Guest post /// James Stafford on The Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul’


Stories that have to do with music are always fascinating and those who have been avid music listeners usually have a lot to tell. James Stafford tells wonderful stories of his personal soundtrack in his blog Why It Matters. It’s an absolute must-read for any music lover as Why It Matters is an exciting, engaging, well-written narrative which will drag you in with fascinating stories told by a genuine music lover and connoisseur. In his guest post for Rock Britain James talks about his most favourite British album. Thank you, James!

Many visits to my grandparents’ little house in the mountains resulted in piles of castoff junk in the back of our Bel-Air wagon. If it was taking up space, not combustible, and not garbage it came home with us. My aunt made the mistake of leaving her childhood belongings behind when she ran off with her Air Force husband, and thus her portable hi-fi and her record collection were handed down to my sisters and me.

“Portable hi-fi” deserves a bit of explanation in an iPod world. This beast was the size of a hard shell suitcase. One would set the suitcase on its side and then open it like some sort of elaborate steamer trunk. The hinged top swung open to reveal the turntable, and the sides of the case swung outward to expose the two stereo speakers. This was quite a step up from the kiddie record player in my bedroom.

I spent my preschool years rifling through those hand me down albums and playing them on my aunt’s old hi-fi. Sonny and Cher were there. I recognized them from television, but Sonny was dressed up like a hippy. Very strange. And Elvis – I knew who Elvis was. He was the guy on TV on Saturdays, so this must be the music from those movies. He’s an Army guy in this picture, so this must be G.I. Blues; there’s a carnival tent on this album, so this must be Roustabout. He was old and he looked funny. I didn’t like Elvis, but I liked that I knew who he was.

There were other records in my aunt’s old collection, too. These people weren’t on television, so I had no idea who they were. They were all hippies, and my father and grandfather spoke often about what worthless, filthy, deadbeats hippies were. One album cover showed four fully-clothed hippies in a bathtub – two men and two women. They seemed to be having a good time. The blond woman was beautiful. She looked like she belonged on TV. Why were they all in a bathtub? It didn’t make sense. Bathtubs were a place to be alone and naked. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to stare at the blond lady in the picture.

Some of the other hippy records were simply too terrifying: Angular men in pegged pants and wraparound sunglasses, smoking. They had long hair and moustaches. Grandpa had a flat top. He was one of the good guys in the War. I didn’t like looking at the scary hippy records.

And right in the middle between the TV people and the dirty hippies were the crown jewels of my aunt’s record collection: Meet the Beatles; Beatles ’65; Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles; and Rubber Soul. I knew who The Beatles were. I don’t know how I knew, I just did. I think everybody did.

I couldn’t read the titles of the albums, but I knew the faces. On most of the records they looked like they were having fun. They wore suits and smiled and goofed around for the camera. Their hair was funny but not scary. They looked like the kind of grown-ups who wouldn’t ignore me.

But Rubber Soul was different. They loomed over me on that album cover like four strangers watching me sleep. The back cover was a collection of black and white photos that were pure dissonance for my little brain: no more suits, and that one is wearing sunglasses like the scary hippies wear on their album covers. The worst offense? They were smoking cigarettes. The nice guys in suits had turned into cigarette smoking hippies.

This was obviously dangerous cargo, this album. If the nice guys in suits could turn to the dark side then anybody could. Could I? Maybe I was already there. Maybe I was a bad kid. Maybe that’s why I liked looking at the blond lady in the bathtub so much.

Everything about Rubber Soul seemed like a new world to me, and I wanted in. Even now when I hear “I’ve Just Seen a Face” I get an inexplicable feeling of hope and change. It’s not there in the lyrics, it’s not really even in the music. What it comes down to, I think, is this: The sheer, absolute beauty coming from those speakers exposed the world I knew as a lie; well, if not a lie then as a much more complicated place than “heroes have flat tops and hippies are bad.” I couldn’t fathom that bad people could make such perfect music.

“Michelle” was equally mind altering. If hippies were losers and deadbeats they must be stupid, right? And yet that guy is singing in something other than English. My little brain couldn’t imagine the complexity of speaking two languages. I’m not entirely sure I knew there were languages other than English.

On and on. I treated that record like a manifesto. “Think For Yourself.” “Run For Your Life.” “I’m Looking Through You.” “In My Life.” There was a world out there. That’s why those four guys were looming over me on the album cover. I was asleep, and they wanted to wake me up.

That’s where it all began for me.  For over forty years now my life has had a soundtrack, and I owe it all to a secondhand copy of my favorite British album of all time.

2 Responses to “Guest post /// James Stafford on The Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul’”
  1. Thank you, Olga 🙂

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