Thursday, May 27, 2010

Best three songs in a row - Pt. 6

Here are the other installments: one, two, three, four, and five.

Album: Rubber Soul
Three songs: "Girl," "I'm Looking Through You," and "In My Life"
Comments: As I observed in Friday's post about Help!, John was the driving creative force on Rubber Soul. By late 1965, he had achieved an utterly dominant form, possibly the peak of his songwriting abilities. Just consider that he was responsible for Rubber Soul's three best offerings: "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," "Girl," and "In My Life," (and though I find it indulgent and mediocre, "Nowhere Man" is another Lennon original that many have cited as adding to the album's bountiful sonic riches). Vivid and sophisticated, these three songs also double as some of the strongest output of John's career. If you add in "Run For Your Life," however misogynist it may be, that gives John ownership of four out of the top five or six songs on Rubber Soul. Again, dominance.

Conversely, Paul lagged, failing to capitalize on the creative momentum he had built up earlier in 1965 with "I've Just Seen a Face" and "Yesterday." Doubtless, he contributed a handful of solid tracks - "Drive My Car," "You Won't See Me," "Michelle," and "I'm Looking Through You" - but nothing that approached the dazzling heights John had attained. How strange it is to think that on Rubber Soul, The Beatles' game-changing album, Paul didn't helm any songs worthy of the group's pantheon. At times, in fact, he seems curiously absent from the whole affair (it's a mistaken feeling though; Paul did help John write some of those classics). Perhaps this underscores the notion floated by some that the first half of The Beatles' career (from the band's founding through Rubber Soul) belonged, stylistically, to John, while the rest (from Revolver to the end) was more a reflection of Paul's artistic leanings.

In any event, John unquestionably owned Rubber Soul, and my choice for the album's Best Three Songs in a Row exhibits this truth. Vocally, lyrically, musically, emotionally, and tonally, "Girl" is a wonder. Entrancing, even. It showcases how John, though often so demonstrative in the way he conducted himself, could dial it back in his music, delivering a very restrained treatment of the manifold frustrations brought on by a certain kind of lover. As I suggested here, "Girl" might be a top ten Beatles song. Next, there's "I'm Looking Through You," a reliably satisfying rocker that's most notable for the thick resentment Paul expresses in the lyric. He was singing to his then-girlfriend Jane Asher during what was a difficult patch in their relationship. It was possibly the first time in a Beatles song that Paul had given voice to genuine feelings of bitterness, and he does it convincingly. Finally, we come to "In My Life," the most emotionally powerful song in The Beatles' oeuvre and perhaps their flat-out best. Though there's long been controversy about who came up with the melody (John and Paul both claim to have), I and many others will always regard it as purely one of John's songs, his sonically lean and movingly heartfelt meditation on the past. Everything about it - the intro, John's vocal, the harmonies, George Martin's piano solo, Ringo's drum part, etc. - makes for a stunner. It's pop music at its finest and most enduring.

Did any other trio of songs catch my eye? The combination of "Drive My Car," "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," and "You Won't See Me" is better than most. But it's surely not on par with my final selection, book-ended as it is by two classics from John.

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