Simpletons write this off as simple, damning it with faint praise like “It’s good compared to the other stuff at the time” or “They’ll do better.” And indeed it was better than the other stuff at the time, and if you want to know by how much, check out the (fucking atrocious) debut album by the Beach Boys the previous year. And they will do better, sure, but it wouldn’t be for a while, and if you want to hear a much, much worse album, listen to the following With the Beatles; it’s a universal fact that the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” is the definitive version; it’s a lot harder to convince me that the Beatles’ version of “Roll Over Beethoven” is truly better than Chuck Berry’s when all they’ve done is play louder and clap along. Yeah, there are plenty of covers … who the fuck cares, if they’re done well (and in this case, done better)?
Sure, it’s not perfect. There wasn’t much reason for this to be 14 songs instead of just 12 (which was closer to the norm at the time anyway, but the Beatles wanted to be bigger than anyone else from the get-go): ditch “A Taste of Honey” and “P.S. I Love You” for a better listening experience (though I do like the way Paul McCartney stretches out “you” in the latter; “you-hoo-ooh!”). Meanwhile, the sexual implications in “She was just seventeen / If you know what I mean” (you can hear Paul McCartney tossing us a wink right after) or inside John Lennon’s voice on “Twist and Shout” are entirely absent in “Chains”; ditto the emotion of “Baby It’s You”, where John Lennon finds out he’s being cheated on (“cheat … cheat …”) but stays with her anyway (his second best vocal performance on the album, listen to how he breaks words apa-art) missing in “Misery.”
But fun fact: this isn’t that simple. “Misery” is a throwaway, you say? Nonsense – check out that really brief descending piano figure (at the 0:44 mark; you’ll know it when you hear it) that makes the shortest track on the album feel more special than a lot of the longer ones. The lyrics are too lovey-dovey and repetitious in “Love Me Do,” you say? Then focus on that harmonica. The bridge of “Do You Want to Know a Secret” too simple, you say? Then have at the counterpoint in the one on “Baby It’s You.” Meanwhile, Ringo Starr’s vocals on “Boys” are the best of his career (the people who claim Ringo Starr couldn’t sing or play drums are just looking for ammo and not finding any, and if you truly, truly think the latter is true, listen to his thunderous drumrolls bringing everyone back to the main melody on “Twist and Shout”) (and drumming wise, he only gets better from here); ditto John Lennon’s vocals on “Twist and Shout”, obviously. And John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s close harmonies didn’t develop over the years, they came fully formed and ready to go. And hooks, obviously, hooks everywhere, either in the main vocals or the backing ones (ie. the “BAP SHOO AH!” of “Boys” or the “Sha-la-la”’s of “Baby It’s You”).
A lot of people claim Rubber Soul’s about when the Beatles made an album that was worth it to listen to cover-to-cover, claiming that Please Please Me doesn’t really bring it outside “I Saw Her Standing There” (one of the best opening sequences of a song/album ever, try though the ultra-chord opening of “A Hard Day’s Night” and the punkish opening “Taxman” might to beat it), “Please Please Me” (“‘Come on!’ Come on!’”) and “Twist and Shout” – nonsense. My favorite song is actually none of those, it’s “Anna (Go to Him).” The guitar riff moves in and out, slower then faster, louder then softer, crashing in like waves. Meanwhile, George contributes these extra vocals to the chorus that genuinely sound like they’re crying (“Anna…”); faraway and removed from everything else; psychedelic rock years ahead of schedule, while Paul McCartney boosts up the chorus with his own bed. And the vocal melody’s a goodie, and the words hit harder than any other Beatles song, even if they were written by someone else.