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Britain’s “Soul”

This time of year is always a somber one for Beatles fans. With the anniversary of George Harrison’s passing on Monday, followed by next week’s 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, millions of people around the world are especially aware of their own mortality during these two weeks.

Today marks another milestone in Beatles history that’s also bound to make fans feel their age. It was on this date in 1965 – 45 years ago today – that the Beatles released their epic Rubber Soul album in England.

Rubber Soul, which got its title from an expression Paul McCartney used to describe English soul music, was the band’s sixth English album. The record reflects the group’s growing sophistication, marking a clear departure from their earlier Merseyside sound. It was recorded all at once during the months of October and November 1965, rather than in fits and starts between other commitments, like their previous records. This schedule gave them the freedom to experiment with new subjects and sounds, heard most notably in George Harrison’s use of the sitar in Norwegian Wood, and producer George Martin’s harpsichord-sounding piano in In My Life. This record set the stage for how the Beatles would function for the remainder of the 1960s, with the group becoming more of a studio band, and soon discontinuing touring altogether.

When you look at the lineup of the fourteen songs on the record, it’s hard to believe this isn’t a greatest hits album:

Side 1

Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood, You Won’t See Me, Nowhere Man, Think For Yourself, The Word, Michelle

Side 2

What Goes On, Girl, I’m Looking Through You, In My Life, Wait, If I Needed Someone, Run For Your Life

Couple this with the fact that Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out were released at the same time as a double-sided single, and left off the record, and you realize that December 1965 was a great month for popular music indeed.

The album was a huge success, hitting the top of the charts on Christmas Day in England, knocking the groups’ previous record, Help!, out of the top spot. The American version of the album came out three days after the British record with a different lineup of songs, and sold over a million copies in the states in only nine days.

Nowhere on the cover of the album was the group mentioned by name. Yes, they were that big.

John, Paul, George … and Andy?

In mid-August 1962, the three senior Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison – fired drummer Pete Best and replaced him with a chap they knew from their Hamburg days named Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey).

On September 4, 1962 – forty-eight years ago tomorrow – that new lineup went to EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London and recorded together for the first time.

The Beatles were initially signed to a record contract by legendary producer George Martin on the strength of their personalities rather than on the quality of their original songs. He intended for the group to record a song called How Do You Do It?  by songwriters Adam Faith and Mitch Murray as the band’s first single. The Beatles had other ideas, and chose to record an original McCartney composition, which Paul wrote as a sixteen-year-old while playing hooky from school.

Their song was called Love Me Do, which was an Everly Brothers-influenced, three-chord Bluesy number that featured Paul on lead vocals, and John mouthing a harmonica that he had swiped from a music shop in the Netherlands. (The band did record a version of How Do You Do It?  that day which can be found on their Anthology I album. Gerry & the Pacemakers took the record to number one the following year.)

Martin didn’t much like what he heard that day out of the new drummer and called the group back into the studio a week later. This time, Ringo was relegated to playing the tambourine while session drummer Andy White laid down the beat. Both versions of the song were eventually released, with the White version rising to number 17 on the UK singles charts. (Ringo’s version can be heard on the Past Masters, Volume One album.)

There was actually a third version of the song recorded three months earlier as part of the Beatles’ audition at EMI, which featured Pete Best on drums. For years this version was thought lost, but reappeared, and can be heard on Anthology I.

Best was devastated by the firing, which depressed him to the point of a suicide attempt. He later became a civil servant in Liverpool and eventually formed a series of bands that capitalized on his association with the Fab Four. He was finally able to earn some royalties from his days with the Beatles (somewhere in the range of £1-4 million) from the sales of Anthology 1.  

Andy White was paid £57 for his session with the Beatles. He later played for several acts, including Chuck Berry, Bill Haley & the Comets, Herman’s Hermits, Rod Stewart, and Marlene Dietrich. He moved to New Jersey in the 1980s, where he still teaches Scottish pipe band drumming at the age of 80. His car sports a bumper sticker that reads, “5th Beatle,” which was given to him by one of his students, in reference to his one-and-only recording session with the band.   

Ringo recovered from the slight (but resented George Martin for years because of it) and ended up manning the skins for the Beatles until their breakup in 1970.