the MGs.

‘12-Bar Original’ was recorded in the early hours of 4 November 1965, after The Beatles had recorded ‘What Goes On’. Their first attempt broke down, but the second lasted 6’36” – an edit lasting 2’55” was eventually released on Anthology 2.

EMI worker quality testing Rubber Soul vinyl pressings, 1965

In the studio

Remarkably, Rubber Soul was recorded in just four weeks, in time for the 1965 Christmas market.

We were getting better technically and muscally, that’s wall. We finally took over the studio. In the early days we had to take what we were given. We had to make it in two hours or whatever it was. And three takes was enough, and we didn’t know about ‘you can get more bass,’ and we were learning the technique. With Rubber Soul, we were more precise about making the album – that’s all. We took over the cover and everything.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

Recording began on 12 October 1965; the first song to be worked on was Lennon’s ‘Run For Your Life’, which he later described as his “least favourite Beatles song”.

Working closely with their producer George Martin, on Rubber Soul The Beatles began to expand the musical palate of pop music. They used Greek-style guitar melodies on ‘Michelle’ and ‘Girl’, added a fuzz bass part to ‘Think For Yourself’, and added a sitar to ‘Norwegian Wood’.

The album’s most celebrated musical part, however, was George Martin’s piano solo for ‘In My Life’. This was taped at half speed, then when played back at a normal rate sounded similar to a harpsichord.

Martin originally tried the solo on a Hammond organ, which didn’t give the desired effect. He then switched to a piano, performing the solo slower and an octave lower than it sounds on the final version.

I did it with what I call a ‘wound up’ piano, which was at double speed – partly because you get a harpsichord sound by shortening the attack of everything, but also because I couldn’t play it at real speed anyway. So I played it on piano at exactly half normal speed, and down an octave. When you bring the tape back to normal speed again, it sounds pretty brilliant. It’s a means of tricking everybody into thinking you can do something really well.
George Martin
Sounds Of The Sixties, BBC Radio 2

The title

Although it may have appeared somewhat opaque to 1965 listeners, the title Rubber Soul referred to the perception of The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger among black blues musicians.

I think the title Rubber Soul came from a comment an old blues guy had said of Jagger. I’ve heard some out-takes of us doing ‘I’m Down’ and at the front of it I’m chatting on about Mick. I’m saying how I’d just read about an old bloke in the States who said, ‘Mick Jagger, man. Well you know they’re good – but it’s plastic soul.’ So ‘plastic soul’ was the germ of the Rubber Soul idea.
Paul McCartney

The studio quote can be heard at the end of take one of ‘I’m Down’, included on 1996’s Anthology 2.

That was Paul’s title, it was like ‘Yer Blues’, I suppose, meaning English soul. Rubber Soul is just a pun. There’s no great mysterious meanings behind all of this. It was just four boys working out what to call their new album.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
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