Every year was productive, successful and innovative in the career of the Beatles. One year in particular, 1965, was profoundly important in the legacy of the group. Some would say that 1967 was more important but I disagree. In 1965 they toured, made a major motion picture, and produced two very successful albums. In the next year, the Beatles would reduce their recording output, make no films, and end their touring career. In 1965, would serve as the bridge year between the Beatles of the early years to a more mature and experimental sound, and a voice that would challenge and change our culture.
In the early months of 1965, the Beatles would spend time in the recording studio working on what would largely become the soundtrack to the film Help! From late February to mid April, the boys would be on location in London, the Austrian Alps and the Bahamas working on the film. During February they would enjoy a very creative and productive series of recording sessions. From 1962 to 1969, the Beatles were always writing and recording. Remember, in the early 1960s, recording technology was four tracks on the recording tape. It was not until later that technology increased to 8 tracks and then 16. Recording sessions often took music on the four recorded tracks and transferred them onto fewer tracks so additional instruments and voices could fill the now available track space. This process was called “bouncing down”.
As song construction and arrangements became more complex, this bouncing down process was done several times to fit all of the instruments, voices and effects onto the tape. The problem was each time the tracks were re-recorded or bounded, the sound suffered some reduction. It is amazing that Beatle tracks from these early days sound so crisp and authentic. The Beatles worked long hours and went through many takes before they felt each song was complete. Again, this was before digital recording technology and the easy ability to cut, replace and paste pieces of songs together to correct pitch, tone or wrong notes. The Beatles were still a finely hone touring band, so they were skilled musicians in the studio. Ironically, one of the reason they quit touring was the crowds were so loud the Beatles couldn’t hear their own playing. Live performances offered them little challenge and traveling was something they no longer enjoyed.
Help! was not the original name for their second film. It had a working title of Eight Arms to Hold You. It wasn’t until John Lennon came up with the song “Help!” that the film had a new title. Filming Help! was not quite the experience of A Hard Day’s Night had been. The Beatles were reported to be less than thrilled with the story and they enjoyed some artificial relaxation during the film. The laid-back attitude no doubt influenced the group of songs that would later emerge as Rubber Soul.
After wrapping up Help!, the Beatles returned to the recording studio to finish songs for the accompanying album.
In late spring, the Beatles embarked on a tour with three legs. The first leg, took the Beatles back to America for 16 shows, where they started in New York at Shea Stadium, hit the Hollywood Bowl and finished at the Cow Palace near San Francisco. The Beatles’ show consisted of about 12 songs that lasted about 30 minutes, then they were gone. The remainder of the concert was provided by support bands. The shows at the Hollywood Bowl from 1964 and 1965 were recorded, with the thought being a live album. Unfortunately, the Beatles were unhappy with the sound quality and their playing, so the album was shelved. In 1977, Capitol Records took the tapes off the shelf and released them as The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. In 2016, Ron Howard’s film, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, was released. The film covered the period from 1962 to 1966, when the Beatles toured. An accompanying CD took both Hollywood Bowl shows and expanded the original album to include more songs.
After the American leg of the tour, the Beatles took the show to Europe for 15 shows, playing in France, Spain and Italy.
At the conclusion of their European tour, the Beatles returned to the studio for more recording. In the meantime, the film Help! was released on August 25 in America (July 29 in the UK) and the album on August 6. The new recording sessions would focus on songs that would fill Rubber Soul. The Beatles were stocked with a solid collection of songs, mostly Lennon-McCartney tunes but also two songs from George Harrison. The Beatles spent October and November recording songs for the album and for two songs, “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work it Out” that would not appear on the album but would be released as singles.
The Help! album contained several new recording effects and an emerging musical maturity. Harmony vocals had always been a key part of the Beatles song construction and appeal. Help! continued and sweetened the Beatles use of harmonies. While some thought the Beatles cranked out songs quickly for the film soundtrack, the songs feel looser and more immediate, and less buried in the George Martin production style. “Help!” and “Ticket to Ride” were the big singles from the album, songs that have a straight-rock arrangement that was ready for radio play with it’s multiple guitar parts. The most memorable song from the album, “Yesterday” was a McCartney solo effort and one of the most covered song by other artists in history.
The Beatles always had a strong acoustic sound, as they composed on acoustic guitars and often used this as their base sound, before adding electric guitars and keyboards to sweeten the arrangements. On Help!, the smoother, less cluttered acoustic sound gained footing. Lennon’s “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” was compared to something Dylan might have written. McCartney’s “I’ve Just Seen a Face”, an acoustic song that sails through just over two minutes of vocal and musical delight. “The Night Before”, “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl” and “I Need You”, are mid-tempo songs that shine with simple arrangements. The folk spirit of these songs would populate the subconscious of the following album.
Rubber Soul was released on December 3. Oddly, it was somewhat common to release a single that was not on one of their albums. The Beatles took it a step further, they released a double A-side single, “Day Tripper” / “We Can Work it Out” at the same time as the album was released. Rubber Soul had 12 original songs on it. The record company demand for product kept the Beatles writing and recording.
Rubber Soul is often referred to as folk-influenced album. The folk element begun on the previous album and were in full force on Rubber Soul. The collection had an eclectic style of songs, but would become even more diverse on 1966’s Revolver.
Rubber Soul is the first Beatle album that had so many superior songs that some would be considered “throw-aways” because they were in the shadow of more famous songs. “Girl” is a Lennon song that has a lilting lyrical style that incorporates changing rhythms on the guitar that has a Greek style high guitar sound. It is a very complexly arranged song, the kind of which Lennon wrote by the dozens during this period. The album contained no songs by other artists, a testament to their songwriting abilities.
“You Won’t See Me”, “I’m Looking Through You”, “If I Needed Someone”, “Think for Yourself”, “Drive My Car” and “Nowhere Man” are all fine songs that other groups would kill to have written. These songs are great album tunes, filling out one of the strongest set of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison penned songs on any album. But it was “Michelle”, “Day Tripper”, “We Can Work it Out” and “Norwegian Wood” that got the main airplay. Even the weaker tracks on the album (“Wait”, “The Word”, “What Goes On”, “Run For Your Life”) have something to offer.
Rubber Soul has the Beatles experimenting with the sitar, keyboard harmonium, 6-string bass and fuzz tone guitar. The Beatles were getting more comfortable in the studio and branching beyond their normal repertoire of sounds and musical styles. Thankfully, producer George Martin was game and opened the workshop to experimentation that would get riskier in coming sessions.
Looking back on 1965, the Beatles were changing, and they were riding the crest of musical change. It is exhausting writing about all that they accomplished during the year. Imagine the pace they worked under, and you can understand why they incorporated weed into their lives, and downshifted to become a studio band. The Beatles had larger dreams to fulfill and a more expansive musical pallet on which to paint.