Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Rubber Soul (2)

I’m going to try to stop this post from being a rambling load of nostalgic nonsense, but I may not succeed.

I’ve already written about obscure favourite Beatles songs, and how far you have to dig into their back catalogue to find one if you want one. However, there’s one that’s not very famous which I do usually include in my top ten Beatles songs. If I’m honest, I don’t think it’s one of their ten best songs: it’s more of a ‘desert island Beatles’ playlist, and this song is in there because it’s the song which made me realise how good The Beatles were.

I think Rubber Soul was probably the third Beatles album I bought, after Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and A Hard Day’s Night. I’ll talk about why Sgt Pepper is an unusual example of a best album by a big group when the time comes, but suffice to say it’s so celebrated as a whole that I wasn’t surprised to find some great tracks on it that I’d never heard before. The stand-out tracks on A Hard Day’s Night were ones I already knew. So I hadn’t been hugely surprised by The Beatles when I bought Rubber Soul.

The first two tracks I already knew about: I’m not sure how, radio, cultural osmosis, whatever, but ‘Drive My Car’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’ were not surprises. The third track was. ‘You Won’t See Me’ isn’t rated by everybody (Ian Macdonald gives it a poor write-up in Revolution in the Head) but I thought it was great: a characteristically Beatles descending melody, a simple but well-constructed and melancholy lyric (‘Though the days are few / They’re filled with tears / And since I lost you / It feels like years’) and a lovely movement between its different sections. It’s also superbly sung, both by a double-tracked McCartney and a chiming-in Lennon and Harrison.

I was taken aback to realise that (a) this was a great song that most bands would kill for and (b) I’d never even heard it mentioned before. Because there are too many great Beatles songs for it to get noticed. It still doesn’t: it isn’t even on the ‘Red’ Best Of album, which has six sodding tracks from Rubber Soul on it (and only two from Revolver, a decision that can only have been taken by a maniac.) I mention it to people who know Rubber Soul and they usually comment on what a cracking song it is, but I’ve never seen it figure in It’s Your Very Best All-Time 50 Greatest Beatles Songs Of All Time polls. Instead people vote for hippy nonsense like ‘It’s All Too Much’, which I like but it is a right load of hippy nonsense. And to me that says so much about how brilliant The Beatles are: that they could be so heavily exposed and yet have great songs that I’d not only never heard, I’d never heard of them.

And as I said before, you have to go some distance to find a Beatles song to slide into your list of favourites which makes me think ‘Trying too hard a bit there, fella’. With many groups – even great ones – you have to make a pretty good case to convince me that such-and-such a track is better than the famous ones everyone knows. (I would come up with an example or two but I don’t want to have an argument about it in the comments.) But with The Beatles, the choice is so massive you do find yourself turning to less heralded songs. I can’t think of any artist with as many potential favourites in their back catalogue except perhaps David Bowie.

Every time I hear ‘You Won’t See Me’ I remember that, and that’s why I still love it. That and the fact that it is of course great. But you just watch, someone will turn up and leave a comment saying they think it’s a bit meh actually.


  1. A personal favourite here too. I once left it on the answerphone of someone who, er, wouldn't see me. Turned out that was just annoying.

    Kev F

  2. We've had this conversation in the real world. I love it too. Like "What You Doing" and "There's A Place" you just can't believe it's not that well known.

  3. It's okay, but like 'The Night Before', 'Hold Me Tight' it's McCartney coming up with a song by changing one chord of the doo-wop progression, all three songs being structurally more or less the same.